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Imagine having a group of people online who know everything you’ve ever posted. They know what’s on your Twitter account. They know what’s on your Facebook page. They read everything you post online to websites and blogs. If you close your account to only those on your “friends” and “follower” lists, they make fake accounts to follow you anyway.
They take screen captures of things you write in the often irrational belief that they are amassing “evidence” against you. You don’t know what that evidence is supposed to show; you can’t say what crime it is you’ve committed. You know only that there are people who hate you, and they’re going to go on hating you. Whatever you do online, they’ll be there, wishing you ill and hoping you fail.
To call this “cyberstalking” begins to capture it, but most of the behaviors described herein are legal. It’s legal to hate someone (for now). It’s legal to call someone names. It’s legal to wish someone harm as long as you don’t imply that you’ll be doing the harming. The world of social media allows us to interact with any number of people – and to offend that same number in countless ways – to the extent that we can anger human beings all over the world. We anger them with our dissenting opinions. We anger them with our criticism. We anger them with our humor. We anger them with our sarcasm.
All you have to do to create a scenario wherein a virtual gang of cyberstalkers hunts you online is – express an opinion. That’s right: State your opinion online, and in social media and you will immediately make enemies. Look at the Twitter accounts of popular conservative pundits. You’ll find an army of people questioning their parentage, their sexuality, their motives, their intelligence. The more effective they are, the more hate they incite. Conservatives like Kurt Schlichter have been writing entire books that drive the libs crazy. Other prominent social media movers like Todd Kincannon have created online networks of conservatives, prompting the libs to create copycat networks and to condemn Kincannon’s every breath. If those pundits are beautiful women, you can add constant references to rape and murder, with every sexually charged perversion in between, to those attacks. Just ask Michelle Malkin, S.E. Cupp, or other prominent female conservatives online.
The outrage isn’t limited to conservatives, of course. Every so often, some liberal idiot will open his mouth and prove himself stupid, only to be met by a hail of criticism, threats and encouragements to die of ailments or misadventures that are obscenely biological. Take, for example, Jenny McCarthy, who became famous first for taking her clothes off for men’s magazines and then for the obnoxious, shrill manner in which she hectored the nation’s parents not to get their children vaccinated. The number of threats and insults Ms. McCarthy has received have only recently been rivaled by those thrown at her one-time boyfriend, comedian Jim Carrey.
Carrey took his turn in the barrel recently by insulting gun owners. His opinion seems to be that anyone who owns guns hates children and enjoys seeing mass murders perpetrated. Understandably, many gun owners were outraged by his comments. While Carrey’s career isn’t what it once was, he is still famous enough that response to his opinions has been vehement. One imagines that sprinkled among those responses have been various encouragements that he go off and die of ebola – or date Jenny McCarthy again – whatever will most quickly rob him of the will to live.
So what is the common denominator here?
You don’t have to be famous to end up hated by multiple people you do not know. All you need is an opinion and access to the Internet. If you are especially good at offering your opinion, and particularly if what you say is also true, you will amass legions of enemies who know only that they dislike you. Given the passage of time, their hatred of you will evolve. They will hate you not for what you say and what you believe, but for what they think you have said and what they believe you believe.
Where all this online hatred crosses a line is difficult to specify. At some point, an argument can be made for harassment, but that is difficult and, where voluntary participation in social media is concerned, courts have ruled that you have very little recourse to complain. You are a willing actor in that environment. Certainly a case can be made for libel or defamation in some cases, especially if your online critics make maliciously false statements about you without regard for the facts. It is difficult to prove damages in many of those cases, but not impossible. People get sued all the time for things they say online.
Choosing to engage in communication online is tacit acknowledgment of the responses you may receive. If you are going to express your opinion, expect it to make people angry. If you are going to participate in social media, expect to make enemies as well as friends. You have only three options. The most obvious two are that you can either accept the consequences and post online, or you can avoid social media and live as a disconnected virtual hermit, an Internet Luddite. The third option is less obvious, but no less real: You can participate in social media but try very, very hard never to offend anyone. That means never expressing an opinion of any kind.
Bertrand Russell said, “A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.” There is no better metaphor for social media. You must accept this and cope with it if you hope to share your beliefs in the virtual public square.
The Internet is a mass of stupid people who translate your opinions. The Internet is criticism embodied. The Internet is hate, and that’s just how it’s going to be.