There seems to be something wrong with the internet lately. Trolls are taking over whole communities; the atheist community in America is ripping in two because they have people who think some parts of the community don’t deserve to be treated like human beings and signicant parts of the community are willing to defend that position. Gamers have been fighting among each other all through the summer because of pretty much the same thing. Then there’s always the less dangerous trolls of #FFand people shouting their message on Twitter.
I’ve probably mentioned before that I think Twitter is awesome. I follow a lot of authors and for some reason a disproportionate number of authors follow me. Some of the authors who follow me have this annoying habit of pretty much only saying things about their books. I don’t generally follow companies but I hear from people who do that a lot of them are also using that platform to basically shout their message at people. People working hard to brand themselves. Now don’t get me wrong, if you make something that you think is cool or other people might like, it’s cool to promote the heck out of it. Just don’t let that be the only thing you say.
It was with all this in mind that I read Maureen Johnson’s Manifesto and something clicked. One thing that made me almost give up the hope of publication was all those hundreds of sources recommended for aspiring authors saying that I should build my platform and clarify my brand. And to be perfectly honest all of that made me want to gag. See I used to be a software consultant and I hated it. Trying to escape that kind of corporate newspeak was part of what made me return to writing to start with. I just want to tell stories and have people enjoy them. I blog because I like it and write fiction because I’m happier when I do. I am not a brand.
And the thing is people – and by extension the internets – are capable of such heroism and utter goodness. When a high-school kid spoke about school prayer being unconstitutional and his family disowned him, the atheist community came together to form a fund to send him to college anyway. When the trolls tried to prevent a kickstarter from happening gamers from all over the world came together to make sure it got funded. And then of course the whole internet came together to fund a Tesla museum (okay, I may be exaggerating a little). And it’s not just money. The internet is becoming a legitimate media all on its own (it’s no longer just for porn), making and breaking news stories, saving a woman condemned to be stoned to death and lot more that I can’t even think of off the top of my head.
The point is the internet has the potential to be truly great. But it’s not going to get there all on its own. If we keep giving bullies, trolls and shouters the platform to do it, they’ll drive everyone else away eventually. Just look at what happened to ChatRoulette. But the thing is we, none of us, need to do that. We don’t have to allow trolls in our communities. If we start with the premise that everyone deserves to be treated with respect we can create something truly amazing. And no, I am not advocating that we stop disagreeing because you can have even heated disagreements and debates without ever once deliberately insulting the person you’re disagreeing with (yes, I realize that there are people who will think it an insult that you disagree with them. I’m an atheist, there are people who think my mere existence is a personal insult to them. And no, here I am not exaggerating. Unfortunately). It’s entirely possible to take apart arguments and not ridicule the person making them. It’s even possible to ridicule the argument without ridiculing the person making it but this takes mad skillz and I wouldn’t recommend it simply because most people don’t have those kinds of skills. I certainly don’t.
So go forth, be awesome and let’s make the internet a better place. Nolites te bastardes carborundorum
PS. Pamela Gay gave a speech on the same subject at TAM: