I love stumbling onto a great joke on the internet. I’ve spent hours on Reddit and Imgur, many of those filled with reading hilarious burns and unbelievable posts by some of the dumbest humans on the planet. However, I found an article earlier today by CNNMoney about internet trolling and the effects it’s had on a few women that forced me to stop for a second and think.
The article opened with a powerful sentence.
“In the past nine months, Brianna Wu has received no fewer than 108 death threats.”
I assumed that this “Brianna Wu” must be a random lady CNN found on the internet, probably after she pissed off everyone with saying something thoughtless and stupid. I continued reading.
“Wu heads up Boston-based gaming startup Giant Spacekat and has been targeted by a group known as Gamergate. Gamergate’s vitriol is typically aimed at women like Wu who are seen as disrupting the traditionally male gaming industry.”
“Threats against her have included a video of a person in a skull mask describing a plot to murder her and taunts to blow her up with an improvised explosive device.”
I couldn’t believe it. This woman is clearly brave and intelligent, having the guts to start her own business and willing it to success. I decided to learn some more about the business and found out the company (granted a small gaming one) is staffed entirely by females. That’s when it all clicked for me.
As a lifelong lurker on many gaming and social media sites, I’ve caught on to the irrational hatred some carry for women in the gaming industry. They see it as a male-dominated landscape, holding tight to ideas conceived with immature friends in their mothers’ basements. I don’t know if it’s fueled by insecurity or a lifelong struggle to interact with the opposite sex, but those that want to keep women out of gaming, desperately want them out. I’ve seen this first-hand, yet I kept scrolling. Ignoring the struggle simply because it was not mine. It seems, though, that even the people running those sites feel the pain.
Ellen Pao was an interim CEO of Reddit, the uber-popular sharing website where users can say nearly whatever comes to mind. This very thing that has made Reddit so popular to the public, still has its dark sides. Pao experienced this first-hand during her time at the company.
“‘I, along with several colleagues, was targeted with harassing messages, attempts to post my private information online and death threats. These were attempts to demean, shame and scare us into silence,’ Pao wrote.”
While many would argue that Pao wasn’t terrorized for her gender but rather the way she ran the company (see The Guardian’s view on her departure). No differences in opinion ever warrant blackmail, especially not death threats. There are more humane and productive ways to express dissatisfaction and bring about change, including letters to the company, group petitions, peaceful protests and countless others.
It is time to step back and think about how we use the internet. It should be a tool, not for hate, but for collaboration and creativity. There are brilliant minds searching the web everywhere. They are young. They are old. They are casual. They are fanatic, white, black, male, and female. No one person has complete domain over the internet. These differences are too often seen as negative instead of embraced for the possibilities they bring, possibilities that could better the way we all live.
Let’s put an end to the troll. It’s no easy task to practice, but it can happen. When you see someone being harassed online, speak up. Downvote the harasser to oblivion. Do whatever you need to make your voice heard over the lesser. Others will see you and join in, slowly building a positive environment for all users. While some jokes may have to go untold, the end result will far outweigh the crude humor lost.
*Images from Wired, Gamespot, and OlivethePeople