Lord Of The Flies meets social media

Look at most comic book superheroes, and they follow a similar format. People get some kind of superpower, and adopt a mask. The mask protects their identity, and they can go around fighting crime and doing good.

The idea is put on a mask, and you’re freed of consequence, and you can “fight the bad guys”.

It’s just it has a major flaw in it … freed of consequence, do we really “fight bad guys”, or does our behaviour take a considerably darker turn?

Back in the late 90s, no-one really seemed to create emails or logins using their real names. Everyone used weird handles which reminded me a bit of CB-culture in the UK during the 70s.

The internet was exciting, seen as a “digital frontier” — we had early messageboards, chatrooms, forums. But I noticed a problem, in almost all these areas things weren’t quite so much “digital frontier” as “wild west”.

The internet was unpoliceable, so people could say or do whatever they liked, and it showed.

I’d like to believe people are essentially good, and in a world without enforceable rules, we’d all be kind to each other. Alas the early internet proved me wrong.

People hiding behind the mask of a handle could take on feral behaviour — threats (death or rape, take your pick), swearing, bullying were routine. To be honest, I struggled to find the attraction of the “information super highway” that the internet had been promised to be.

I must have been more selective, only interacting with people online who I knew, because this problem went away. Although I’m not a huge fan of Facebook, the fact you’re in some form of control on who can interact with you is a huge deal, although of course I’ve been stung in the past.

But this behaviour hasn’t gone away. The great thing about Twitter is that you can connect to anyone on the social media platform — and I’ve loved it when Leonard Nimoy, Mark Hamill or recently Eric Idle have liked/responded to ‘lil old me’.

The terrible thing about Twitter is that anyone can connect to you.

I’ve responded to a political post before now, and in my head gone ‘5… 4… 3… 2… TROLL!’. All of a sudden your Notification stream is full of people surrounding you, harassing you, mentioning ‘liberal tears’. On and on it goes.

I don’t report and block people for having different opinions to me — I’m not that superficial. But all too many of these are intimidating, will use some level of threat, and if possible some kind of racism/sexism/‘insert hate speech here’. So I’ve reported these to Twitter, and when asked ‘do you want to include another Tweet’, I’ve felt ‘wake the fuck up Twitter, their entire stream is full of hate speech’.

So I report, and they ask ‘do you want to Block?’. I used to … now I don’t. If I block, the problem goes away for me. But I want to see if it goes away full stop.

And I have to say, I’m noticing that Twitter’s not doing a great job here. One problem has to be the ease to make an account — all too often I find myself being trolled by an account which still has “the egg” as a profile picture, and pretty much 0 followers …

Yeah — that doesn’t raise alarm bells at all!

It’s far too easy for people to create a new account — that account above I just created, and Twitter didn’t even properly check my email before it allowed me to start Tweeting — nice one! [I used an invalid email address even, which didn’t stop me from publishing]

What does this mean? Twitter as we’ve said above isn’t doing enough to close down sites which are full of hate speech and bullying (sorry America, but your freedom of speech does not allow you to say anything regardless of consequence if what you’re saying contains hate or is bullying or slanderous).

And so far I’m just crying a few male, liberal tears about this. I get a little abuse any time I post anything too left wing political, especially if I reply to Patton Oswalt on Twitter!

Then there are others on Twitter — the women who might controversially express a technical or scientific view because they’re working in the field for about 10 years, or maybe the lesbian or transexual person who dares to publically declare the fact. Obviously such people cannot be allowed to exist, and need to be put in their place with either a death threat, a rape threat, or preferably both!

As a common theme I’ve seen in both Sophie LaBelle on Facebook who runs “Assigned Male” and Scout Barbour-Evans on Twitter, this kind of abuse isn’t something that they trigger by doing anything other than existing. Their timelines are full of it.

Welcome to the golden age of social media. This is not okay — this is not okay at all!

It’s like some giant experiment of Lord Of The Flies. Without some form of moderation, some enforceable authority, a group tests it’s boundaries. If they find none, they’ll push and push, and only settle for what they can get away with. The thrill becomes seeing what they can do.

So you get obscenity, sexual content, bullying, intimidation, death threats, rape threats.

In something aping Lord Of The Flies, a journalist who received rape threats on Facebook followed them to the source, and contacted those persons parents, who were horrified. Read her story here. It mimics the end of Lord Of The Flies, where a group of abandoned schoolboys have become feral and violent (even killing one of their number), however when an authority figure in the form of a Naval office appears, they chillingly revert back to sobbing children.

All this is unacceptable — no matter what social media you use, apply pressure to it in order to handle this better. If you see someone being abused on it, then report their posts, and maybe even send a message of support to the person being bullied. But don’t turn a blind eye to this behaviour, unless you really do enjoy the world of Lord Of The Flies.