Wednesday 25 July 2018

The Internet Doesn't Understand Nuance, and This Is Why It Should

Today I want to talk about the toxic side of the internet. The social justice warrior, call-out culture side. It's the part of the internet that I detest the most, and the part that sometimes makes me want to shut my laptop and switch off my phone, and never look at social media again. A little dramatic, I know, but more and more it gets me down and makes me feel hopeless. I think the internet has taken a step from being woke to being vicious, and it's something I really want to discuss.

During my days on Tumblr when I was a teen, there was a sense that I was far more mature than some people in my real life. I can admit that. I felt like I had been given a peek at all of these different people, circumstances and stories. Although I have always been an open-minded person, my eyes were opened to new people. I met people who had mental health issues, who had been sexually assaulted, who were transgender or non-binary. And more importantly, I learned how all of these people viewed the world. I saw how all of these issues related to the greater world, to politics and society. I really do thank the internet, particularly Tumblr, for opening me up to so many other points of view. I could introduce my family or friends to alien concepts to them, stand up for small injustices, and generally just feel like a better and more woke human.

The thing is, I now realise that it is far more mature to be restrained with your opinions. Shout about the things that matter, but understand that not everything is a fight. Sometimes there really are more important things going on.

The internet is a double-edged sword. I love how it connects us, but I hate how we can't escape it. I love how we can gain so much knowledge, but hate how it gives many people a false sense of truly understanding a topic. I love how people can bear their souls and receive the response they need to hear, but I hate how we are all open to attack from anyone. Social media is not real life. What someone shares online does not match up to reality. No matter how honest someone is online, there will always be things unsaid. It's not up to those following them to try and fill in the gaps.

And yet, that's how it's going, isn't it? Someone could make a comment and in seconds it's blown up out of proportion. For some reason unbeknown to me, the internet doesn't like nuance. Every misguided comment is a reason to attack someone's entire being. You aren't allowed to make a mistake because that means you're a horrible person. Reacting by educating someone is a ridiculous notion because everyone should know the correct response to every situation already. And even comments which don't mean anything remotely sinister are ruthlessly picked apart. People have different lives, different opinions. It doesn't mean either person is wrong. But on the internet, if someone differs from you, it's something to shout about.

I can look back and see moments where I let the internet hoards dictate who I should and shouldn't like. I remember people screaming about how trash X famous person was and why they're horrible, and I listened to them. I wouldn't watch certain films, certain YouTubers, or listen to certain bands. If someone in my life liked that person then I felt it my duty to list all the reasons of why they're problematic. However, I'm now very much a 'stay in your own lane' kind of person, only speaking up for issues which I feel actually hold a purpose. When I look at said people now I realise that they are humans who made a mistake and who, the majority of the time, have profusely apologised and are genuinely sorry for what they did. But the internet doesn't like people to have a life or career after a mistake.

I hope it's clear that when I talk about mistakes, that I mean misguided, uninformed statements or actions. What I don't mean is inexcusable behaviour such as abuse or assault. Without nuance, the internet equates rape with accidentally calling someone by the wrong pronouns. 

This is a topic I've been talking about ~irl~ for a while now, but recently there was an incident that really ground my gears, and made me want to try and verbalise how I'm feeling in the chance that it will make other think too. James Gunn (writer and director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vols. 1 and 2) was recently fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Why? Because he wrote some controversial tweets years ago, which he has since apologised for, and people found them and complained and campaigned to get him fired. Jack Howard's recent tweets sum up my feelings:

'In a time of the internet, when we have an ease of contact to the creative people we admire, the thing it’s too often used for is attacking them. I hate it and I don’t understand it. [...]
This James Gunn thing is insane and sets an awful precedent. No one is allowed to make mistakes because if you do, you’re accountable FOREVER and can never learn from them. WHAT!? Like, what? What’s happening?' [x]

I'm not going to go into the minutia of every detail of the case, you can read about it yourselves if you're not familiar, but I will say that I firmly believe this is an instance where the internet has taken a step too far. If James Gunn was still making all these risque comments then yes, I would understand why people would argue against him being part of the largest franchise around right now. However, he wholeheartedly apologised for his past comments, and even explained why he made them - not to defend himself, because he knows he was wrong, but to make clear that he does not hold the same views now. The thing is, there is a large chunk of the internet that doesn't care. They don't care that he's admitted he made a mistake, because as Jack Howard states, when you do you're accountable forever. James Gunn has been fired because people can't fathom how someone could make a mistake and learn from it.

But it's not only celebrities who face all of this backlash. It feels like everyone is open to attack. Do you ever read the tweets below a tweet that has gone viral? Amongst all of the 'didn't happen' responses (which is another pet peeve of mine - why do you give a shit) there will always be someone being contrary. It's almost as if some people believe that they have to comment on everything they see, as if the world absolutely needs to see their opinion. But in reality, there is a lot more power in biting your tongue. The thing about the internet is that it gives a voice to anyone. And a lot of the time, that's a great thing. Like I talked about earlier, without the internet I wouldn't know about so many issues that affect people who aren't like me. But by giving a voice to everyone, a cacophony of opinions are being heard. And sadly, the people who shout the loudest are the people who hold negative opinions.

The way I see it, a lot of people need to take a long hard look at how they use the internet. Think about a stupid comment or action you made when you were younger: we've all done it. How would you feel if that mistake was held over your head forever? How would you feel if people wouldn't give you the chance to apologise? To learn and move on? I'm not saying that we should always let things go and never stand up for issues, but to take a step back and think about the situation before reacting. Sometimes people just make naive or ignorant comments, it happens. There is a polite way to inform someone of that. A simple, 'Hey, I don't think you meant anything bad by this but I just want to let you know that...' is a lot more effective than setting an angry internet hoard onto a person. It shows that you're trying to educate, not attack. It also gives the person a chance to apologise, and more importantly, learn so they know not to do it again.

I'm not saying that no one ever does anything wrong. We're all human, we do. And that's exactly my point. We're all human, and we can all learn, if only we are given the correct tools.

I'm aware that I'm trying to tackle a problem that can't be fixed overnight. But I really hope that this post gives you a moment of pause. I'm not trying to silence people, as everyone is entitled to their opinions. However, I think it would be highly beneficial if everyone were to consider a situation before jumping down someone's throat. We live in a world where everything feels like a battle, and I think some people really do get offended over things which in the big picture don't matter. Ask yourself, is it really important? Does your opinion actually matter here? Consider the nuance, and consider how you can turn the situation into something positive, rather than a witch hunt.
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