The Internet will make us better people… if we don’t screw it up

Some authors are banding together to stop bullying on Amazon, and they have a petition and everything. There’s an article all about it on The Guardian, and Anne Rice is on board.

Writers that I know of and have a passing Internet acquaintance with (writers much more successful than me) have been proclaiming that they’re scaling down their presence online out of fear of retaliation of one star review attacks.

On the surface, I think it’s easy to dismiss this kind of activity with a shrug. “Grow a thicker skin. If you don’t want people to say nasty things about you, don’t publish books.”

And indeed, there is something to the idea that once you’re a public figure, you don’t nearly have the right anymore to complain that people are saying mean things to you. Hey, I watched The People vs. Larry Flynt and so I know that the Supreme Court said it’s cool to publish stuff saying that someone had incestual relations with his mother as long as it’s not meant seriously.

So, when the authors in the article talk about the reviewers threatening bodily harm to the authors , it’s easy to think, “Yeah, okay, but you didn’t really think they were serious, did you?”

I have to admit that I have positively no experience with this. I get very little attention on the interwebs, due to the fact that I’m just not that popular, and I’d like to think that if I did get popular, I’d understand that it was going to come with both positive and negative attention. I also know that it would probably be pretty bad, as my particular brand of sharing on the internet tends to be in the Thom York tradition, where I open up a vein and scream, “I want you to notice when I’m not around!” Not only do I share things that I’m doing, but I tend to also tell everyone exactly how bad I feel when I feel bad. I expose all my weaknesses, vomit them up on the internet in all their pathetic splendor. I imagine that if anyone wanted to bully me, they’d have a field day. I would make it easy for them. At the same time, when I put up my crap for public consumption, I think I recognize that risk. I hope, if it happened, I’d understand that I was sort of, you know, asking for it. Asking for it in a way that most authors don’t.

But the frank fact of the matter is that I’ve never experienced anything even close to a person threatening bodily harm to me because of my books. Nor have I given advice publicly and been rewarded with a rash of one star reviews claiming that all the advice I’ve given is what makes me such a bad writer. And I have NO IDEA how it feels.

This is where the Internet comes in.

Before the Internet, it was really tough for total strangers to insult you and your ideas. But now, it happens to most of us on a daily basis. All you have to do is log in on a forum and say something, and someone will generally stand up and disagree with you. A lot of times, they won’t do it in a very nice way either.

In some ways, the Internet has made us all public figures.

So, while I don’t know how it feels to have someone say they want to cut my throat because SPOILER Kieran dies /SPOILER I do remember about this one time in which I was on Absolute Write Water Cooler and I happened to admit that I had torrented ebooks. (Yes, boys and squirrels, I’ve done it. I know… kind of hypocritical, right? “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”) Anyway… boy did they rip me a new asshole. I was called a lot of nasty names, the least of which was “thief.” It was intimated that my moral center was on par with Hitler, and I basically stopped going to that forum for six months. It was emotionally upsetting to me, because instead of engaging with my points about file sharing and how it wasn’t, you know, going anywhere or stopping anytime soon, they all just personally attacked me and made me feel like crap.

I think this experience is quite common. I think most people in the world today have been attacked on the internet. I know that several of my friends are always saying they’re quitting facebook, because they get so mad at the people on there.

What’s my point?

Well, I know that I’ve modified my Internet behavior. I’m quite careful when I make arguments to try not to anger people. There are ways to soften your tone without watering down your message, and I’ve learned these things and applied them.

Possibly, the more we all get hurt, the more we’ll realize that we’re hurting others. Maybe we’ll all just get… nicer.

Attacking a person instead of her ideas is called an ad hominem logical fallacy. It sidesteps the issue at hand and just goes for the jugular. It’s a simplistic kind of argument, down and dirty, and it’s used by people who aren’t evolved or educated or ethical enough to do things better. Often it’s used because it’s the best thing that person could come up with.

If we could stop doing it, it would make for better debates, better discussions, and a better world. All we need to do is look at ourselves and resolve to change.