The Problems With Online Activism - A Followup
A while back, I posted Why Don't We Just Protest Internet Activism Instead? , which, judging by the reactions around the web, struck my usual sour note with the online hivemind whenever I put on my grown-up pants and think for myself, saying something original that no-one else dared to think.
Oh, let me pound this point home. Internet activism: Call it "hacktivism", "Anonymous", "Occupy Wall Street", SOPA-ACTA-PIPA protests, petitions, rallies, demonstrations, fund-raisers, displaying a ribbon on your Facebook page - ALL of it, a bad thing, and evil thing, a contemptible delusion of the masses that deserves to be stamped out. A poison to the intellect and spirit of society, that does a ton of harm for every bit it accidentally does good.
Online activism amounts to a witch-hunt
One other blogger had the courage to post my thoughts:
"I just don’t like bullies. Especially hypocritical bullies. If you actually believe in free speech, and not simply the free distribution of other people’s intellectual property, you should let journalists, law firms and investors exercise their rights to it alongside your own. And yes, working on a bill in an open, democratic process is a valid expression of speech.
Instead, we are threatening anyone who disagrees with us. Like all ideologues, we have convinced ourselves that the other side is a wealthy special interest as if we are not very wealthy, very special and very interested. We imagine that we are trying to protect the Internet only for noble purposes, but it’s also true that we stand to make billions of dollars from the Internet staying just the way it is."
...and then he got screamed down by the mob and back-peddled. I won't: I think once you try to win your cause by bullying, you automatically both lose your cause and make yourself worse than what you were trying to fight.
Do I really mean it when I say "witch hunt"? Have you seen the McCarthyist "list of SOPA supporters"? Here's one version. There are many versions around the web, but Reddit, that capitol of online Nazism, started it. How do you get on this list? Somebody accuses you. Does the list contains citations, references, any sort of evidence? No, it does not. Anybody can add or remove any name they want to at any time from the list and pass it around.
Yes, I mean it: WITCH HUNT. As barbaric as anything that ever happened in the Middle Ages, this business of passing around a list of names of entities to be boycotted by members of a disorganized online mob, each of whom feels themselves bullied into complying and subsequently bullying others. As illogical as the most ridiculous religious superstition, and as horrifyingly telling of the thin line that separates us from the brute beasts we pretend to be different from.
And who points it out? Just me. Everybody else was OK with it, nobody else questioned "the LIST" (scare chord) for fear of ending up on... "the LIST" (scare chord)!
Online activists are easily fooled
One person caught up in the false accusations was Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan. Ryan never signed SOPA, came out against it, and yet nevertheless somebody slapped his name onto one of the dreaded lists, and in came the hate mail. Ryan had to post a correction, which the SOPA witch-hunters took to mean "Aha! He caved under the pressure! We won!" There are likewise grown adults walking around right now thinking that they got Microsoft, Apple, and Google to stop SOPA, when it was really the big tech corporations' idea all along.
Morons. Moronic morons leading morons, is all online activism will ever amount to.
There is a reason why we have amendments to our constitution to protect our rights in court, folks. There is a reason we have due process of law, and judges, and juries, and officially-declared rights. Because we already tried the riding-around-in-white-hoods-lynching-people thing and it just doesn't work. Mobs are stupid. When you join a mob, it makes you stupid.
Online activists have no sense of scale; they direct equal rage at the merest petty misdemeanor
Case in point: Rebecca Black. Yes, the song "Friday" was wretched (although that wasn't even her doing; she went through an agency which did a lousy job). Yes, she got famous for having a video online that went viral for being wretched.
What is posting a song online that some people don't like worth in retribution? Oh some funny jokes, some catty remarks, and a good round of teasing, right? That's all most reasonable people would deem appropriate.
Is that going a little bit overboard? Well, that's what the hivemind's reaction is to everything. Everything is a death threat, a DDoS attack, a protest in
Ku Klux Klan hoods "V for Vendetta" masks, a witch hunt, a riot, and if anybody doesn't bond with them 110% in complete thoughtless deference, they're The Enemy too.
I'm sure none of you will be shocked to learn that Your Humble Servant has also received death threats from random Internet spooks - for years! Not only over my continued protest of the continued hustling and scamming of the Linux community by scam artists shaking users down for money, but even over stupid, trivial, dumb things like a cartoon or something I said about a video game. God forbid I stick my nose into politics once in a while. I have nuts stalking me you haven't even met yet over that one.
Let me just say: The more crap I catch over what I do, the more I will do it. It is morally wrong to cave to a bully. I believe this. I believe this even if it costs me a life. If I shut up out of fear for my own safety, I make the bullies stronger and the next victim will receive even more crap than I did. Maybe it doesn't make me so much fun to hang out with sometimes - I still manage to have a sense of humor about it, even to mocking my own angst - but standards have to be stood.
