The corollary, I would like to point out, is also true. "There's a lot of decent people out there!"
But the bastards make the headlines. The bastards cause the problems that the rest of us have to deal with. And now, thanks to the internet, the bastards have more power than ever before.
I'm not just talking about the fanboys who take to message boards to call Armond White filthy names because he didn't like "Toy Story 3." There's even more troubling people than that.
The people who, back in the good old days, would have been at the head of a mob ready to burn witches at the stake. The people who get caught up in the idea of inflicting misery on someone for the sake of, oh, relieving the boredom of their own lives. Or something.
This is something I think about occasionally. Most people in the world have no freaking idea who I am and thankfully don't care. And yet I suppose I want some measure of internet fame -- after all, I have a blog (a couple of blogs, actually), I write for another website occasionally, I sometimes post "humorous" animated shorts I've made.
I do all this under my own name. So if someone, for any reason, wanted to do me dirt, said someone could do so, and probably pretty easily.
It happened to an 11 year-old girl called "Jessi Slaughter" (not her real name -- she's savvy enough to have a nom de internet [she's savvier than me]). Gawker has the baroque story, over a series of three increasingly disturbing posts. Some highlights from the first:
Earlier this month, Stickydrama—apparently the Gawker of 13-year-olds with long bangs who loiter in mall food courts—dubiously linked her to the lead singer of emo band Blood on the Dance Floor, Dahvie Vanity. When Stickydrama asked Jessi for comment, she said: "gtfo dahvie and I dont exist, I'm just a fan." Stickydrama concluded: "If Dahvie were a pedophile, why would he pick her! Other than the fact she's a slut!"Here's the video referenced in the excerpts above. It's Not safe for work!:
So, Jessi had haters. A few days ago, she posted this YouTube video calling them out, issuing such threats as "If you can't stop hating, you know what? I'll pop a glock in your mouth and make a brain slushy." Ha ha. Unfortunately for everyone involved, someone posted it to the Internet's scariest hive mind: 4Chan.org's /b/ board, and Tumblr.
The Internet started picking on Jessi Slaughter relentlessly. But it was more than just mocking: People started circulating Jessi's real name, phone number, address and links to all her social networking accounts. Someone prank called her. According to Encyclopedia Dramatica, pranksters spammed her Facebook and MySpace accounts, had pizzas delivered to her house and were considering sending call girls off Craigslist to the address. (Encyclopedia Dramatica currently has a three part section on "How to troll" Jessi: 1) "There are pics of her holding her boobs" 2) "Tell her to kill herself" 3) "Tell her dad that we are going to beat her up.") Slaughter's information and videos also shot through tumblr, aided by the blogging platform's reblogging system.
Her first mistake, of course, is reading the comments on her videos. Her second mistake is replying to them. Her third mistake is acknowledging that she reads the comments. Her fourth mistake is claiming that she doesn't give a f*ck about them. Her fifth mistake was the worst of all: She was an 11 year-old girl who just happened to fly onto the radar of a bastard.
I actually kind of like that people can present themselves unfiltered in a video blog like this. Kids today -- even 11 year-olds -- have unprecedented access to tools that aid their self-expression. When I was a kid, I had pens and pencils and paper. Kids today have computers that come equipped with cameras.
This is turning into one of those "kids today!" posts. I'll stop that.
The unfortunate side of is that, as William Carlos Williams is supposed to have remarked, "There's a lot of bastards out there!" And those bastards have access to the same tools as the 11 year-old girls, and apparently have no compunction about using them to try to smear one of those 11 year-old girls.
Or the 25 year-old lead singer of an obscure electro-pop band.
Sometime last night after 10pm, a /b/ user posted a proposition that the board's users troll the "pedophile" Dahvie Vanity. 4chan was still basking in its earlier harassment of Jessi Slaughter, so users quickly got on board—the thread exploded with suggestions and encouragement accompanied by unrelated pictures of boobs. One user compiled a dossier of Dahvie's personal information—name, date of birth, links to his social networking profiles and articles about him. Someone posted a link to a chatroom. ...Wow. And today comes the update that Jessi Slaughter is in police protective custody over death threats.
The early plans thrown around were the most technically ambitious, involving hacking into Vanity's MySpace or email accounts....
None of these deception tactics worked. ...
So they decided to launch a more pedestrian attack on Vanity's Internet reputation by Googlebombing him. Googlebombing consists of artificially boosting the number of searches for a term so it shows up in Google Hot Trends. (The origin of the virulent Justin Bieber syphilis rumor.) The phrase in this case was "Dahvie Vanity raped Jessica [redacted]"—Jessica being Jessi Slaughter, 4chan's earlier victim. The bomb was primed with a post on /b/ telling users to type the phrase into Refreshthing, a website which can automatically Google a phrase once every five seconds.
Users also created scores of pages on the crowdsourcing service Yahoo! Answers, asking questions like "Did Dahvie Vanity actually rape a girl?" Hey, just asking!
Jessi Slaughter's real name, address and phone number was distributed widely on the Internet through 4chan's /b/ board, Tumblr and other Internet backchannels. Jessi's mother, Dianne Leonhardt, tells us they've received a slew harassing phone calls since the video went viral Thursday.I suppose you take your life into your own hands when you put yourself online. Most people are decent, and just want to live their lives, and don't really care about the videos of 11 year-old girls. But, unfortunately, "There's a lot of bastards out there!", and if a few of them with a little bit of internet savvy decide they want to make your life hell, they can do it.
Some of those phone calls have been death threats, and the local sheriff's department has launched a criminal investigation into the video. Jessi was placed under police protection and brought to a safe house soon after it went viral, Leonhardt says. She came home today, but she's not online: A court order has barred her from using the Internet for at least three days.
So far, things haven't escalated past phone calls and online vandalism of Jessi's social-networking accounts. But Leonhardt says the family's life has been completely upended by a stream of prank calls." I've had people calling, impersonating themselves as cops, as child protection services," she says. Though Leonhardt says Child Protection Services is in fact involved in the case. "Something we never wanted!" Leonhardt's husband shouted from somewhere in the room when she told us this over the phone.