Digital Apostate — Part XII: Internet Muscles

What’s worse than the amount of self-interest that social media has wrought upon us is the response to it. Go to just about any video blog, makeup tutorial video, Instagram post, Tweet, etc., and you’ll likely find a comment so nasty that were you to hear it in public, you would audibly gasp and perhaps your inner-vigilante would kick in. I suppose that’s just the way of the internet – you put yourself out there, and someone is bound to hate you. The big issue is of course the aggression, vitriol, and hate, but that’s nothing new. No, it’s the willingness and the comfort to tell someone directly that they should end their life that disturbs me.

            With all of that unifying connectivity that social media purportedly brings us comes also a great deal of serious bullying. I certainly hope that those developing social media platforms didn’t sincerely think that their website or app would usher in a global era of peace and unity – it didn’t. What did happen is that while the good people took to the internet to share their world, deliver compliments, spread love, and post pictures of cats, bad people also found their way to it, and they’ve got shit to say. For every self-confident selfie there’s someone whose aim it is to make that person feel terrible. 

            And that’s the trouble with social media in general, there’s zero accountability and total anonymity (if you want it). You could open up a new Twitter or Instagram account with an email address you just created moments ago and no one will stop you. So, there you are – it’s your avatar and your words, with your real self safely hidden behind your new nom de guerre. You’re free to insult, threaten, shame, and badger people to your heart’s content, the only consequence being a suspension of your account.

            These are “internet muscles.” Not unlike “beer muscles” whereby someone’s confidence is bolstered by their inebriation enough to start a fight, the anonymous nature of the internet makes people feel free to say some of the nastiest things they could imagine. Hiding behind their avatars, these cretins take to the internet to say the things they perhaps don’t have the courage to say in person. 

            But therein lies the problem. The consequences for the person leaving the comment are minimal, while the recipient is sent spiraling into depression, a depression that can often lead to self-harm or suicide. According to the CDC, suicide attempts have nearly doubled since 2008, and victims of cyber-bullying are twice as likely to kill themselves.[1]The hurt inflicted is real regardless of whether or not the person who wrote it thought of it as anything more than fingers idly striking a keyboard. The deaths are real, the bloodshed is real, and the internet is real too.

            The very nature of the internet must be questioned and changed. Anonymity doesn’t work, it hurts people. That someone can feel safe enough behind their account to hurt someone deliberately is evidence enough for swift and radical change. A simple “put your name on it” policy will suffice. Those acting with their newfound “internet muscles” must be made to answer for their transgressions. 

The most disturbing part is that all it took was anonymity and a streamlined interface for certain people to give into their most vile nature and drive people to the brink of suicide. All it took was the notion of protection and some of us decided it was high time we told people the hard truth that they’re ugly, fat, worthless, and a waste of life. To some, internet life is its own thing, an entirely separate world. But we all know that isn’t true. We all know that real people receive those cruel comments, and real people kill themselves as a result. Unlike “beer muscles” which yield consequences in the form of swift takedown, “internet muscles” yield a result a bit more nebulous. Since there’s no face, no real visible reaction, the comment seems to just get hurled out into the tragic void of the internet – but it doesn’t. Someone reads it, and someone gets hurt. Our precious anonymity isn’t worth the pain, our privacy is overrated.


[1] https://meganmeierfoundation.org/statistics

Published by Christopher Goodlof

Writer, Visual Artist, Musician

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