Spotlight On – MISANTHROPY
May 22, 2011 § Leave a comment
(Originally published January 21 2011; the beta version of this post had been about a recent encounter with some trolls, which Carol and I decided I shouldn’t publicize)
For reasons I shall take to my watery grave, the post formerly known as “You say misanthropy, I say high spirited…wait WHAT” has been replaced by the following account of “cyberbullying,” which seems to be an obvious second choice. VanDerMemes related; it’s me, realizing that I needed to write a new post.
- and then
- …I Dawson’d
First of all, let’s talk about the word “cyber.” Although quite amusing if deployed ironically (lol u cybering? is one of the best ways to disrupt the frantic Facebook/iChat/Skype/whatever chatting of a classmate or colleague), the term “cyber” is annoying at best and highly misleading at worst. Yes yes, it serves a purpose — “cyber” means there’s computers afoot, and not just regular computers but networked computers. “Cyberstalking,” for example, also known as “going on Facebook,” is something you can only do on the computer, and “cyber security” refers to online privacy/security concerns. This might seem benign enough, but the term “cyber” does more than simply indicate that something (behavior, person, whatever) is restricted to the internet. It also suggests that a given action is born of the Internet, which has the unintended effect of reifying the difference between the online world (i.e. everything you do and say and think and feel online) and the “real world” (i.e. everything else). Not only does this (perhaps inadvertently, but still) privilege the terrestrial (meat-based) to the virtual (code-based), it also ends compromising, or at the very least downplaying, the agency of those who engage in “cyber” [whatever]. Cybersex, in other words, isn’t the same as “real” sex; cyber-affairs have none of the emotional consequences of “real” affairs; etc. In short, “cyber-” behaviors are framed as being different, somehow, than behaviors irl. Because it’s online, and things online aren’t real, and things that aren’t real life don’t mean the same thing they would if done face to face.
Cybrbullying, for example, is a deeply troubling emergent phenomenon, one which (purportedly) highlights the dangers of unrestricted/unmonitored technological access. Cyberbullies attack their GLBT classmates, sometimes resulting in the victim’s suicide; cyberbullies deface people’s Facebook walls, causing untold distress to friends and family members who accidentally stumble upon the questionable content; cyberbullies hold their victims hostage via email and chat and blogs and Facebook and Twitter and anyplace else that might pop up in a basic Google search. In short, cyberbullying –which is not necessarily synonymous with trolling, and implies that the bully knows his/her victim irl– represents the dark underbelly of the Internet; it allows users to do and say as they please without any concern for the consequences (which, as we know, will never be the same).
Sure, ok. Except the problem is, when we talk about “cyberbullying” we have a tendency to focus on the “cyber” and less so on the actual “bullying.” And this is where I take issue with the designation. Of course we can and should talk about the ways in which technology facilitates –or perhaps more appropriately, makes more convenient– aggressive or seemingly misanthropic (BOOM goes the keyword dynamite) behaviors. But by leading with the medium, literally framing the result with its delivery method, it’s all too easy to lose track of who is being bullied, and why, and by whom. All-too-frequently (in the mainstream media at least), the subsequent discussion devolves into a screed against the technologies themselves. It couldn’t possibly be the case that hate and intolerance of difference is built into the very language we use; it couldn’t possibly be that our kids reflect the tone and content of our political discourse; it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with us, and the way we speak to and treat each other. It’s the damn Facebook’s fault, which is nice because if it’s Facebook’s fault it’s not our fault, and therefore we don’t need to do anything except take a stand against cyberbullying, probably on Facebook, because otherwise how will all our friends know that we’ve taken a stand against mean people (who totally SUCK, amirite?).