Trolls Are People, Too
"I wouldn’t feel responsible. Bullying and harassment are not matters to be taken lightly or in jest. I should know. However, the "cyberbullying" phenomenon is completely hyperbolic in my opinion. Imagine the "older street tough" of lore taking your lunch money every day, or to be a woman and have a male coworker slap your ass or make other unwelcome advances. These are serious issues that have a real impact on a person’s life and psyche. It is entirely another matter to be on the receiving end of a completely anonymous voice, with no physical presence whatsoever, spilling words into a medium that one has complete control over."
I want to share a conversation with you.
A few weeks back, I published a piece called "Our Internet Empathy Problem." It used the widespread, culturally-accepted harassment directed at Flappy Bird creator Dong Nguyen as a vessel to discuss the abuse people are asked to put with online. It’s about the difference between how we treat the meaning of words in real-life and “on the Internet.” It’s about how we victim blame.
Attached to the article was an image that highlighted some of the harassment. This image was, for a time, on the front page of Giant Bomb. One of the harassers learned about this, and he reached out. We had a short but terse dialogue that didn’t result in anyone’s mind being changed. The image remained on the site. Many comments—a good portion of them meaningful—were posted underneath the story.
I’ve had some success in changing people’s minds with my work, and it feels awfully good. It’s a one-at-a-time battle, but I take that in stride.
One. Two. That means something.
But the conversation I had with that one person I just mentioned wouldn’t leave my mind. It stuck. See, this individual was paritcularly vile. Death threats and worse. Some of the comments could easily make one sick to their stomach. A complete lack of empathy.
A few days later, I reached out to him. I wanted to have a longer conversation with this person. You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned who they are. It’s because it doesn’t matter much. The “who” of this conversation a distraction. The conversation is important, one that I felt was worth sharing. The individual on the other side has approved the release of this exchange, and it was my choice to hide their identity.
It’s long, yes, but please stick with it. It takes some twists.