Regardless if it's all empty threats delivered by little boys who are only brave when hiding behind the Internet. Which is usually the case, but every now and then...
Online activism creates people like Jared Lee Loughner
Beyond the death threats are the loonies looney enough to carry them out. Jared Lee Loughner, perpetrator of the 2011 Tucson, Arizona massacre, was as good as a golem composed of all the online activist's hobby horses. Atheist, 9/11 conspiracies, pot, Ron Paul, and the film Zeitgeist. And then it mixed with the crazy in his head and he went out and shot 20 people, killing six and profoundly crippling U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who had to step down out of office recently.
Jared Lee Loughner was to Anonymous as Charles Manson was to Flower Power.
Whoa! What am I saying here? Am I saying that online activism is to blame for Jared Lee Loughner? When he was obviously a crazy, disturbed person who would have eventually snapped no matter if he had never heard of the Internet? How could I lay the Tucson Massacre at the feet of the Internet hivemind any more than, say, I could lay the 1980 assassination of John Lennon at the feet of The Catcher In The Rye (read obsessively by assassin Mark David Chapman)?
Like this: Jared Lee Loughner was, remember, engaged in social media. He didn't come up with his delusions on his own; he was a member of conspiracy theory message boards where diseased minds share their disease and make everybody sicker.
Social media, unlike any other form of media, gives back to you. Get a crazy idea to go out on a shooting spree as a result of reading a book, seeing a movie, or playing a video game, and that's all coming from you. Get the same crazy idea and post it online, and if you're chosen the right Internet forum, you will get validation! You will get people co-conspiring with you, encouraging you, egging you on! You know those gruesome stories about teens hanging themselves after posting about it someplace like 4chan and the responses are all "Do it"? That never happens with a heavy metal album, no matter how menacing Ozzy sounds.
What I am NOT saying
I am not saying that the Internet should be censored in any way, shape, or form. Not even for the prevention of another psycho serial killer. That can't be helped. I don't bring him up to put blood on anyone else's hands. I bring him up as an example that the Internet is irresponsible and therefore should not be trusted with weighty matters.
Summary of what I AM saying.
The Internet needs to police itself - or some other entity will do it for them, and the online community won't like it. The policing needs to take the form of responsibility for our own actions, recognition that we are all easily lied to and easily lead over the Internet, realization that at least half of what we see online is not real, and most of all, establishment of the fact that online activism is the "cure" that is worse than every disease we will ever find.
Peace, love, and Linux be with you!
Update Just a few days later, Geekosystem has a post expressing a similar idea, concerning the recent buzz around Kony. Here again, armchair activists with a bleeding heart and a non-questioning mind can be bled for a few extra dollars by an outfit that produced a "documentary" film that is highly-questionable on its facts.
If I'm famous for anything, it's sticking my neck out, so I'll call into doubt that a single penny contributed to the charity "Invisible Children" actually finds its way into the hands of somebody who helps Ugandan children. I doubt it. And the burden of proof rests with its supporters. I quote the Wikipedia section on criticisms of "Invisible Children":
"Criticism of distribution of the organizations funds have also emerged. Specifically due to information reported by charity watch group, Charity Navigator. Invisible children received from Charity Navigator "four of four stars financially and two stars for the category of accountability and transparency."
Every time a charity organization does not make EVERY SINGLE PENNY completely transparent and trackable, from the time it enters their hands until the time it leaves them, you should be suspicious. How hard is it to post open books, with intake and expenditures? Why should a charity organization not do this? At least just post photos of receipts or something.
But more than that, there's concern over how the donation effort could really affect the situation. When dabbling in third-world politics on the other side of the planet, how do you know for sure who the bad guys are? Maybe there's more than one. That's a difficult concept to grasp, when one is used to good and evil being defined in Star Wars terms. No, it isn't just as simple as shooting the guy with the black helmet. There were similar concerns over last year's incredible Internet snow campaign with Kiva.org, which is a new blog post entirely. (There are three Kiva microloan partners in Uganda right now - did you know that? How do you know that the money you donated to Kiva last year didn't find its way into Kony's hands this year?)
What better target than a North American mouse potato who will click anything the Internet tells them to? What better cover for embezzlement and scamming than to claim that the money is going to benefit third-world orphans in some country most of you couldn't find on an unlabeled map, have never visited, and couldn't possibly make heads or tails of the true problems there? And finally, is there anything the Internet public gets more outraged about than when somebody like me comes along and points these things out?
UPDATE 3/31/12: In a miracle akin to Nyan cat creating the universe, CNET has something intelligent to say about this matter. Specifically, "old-guard" hacking groups are more worried about Anonymous / Occupy tyranny of the web than anything a government or corporation does.
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