There have been two incidents in the past week that have really struck a chord with me, and I felt needed to be discussed. They both are internet related, and they seem to stem from the same problem, but that is where the resemblance ends. Fortunately, I think they both have the same solution. Let me explain.
First, there is a huge uproar going on right now because three teenage boys who happen to be very popular on youtube posted a video on what guys look for in girls. The video took a lot of criticism for being degrading not only to women, but harmful to the self-esteem of the teenage girls that made up a bulk of the audience. However, what bugs me about this situation is the response to that outcry – mostly with the attitude “they are just teenagers, and boys will be boys” or “they’re only 16 year old boys, they don’t know any better.”
The second incident happened when someone in a facebook group I’m a member of posted a picture of a tattoo she had gotten. There was a discussion about tattoos in general, and this woman had gotten a full tattoo of her blood elf character from World of Warcraft. Some random guy responded with the “kill yourself” image. He was immediately called out by other members of the group, but again, people jumped to his aid. One person said, “omg dudes. calm down. its a meme thats been around FOREVER. kinda like when you call someone a faggot...you're not really making a political statement on the state of homosexuality. for the love of god lighten up. Also welcome to the internet.” Others said similar things, like “If you’re going to be on the internet, you’re gonna need a thick skin.”
Sure, it’s the internet. In both cases, people jumped to the defense of the “jerk”, when they should have been defending the people the jerk wronged. In both cases, people seemed to think that the jerk should be allowed to BE a jerk, simply because it was on the internet, and he should be allowed to say whatever he wants.
Yes, people are going to be assholes on the internet. But there is no rule that says everyone else has to just lie down and accept it. By doing so, it only further harms the victim, increases the number of jerks on the internet, and generally increases worldsuck. Don’t stand for that. If someone is being a jerk on the internet, call them out on it! If people are standing by without doing anything, or worse, defending the jerk because he somehow has a right to BE a jerk, explain that he does not. Yes, he is free to say anything he wants. We are also free to not stand for it.
“But what about Freedom of speech?” some people will say. I think this is one of the worst misconceptions our society has today. “Freedom of speech” doesn’t mean that everyone just has to accept what you have to say. It ONLY means the government can’t arrest you for saying it. You’re FREE to tell some girl to kill herself because she has a tattoo you don’t like, and I’m equally free to call you an asshole for doing so. The owner of the group is free to kick you out of the group, because Facebook isn’t a government entity. Likewise, a youtuber is free to tell his audience that they’re not worthy to breathe the same air as him, and we’re all free to not stand for it. We’re all free to tell him so, and we’re free to stop watching his videos. We’re also free to tell his viewers that they don’t have to put up with that treatment.
The glorious thing about the internet is that it’s almost completely free. That also means it’s self-policed. It’s up to US, as the members of the grand internet community, to make the internet a BETTER place. The best way to do that is to make sure that people know bullying will not stand. Don’t just take it as the status quo. Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Remember that when you see someone bullying another person and you start to think it’s ok, it’s just the internet.
Because it’s not.