On a long car drive this weekend, I happened to listen to this brilliant This American Life podcast: If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, SAY IT IN ALL CAPS. Stories of why otherwise nice people say awful things on the Internet.
Those of you following me on Twitter Thursday and Friday will understand why this was cathartic. (If not, don’t worry about it, it’s not the point of this post or a very big deal.)
Rather, in the midst of nastiness, @dadakim tweeted something that at first I found off topic: “This=sometimes how it feels to be a woman with an opinion on the internet.”
I will say this: If you are remotely skeptical of that statement, you should listen to the TAL podcast.
I am forced to update my theory of Internet nastiness. Previously I ascribed nastiness to the same instincts that make us nasty gossips. In haste, in irritation, and in private we tend to say things that we would never say in front a wider audience, or to a person’s face. For some reason people seem to engage their gossip brain on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs rather than their “I’m speaking to you directly” brain.
The Internet is curiously dehumanizing. You have to teach yourself not to write like that, and on the receiving side coach yourself not to read it too seriously (or at all). Both are difficult. For me the first is easier than the second.
I still buy my theory. But this isn’t quite sufficient to explain the frequency and maliciousness of attacks against women.
It’s tempting to look at the anecdote from TAL–a reformed troll who comes to understand how his insecurity feeds a loathing of women, and how the dehumanizing Internet lets him relieve his own anger without understanding the consequences. But deep-rooted misogyny seems like too simplistic an answer to be full or correct.
I am guessing many have thought about this subject and would be interested in pointers. Especially science on the subject.