Some really crazy stuff goes on in the virtual world of the internet. And if you think you know what I mean, you probably don’t.
I was a teenager once. I did some crazy stuff — hit a kid with a baseball bat (who had bullied me for years), stole fire extinguishers, shot fireworks at passing cars, ran from the cops, set my computer to call people I didn’t like every ten minutes and then hang up — but things are different now.
There is the very real risk that I will sound like an out-of-touch adult that is concerned about what “those darn kids” are up to these days, but I think something is seriously wrong, and I don’t really even have an answer.
I was one of the first users of the internet, but I grew up without it. Teenagers today were basically born with internet, and into internet communities. Online communities offer a lot — social interaction that you control, especially. You can choose your name, your avatar (what you look like), and leave any time you like. You don’t even have to take a shower or smell nice to log on, you can do it whenever you want, and leave whenever you want. You also can say just about anything you want with the screen of anonymity in front of you to protect you.
And so people do. They say anything. Things you’d probably never say to a person’s face, you are free to say online. You can call them anything, accuse them of anything, and there are few consequences. Teenagers go to school and interact with parents and others in the real world, but often go to these other worlds online where there are no rules.
Blogging and alternative news sites have offered many views of news and events that were not available before, and many causes are being heard that were not being heard before. However, many bloggers and “internet celebrities” are targets for online communities — if the blogger does or says something one time that people find disagreeable, the hate storm begins.
It’s not just name calling — we all experienced that as teens. It’s more than cyber bullying, which is already bad where others can post pictures of you all over the internet. If you anger one of these communities, they can ruin your life, and they are vague communities of avatars and screennames that are nearly untouchable.
How can they do this? Easily. With their combined group powers they can find your phone number and address. Many of us have been prank called, but imagine thousands of people prank calling you. What if your address was out there and you didn’t know who hated you or why but you knew hundreds of them were out there with that knowledge? This is something called “doxxing.” If you do enough to earn the ire of one of these groups, prepare for the worst. Since they are on the internet and all over the world, you can’t escape.
The thing is, inside these communities no hate word is too strong. You can say anything, post anything. The most nasty, horrible images you can imagine are created and shared online. Porn is already easily available to any twelve year old with a minimal tech savvy — but this is much worse than porn. There is a generation of people that is becoming used to and desensitized to, hate, anger, violence, porn, and rape at levels that have never been seen before and they have little accountability. Threats of raping someone they dislike are among normal things they say.
I’m not saying the whole time they just spew violence and hate and horrific images, but that those things are normal and accepted. If you are prepared for the results, I suggest you look up the popular Cards Against Humanity game to get an idea of it. (I actually like the game, but recognize that it is in the realm of the very extreme.) Now, all of us grew up exposed to some things, yes, and most of us chose to turn away from the horrible things that fascinated us when we were younger. But this generation, right now, they are exposed to and participating in more of this than ever before in history, thanks to the high-speed medium of the internet. My question is, who will these people become? I don’t know the answer.
Further Reading (for the brave):