So the currently in vogue moral panic is internet bullying. First twitter, and now ask.fm have become the focus of the old media due to tragic events of varying description. What is it about the internet, ask the commentariat, that leads to such disgusting behaviour?
I've got news for the commentariat. It's not the tool, it's the users. A certain number of people have always been bullies. People have always written - and received - poison pen letters, some of them anonymous. People have always been pushed into suicide, scared and alone, because of the behaviour of their peer group. It's tragic, it's disgusting, and it shouldn't go unpunished. But it's not new. The only thing that's different about the internet is that now everyone who turned a blind eye to this sort of behaviour when it was happening before is now forced to admit that actually, it DOES happen, and it happens lots.
Worst of all, somebody has actually done some research
(I know! Imagine! RESEARCH!) into problem behaviour online (in this case the community around a specific game, but I'd be amazed if it doesn't scale up) and discovered that most of the bad behaviour comes from people who, most of the time, are perfectly civil and friendly. It's almost as if, I don't know, we're all humans, and sometimes we get angry and blow up at each other? Like, big bad bogeymen don't exist, and actually it's a lot more complicated than that. Who'd have thought? This means that even (say) Suzanne Moore or Richard Dawkins aren't actually evil. I know, that's a big idea to take in. Take a minute.
Most of the people who bully others online don't do it because they are evil
, they do it because they have very little power but they want to exercise what little they have at the expense of someone else because other people are always exercising power over THEM dammit, so they're going to do it too! Or they haven't considered how the person on the receiving end will feel, or they think it's funny, or they're bored, or a combination of the four. Exactly the same as all other bullying ever
Now, the reason this concerns me, and the reason I am writing this post, is that the old media consensus that this is NEW and ONLY HAPPENS ON THE INTERNET and SOMETHING MUST BE DONE TM
seems to be gaining some purchase among otherwise sane people. Few people seem to be thinking about why
the old media are so keen for this narrative to take hold, and why they are particularly pushing it now
Now this is just speculation, and might qualify me for a tinfoil hat, but who has the most to gain if the internet in the UK becomes regulated? Can it really be entirely a coincidence that this moral panic has come to the boil at the same time as David Cameron has reheated his plans for internet censorship? First he wanted to apply it to porn, but then all sorts of other websites got added to the list
... And strangely
the people with the most to gain from regulation of the supply of information are making a huge hue and cry about how the internet is bad and evil and Something Must Be Done TM
. I smell something, and it's murine.
I don't condone bullying, and I don't condone mob "justice". But bullying and mob justice are not confined to the internet, and restricting online content for all of us is not in the interests of anyone but the existing media power blocs. If we want to stop bullying we have to create a society in which bullying is not a tool to gain social status. We have to make it less advantageous to bully and more advantageous to be nice. It's not going to be easy, and there are no quick fixes. The Quick Fix of internet regulation will not solve the problem, and the media who want us to believe that it will are not our friends. Let's not drink their kool aid, people. Please?