This month's Advocate has an article about homophobia on web 2.0 outlets. It specifically talks about Chris Crocker's "Leave Britney Alone" video and the amount of homophobia that generated, with comments like: “You fucking queer ass, go stick a dick up ur ass,” “You truly a retarded dick sucking mindless sheep. get aids and die!” and “ALL you fucking fags should be killed by terrorist! DIE FAGGOTS!!”
If you're gay on internet outlets that get large straight audiences, you're going to be getting gay hate comments. Here's the Zipster on the homophobia he receives online:
It's pretty disheartening to watch a really cool video by a clever femmy guy on YouTube and see that half the comments are along the lines of the comments Zipster was reading. It can seem like a reflection of what people are actually thinking, but the Advocate article suggests otherwise:
“It’s called John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory,” says Clay Shirky, a journalist and New York University adjunct professor who studies the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. The theory is based on this simple equation: Normal Person + Audience + Anonymity = Fuckwad.
“There’s a large crowd,” says Shirky, “and you can act out in front of it without paying any personal price to your reputation,” which creates conditions most likely to draw out the typical Internet user’s worst impulses.
That makes sense to me on some level, because, hey, even I've gone to sites I disagree with and posted stupid comments that I wouldn't have been comfortable doing in any forum associated with the "me" I present here. But that doesn't seem to get to the core of the problem: why is this sort of hate unidirectional?
The article doesn't address the rampant misogyny on these same sites as well that's often used to keep women who participate in vlogging or blogging silent.
Take, for example, the Kathy Sierra madness from last year. Sierra was a popular tech blogger and software programmer who became the target of a massive misogynist hate campaign. According to Salon:
It ranged from banal putdowns to crude sexual garbage, and then, Sierra says, the sexual garbage turned violent, including posts like this: "fuck off you boring slut ... i hope someone slits your throat and cums down your gob." On a now-shuttered blog established at least partly to make fun of Sierra and others who complained about viciousness on another blog, someone posted a photo of a noose next to Sierra's head, and someone else commented: "the only thing Kathy has to offer me is that noose in her neck size."
It's hard not to see the similarities here between online homophobia and online misogyny, both fixated on violence against their respective object.
William Sledd and Bilerico's own Michael Buckley were both interviewed for the Advocate article, and neither supported filtering comments:
Perhaps surprisingly, both Sledd and Michael Buckley said they wouldn’t want their comments filtered, even if YouTube offered. For one thing, YouTube users are able to filter and delete the comments on their posts themselves, and YouTube can terminate the accounts of commentators who receive complaints (though Sledd points out that offenders can set up a new account in minutes). Still, “if you’re going to put something out there on a blog or video,” says Buckley, “you have to allow people to comment.”
It's easy to be a "free-speech absolutist," but these sort of comments can take a toll after a while. No one likes to be hated, the purpose of such comments is to use hatred to silence others. Kathy Sierra canceled conference appearances and speeches and closed down her blog in response to the hateful comments. And she's someone who took that sort of hate long enough to become popular in the first place - think about how many women and queers get discouraged right from the start because of the hate?
Salon.com's editor Joan Walsh says:
Ever since Salon automated its letters, it's been hard to ignore that the criticisms of women writers are much more brutal and vicious than those about men -- sometimes nakedly sexist, sometimes less obviously so; sometimes sexually and/or personally degrading. But I've never admitted the toll our letters can sometimes take on women writers at Salon, myself included, because admitting it would be giving misogynist losers -- and these are the posters I'm talking about -- power. Still, I've come to think that denying it gives them another kind of power, and I'm trying to sort that out by thinking about the Kathy Sierra mess in all its complexity.
While Bil and I try to elevate the comment discussions here from time to time, we haven't had a problem with anything at this level or type of hate. This is probably because the Bilerico Project doesn't have a random audience - the people reading this site were mostly already looking for queers to read from and talk to. (That and we require people to read, that seems to reduce hate... for some reason.)
The only time we got a wave of fundies around here was during the Tony Dungy craziness of last year, and those comments made me just feel icky about this whole blogging thing. The interaction that we bloggers have with our readers is mostly through comments, so if everyone's leaving hate, why bother to continue to make everyone hate you?
But maybe these are those "hard conversations" we've heard so much about that will reduce hate. If we're going to confront it and try to solve it instead of pushing it under the rug, there has to be some kind of interaction. Buck has already seen some positive results:
I'm not going to say what the answer to this problem is, but I don't think Andrew-Sullivan-style free speech absolutism is:
“I don’t have a comments section, but my e-mail in-tray is often full of antigay abuse,” he says. “There should be no attempts to protect gays from bigotry, and no attempts to protect bigots or even gay bloggers from gay hate speech either. Free speech is nonnegotiable.”
Well, it's more than just negotiable to Andrew, it's just a luxury to him, considering his blog doesn't even have comments.
But that's the problem with that sort of absolutism, or any sort of absolutism - it denies the ways that the application of a certain principle can be counter-productive to the goals of that principle. When the hate speech of certain people on the internet is silencing others, can it really be said to be free speech to allow them to continue?
These are all tough questions, but the internet has been set up to let them play out pretty much unregulated. People can monitor their own sites and set up their own standards, and there really isn't much someone can do about other people's sites.
So maybe Buck is right and we need to start thinking outside regulation for solutions to these problems.