Internet-hate debate: Exposure the most effective antidote

There’s an exciting debate going on in Sweden about näthat (hate on the internet). It started – or rather, flared up – after the airing of SVT’s investigative program Uppdrag Granskning, which methodically revealed some of the frightening verbal abuse that takes place on or through the internet. Several individuals subjected to näthat were portrayed – all women – ranging from public commentators and bloggers to private individuals. One young girl happened to say the wrong things on H&M’s Facebook page and soon faced a raging mob of commenters. The show was titled, seemingly provocatively, Män som Näthatar Kvinnor (Men Who Hates Women on the Internet) – which is likely more accurate than many are willing to admit. A fair share of näthat – the sort depicted in the program – is highly gender-centric, sexualized and directed towards women by men.

There’s much to say on this issue, but I’ll pick this one, perhaps most important item; that all of this so called hate is first and foremost this: vapid and vacuous. Huffing and puffing. That’s because the source of the affect is not grand ideas or personal convictions of the perpetrator – but plain frustration. Hot air venting from his own perceived inferiority; from an ego being hurt by the display of strength and intelligence by others (narcissistic injury). Cheap attacks on vulnerable targets is the only weapon he has got.

It’s not about hate or even real anger – it’s about relieving oneself from self-contempt by projecting it onto others through rage and intimidation. In that sense, the attacks are hollow, transient and not personal (in contrary to how the subject surely experiences it); de-personating the subject is indeed desired by the aggressor since it lessens the invocation of guilt.

In a later segment of the Uppdrag Granskning-program, the reporters searched out and confronted the authors behind some of the hateful comments with their own words. Rhetorically quite effective, needless to say. As expected, once forced to stand up to their words, without the perceived protection of anonymity and implicit validation from other commenters, the majority reversed their earlier, seemingly staunch positions and harsh words and turned to excuses and explanations. Many apologized or expressed regret. The monster died at the very first glimmer of daylight.

Herein, perhaps, lies some hope. The typical “hater” carries a lot of frustration and preys compulsively on others for relief. There is, of course, some risk that threats may actually be carried out; under influence from group pressure etc. But the beast is really a sheep. He’s fearful. He has no voice and no words. It is much more likely that he is a normal person with normal capacity for empathy than him being a sociopath or sufferer of any other type of emotional impairment. The idealist would probably say that all he needs is a hug now and then. That may be, but until then, we should adopt more vigilant moderation of the Internet space to keep the light shine in.

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