The USS Quad Damage

Social Privilege and Online Trolls

I try and alienate myself from everyone, ever.

I’ve generally stayed away from this topic, not only because it is fraught, but also because it leaves me “on my own” as it were. No “sides” of the argument agree with me, and my opinion antagonises both of them, probably needlessly. Further, the opinion doesn’t have the memetic quality that people could latch onto. It’s hard to pick up, hard to agree with, and in the end not even really that important.

This is a dramatisation, but the reality is not far: On day one, two minor radio celebrities play a “prank” on an unsuspecting member of the public, or interview someone with a terrible secret, or carelessly lambast someone with a mental health issue. Day two, they apologise profusely and talk about how no one could have foreseen the consequences. Day three, they complain about internet trolls and how they are victimising everyone (including the hosts!), and these terrible people need to be taught a lesson.

Alternatively, an internet celebrity gets criticised, perhaps legitimately, starts blocking and reporting them for “abuse”, “trolling”, or “internet bullying”. Then posts public or private data of those doing the “abusing”, telling their readers to have at it.

The pattern is the same: use celebrity to avoid or deflect scrutiny, use celebrity to stir up outrage at your detractors, then paint yourself as a victim, somehow. I’m seeing it more and more often, a kind of brute-forcing of celebrity power. What makes it worse is that often these are people whose views I share or whom I otherwise respect.

Now, people calling out trolling on the internet by itself is not a bad thing. It’s the combined pattern of behaviour, where “abusive” is a code word for “disagrees with me”, and where the supposed abuse sits comfortably alongside tacit incitement against the “abusers”.

Long story short, I saw two people doing what I thought was exactly that, and I called them out on it. I was wrong. Basically, they were railing against abusive behaviour on the internet in general, and weren’t trying to take advantage of their status. Unfortunately, the attitude does empower those who are abusing their status on the internet.

It’s a difficult topic, because this sort of thing does affect internet “celebrities” more than most of us. Having a large community around them, getting their attention means getting the attention of everyone who listens to them. For an internet bully or troll, they are a high value target. For most of us, though, a troll or an internet bully isn’t unheard of, though they tend to be someone we know personally.

I guess what I’m saying is, this is mostly a problem for celebrities, and a problem that is directly offset by the power they wield through others on social media. Insofar as it applies to normal people, the scale of the issue has been far overblown because of the effect it has on the powerful.

This usually results in knee-jerk reactions from politicians, who start yammering on about “real name policies” on the internet, which really amounts to a total internet surveillance. While this sort of thing hurts internet users in general, it tends to greatly aid in shutting down dissent from the powerful, and that includes internet celebrities, even minor ones.

Having said that, I was reactionary. And I probably didn’t say what I wanted to say the way I wanted to say it. What I wanted to say was more like the above. It probably doesn’t occur to most people when they do things that benefit them but hurt others. In the same way as how white privilege is invisible, so is social privilege. This is not the sort of thing we want to entrench in our social mores.