I spend a lot of my day on the internet. As I write, I take frequent breaks to mull stuff over or just to get away from what I’m working on for a few minutes to come at it a little fresher later. (Read: I goof off.) Because I spend so much time online it’s hard to not let the crushing weight of negativity that permeates things start to get you down after a while. I try to avoid comments sections on fan sites in particular because nothing of substance generally comes from them, and they generally only end up ticking me off. Still, like a sickness, I find myself drawn to looking at them anyway.
Trolling is nothing new. For longer than there has been an internet there’s always been “that guy” or “that girl” that just can’t wait to pee in someones Cheerios, or just generally be a total jackass to people because they get a kick out of getting a reaction. But now that the internet has become such a staple of everyone’s lives, trolls are no longer the little jerks you’d run into every once in a while, and silently (or sometimes not so silently) you wish someone would just come along and beat the stupid out of them. Now you can find entire swarms, like locusts, that invade message boards and comments sections and feed off of each other. Online bullying has become a real serious thing. Kids have committed suicide over it. It’s becoming ridiculous.
I think a large part of the problem is because of the anonymity that the internet brings. You can say anything you want and, outside of the online environment, you don’t have to pay any consequences for it or see the real world affect it may have on people. I think to a lot of these negative people it’s become an escape from their normal lives. They’re able to say and do things they just can’t in the “real world”. Additionally, because it’s online it feels less real. The other people commenting don’t feel like real people. They’re screen names. They’re digital voices in the internet ether. It’s all a game and it’s no big deal.
Until it is.
Those are real people behind those screen names, and many of these people have no separation between “reality” and “online”. For many of those who have grown up with the internet their online persona and their real life persona are one and the same. When people say nasty and hurtful things, it has a real world impact. it goes beyond just making some random person explode on the internet. It could have serious ramifications, depending on what was said and the subject matter. Ask any of the families who have suffered through the loss of a family member because of online bullying.
For any of you who are into gaming at all or are big on watching YouTube videos you’ll probably at least recognize Francis. He’s known for being “the fat guy that freaks out about stuff.” As an example, here is a video he posted today giving his reaction to Microsoft’s reveal of the new X-Box console. The ending made me laugh out loud.
What many people may not realize is that “Francis” is actually a character that the guy plays on his YouTube videos. He does this for his job. He gets paid to act like spaz for a few minutes at a time. Living the dream. But earlier this year Francis made a different kind of video in which he talks about his real life, the stuff he’s gone through, and where he is now. It’s a sad story, but it’s not played for sympathy. He tells us this story to let his audience know how much he appreciates them, so that people who watch his videos can see that just by watching him act silly for a few minutes at a time it’s completely changed, and in this case it’s helped to save, his life. He wanted to say thank you, and he wanted everyone to know just how serious he was and what it means when he says it. I don’t normally watch his videos too often, but I admit this hit me where I live a bit.
So I watch this video and come away from it feeling all the feels that I’m sure if you watched it you are feeling right now too. Against my better judgement I scroll down into the Kotaku comments section and this is what I find:
Yeah, it seemed more like “I am pretty good at html, but as times changed, I didn’t keep up. Now I can’t make any money!” Well, hate to be this much of an ass, but dude, get some literature on modern web design, stop being so lazy, and also, lose some weight killer, it is very bad for your health to be that heavy.
That’s fine, but I just don’t feel bad for people who make their own problems and refuse to deal with them.
Depression is a hell of a thing, I know from first hand experience, mostly because I was one of those people who made my own problems, refused to deal with them, and sulked and whined that the world had it out for me, that is what this video screamed of to me. Sorry to be so blunt, but I am tired of the bleeding hearts when a little bit of “shut the fuck up and get on the damned exercise bike” would do the trick.
I win the “Not Obese Award” it comes with a lifetime free of diabetes.
It gets progressively worse from there from this commenter and a couple of others. For those of you who did not watch the videos, the guy in question is a really big dude. He came from an abusive home and was constantly sick as a kid and ended up with a few medical conditions that only added to his not being able to exercise/eat right, including depression. As a result he ended up getting bigger, and then more depressed, and eventually became a shut-in for 7 years and almost committed suicide. This guy has opened up, stepped away from his online persona, and talked about what I’m sure are things that were extremely hard to speak about, not only as a thank you, but also as a means to help others. As a result he gets crap like the above back. While yes, it’s just a vocal minority, and some people are just know-it-all jackholes, crap like this can seriously do harm, especially to someone with a history of serious depression and suicidal tendencies. Sure, you could argue that when he put himself out there he knew that would happen, but that’s not the point. The point is these are real people, and anonymity does not mean you get to be blameless for the crap you say or do. It doesn’t mean there are no consequences for your actions. It isn’t harmless.
The commenter above is obviously a jackass that makes a lot of assumptions and knows nothing about what clinical depression, or this man’s life, is really like. He’s just one example, and it’s not just the internet. There are a lot of people like this jerk in the “real world” too. I’ve had to suffer them for 32 years, and assumptions are a large reason why I’m in the medical position I’m in right now.
I know there’s nothing I can really say that’ll make a difference to these hurtful people. I know I can’t change the internet. I guess the whole point of this is to hope that someone might read it and it might make them stop and think before they respond the next time, both online and in real life. Just remember that it is human beings (most of them) on the other end of these digital devices, and those people have feelings just like you do. And if you realize that and just don’t care, and continue to be hurtful to people just because it’s fun and you have nothing better to do with your time or your life…well, that just makes me feel really sorry for you.
J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novel The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1-, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here. Digital copies on sale for a limited time for $0.99. Check back each Sunday for a new chapter in the ongoing serial Moving On!