I once told a fellow Twitter user at the end of whatever it was that we were arguing about that I “hoped his [expletive] pet died.” It is not the expletive you might think. A different “F” word. The kind of “F” word that will get anyone canceled. His or her (yes, pronouns were in xe/xir’s bio) pet had some pink ribbon on, and I maliciously attacked the gender-fluid animal. My slanderous tweet had nothing to do with the pet; I just wanted to hit this anonymous Twitter user where it may possibly hurt the most. This, unfortunately, isn’t the only example that I could provide of being a complete asshole online. In my weak defense, I was drinking in those days, and my philosophy was to “fight fire with fire.” Somebody once told me that “never is not a word that we get to use,” so while I want to say that I would never wish death on another’s pet in a face-to-face interaction, I guess I might, but the likelihood that I would actually do that is negligible. What about social media makes me (or us) feel so inclined to interact with people online with such malice? What is it about social media that produces such vitriol – a kind of vitriol that wishes death and destruction on the lives and careers of others?
A couple of ideas come to mind, some of them obvious, but let’s rattle them off:
1) There are potential consequences to any sort of heated personal interaction. You might get punched in the face; you cannot just log out of real life and ignore the “return ball,” let us say, as the French Open reaches its conclusion.
2) Anonymity (we are talking about Twitter for the most part) has given users the freedom to “speak” freely (Which is a bit ironic, isn’t it? As they continuously tell everyone that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences while simultaneously removing the consequence of having their appearance attacked, which we’ll get to) and to say whatever the hell comes to mind without fear of repercussion. As far as I can tell, the users participating in such despicability are, for the most part, anonymous. The type of user that has an anime, TV, movie, or sports character as their profile picture. I read a tweet from one of these people the other day, in response to a Jordan Peterson tweet, that had a picture of a prescription drug bottle along with the caption, “You know you want one.” It made me sick, but with that said, I’ve tweeted disgusting shit like that before. Anyway, I suppose I understand why these dickheads choose to remain anonymous. Anybody who has a real picture of themselves has their appearance eviscerated. If you tweet something that an anonymous user doesn’t approve of, you can find a picture of your face blown up in the replies, with a gang of other anonymous users telling you that the reason you “don’t get bitches” is because of how you look. Hilarious, honestly, but it’s still awful. “Trolling” started out as something comical, but like anything else, as an idea is pursued, it will steadily evolve. The art of trolling, outside of sports-oriented trolling, has morphed into something quite evil.
3) Imagine for a second you are sitting at a poker table with powerful members of the mafia. There are large quantities of money being thrown around, jokes about anything and everything, half-naked girls walking around (or half-naked men, if you’ve somehow imagined a female mafia), and smoke floating through the air from the tip of expensive Cuban cigars. For lack of a better word, it can be intoxicating. Nobody in their right mind would want to say anything that would deviate from the culture that has been cultivated. However, what if somebody actually had the stones? What if somebody spoke up and said, “You know, this is great and all, but historically speaking, any mafia or cartel never lasts long. They always get brought down in dramatic fashion. What do you say we cut our losses, turn ourselves in, and limit the damage that is inevitably coming?” At best, you might get the breaks beaten off of you. Hopefully, that’s all that happens. Is this scenario not similar to how social media operates?
This is a small-scale example, but I remember tweeting something positive about Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick. It’s a rarity that I do that, but it did happen. The positive Jonathan Quick tweet got so many likes – so fast! Well, about four or five, but that’s more than the zero that I normally get. I can remember thinking to myself, “Gee, I would probably gain a lot more traction on this app if I just said shit like that more often.” Is it possible that a specific culture has been created on social media – that there is a certain line that must be toed; therefore, any comment that does, indeed, toe the line, generates positive traction, and any comment to the contrary will generate zero or negative traction? If we agree to this, then is it possible that social media users will say something which they do not believe – in hopes that they will get the likes, retweets, or attention they think they want? Which brings us to-
4) Social media is the “UFC octagon” in a fight for attention that people do not receive otherwise, and it is a vicious and ruthless competition. There are no rules. How could there be when you can remain anonymous, and even if you do get “suspended,” you can just create a new account and start all over again? The gloves are off. People will say or do whatever they can to win the ever-so-valued online attention, even if it means they receive it for a mere 24 hours, which they are a single tweet away from achieving. This battle for attention becomes (or has become) especially crucial when the user receives little-to-no attention outside of social media, and the dopamine rush feels too good to be concerned about how one might come across – particularly if it doesn’t matter anyway – if that line is ultimately being toed.
Regarding myself and what evokes vitriol out of me, personally, I cannot stand seeing people sit behind a computer or a phone, anonymously, and shit-talk somebody who has spent their life working their ass off to be in the position they find themselves. Some dickhead in a basement responding to a Sam Harris tweet with, “ACKSHUALLY, you’re wrong about that.” It makes me furious. “Who the fuck are you!?” I might exclaim. I’ve said that to myself a few times, I might add. “Who the fuck am I?” “If you hate someone, you hate something about them that is within yourself. Something that is not a part of us does not disturb us.” I hate it when people think they know more than they do; I hate that I think I know more than I do. The reality is that I don’t know dick. They’ve told me that’s a good place to be – in a place where you’ve realized you don’t know much, but far be it from me to let @Dickface21259 with a Pikachu profile picture tell me that’s where I am. Maybe he/her/they/their right, but he/her/they/their in the same spot. Doesn’t make me any less furious.