A Brief Note on Internet Harassment

Certain online communities have a lot of hate to share for those who voice opinions outside of their particular world view, and who, rather than engaging in sensible debate, choose to spout abuse, impersonate their target to defame them, spread false allegations, publish their home address online, and send death threats.

If their victim has the temerity to call them out on their abusive behaviour, they are gaslit and accused of “attention seeking” or “making it all up”; Even when there is clear, independently-verifiable proof that they are telling the truth about the harm they are experiencing, the online abuse often still continues.

All it takes is one angry person to post false allegations, or express a negative opinion about someone in a YouTube video, and it is open season, leading others to pile on and escalate the situation to the point that SWAT teams are called, and people quit their jobs or leave social media. Some victims have even fled their homes in fear of their safety.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the actions that trigger this kind of “mob justice” justify such an extreme counter-reaction. Sadly, in most cases, the only thing the victims have done to merit such a harsh sanction is criticise a product on the Internet, express a moderate political opinion, or win an online multiplayer game.

While it is great people feel passionate about the games they play and causes they believe in, what seems to get forgotten in all the drama is that the victims at the other end of the phone line are thinking, feeling human beings who should be treated with dignity and respect. The negative actions we see today do not look like “making a point about ethics in video games”, they look a lot like targeted hate campaigns and bullying.

Games and social media are meant to be a fun diversion from the mundane aspects of reality, not things that are taken so seriously that people lose their jobs and fear for their lives.

Collectively we need to call out and condemn abusive behaviour publicly whenever we see it. Social networks also need to do more to combat this problem, but until they do, we all need to remember to be respectful to one another, and try to be mindful of the impact of what we post on mass broadcast platforms.