John Green reblogged this post over on Tumblr, which is a very thoughtful post Cassandra Clare made about bullying and anon hate. I felt compelled to respond:
I confess, I don’t know enough about Cassandra Clare to have an opinion on any of the controversy that has gone down regarding her. I’ve heard mumbles and rumors, but not enough to form any sort of informed stand.
But this stuff? This is not okay.
I may be just a small self-pubbed author with one book under her belt and another on the way, but I discovered long before I published that anyone with any degree of notoriety attracts anon hate. I’ve had my own cabal of trolls stalking me from place to place, leveling vile and untrue accusations about me because somewhere along the line, I had the audacity to butt heads with them over something or say something they didn’t like.
I didn’t announce the publication of my novel to a pool of readers who would have really would have liked to know about it, readers who would have been invaluable in spreading the news that I had published and offered me a lot more sales, because I was afraid that if I made any sort of announcement, my trolls would see it and publicly harass me at a time when that sort of negative publicity would be absolutely catastrophic to reputation. Dozens, maybe even hundreds, of people who have read and enjoyed my writing in other places have no idea that this is the name I am publishing under or that I’ve published at all. I handicapped myself straight out of the gate to avoid that possibility.
In the past, I’ve been accused of being a drama hound for not letting unacceptable behavior slide, for not following the “don’t feel the trolls” doctrine. But it rankles my sense of justice, that people who behave that way don’t have to face consequences, because if anyone calls them on it, it just eggs them on.
Frankly, it’s terrorism, is what it is. The same mechanic is at play, using fear and intimidation and threats of violence/reprisal to 1) silence a target/enemy, 2) prevent anyone from holding you accountable for your actions and 3) trying to force a target/enemy to behave a certain way or capitulate to certain demands.
It’s terrorism. And it’s cowardly.
If you ever descend to sending vitriol, however warranted you may feel it to be, anonymously, you are a coward using terrorist tactics. You lose absolutely all moral high ground because you lack the courage of your convictions. You are so ashamed of your opinions or the behavior resulting from them that you don’t even want them traced back to you.
When I was in my senior year of high school, my AP Western Civilization teacher us a story. Back in the early 80s, before our school district had a sex ed curriculum, one night a guest speaker was booked to come do a presentation about teens and sexuality in the auditorium. But the parents and clergy (and bear in mind this area had the highest number of churches per capita of anyplace in the entire country, so the clergy were very influential) got wind that this guest speaker intended to talk about masturbation. The parents and clergy complained, and the guest speaker’s appearance was cancelled.
The students protested. One day, after fourth period, they staged a walk-out. En masse they rose from their desks, walked out to the front lawn of the high school, and sat down for twenty minutes, then peacefully returned to class.
During those twenty minutes, the teachers were instructed that they were to give detention for cutting class to every student who walked out. A number of the teachers simply didn’t, in a show of solidarity with the students.
My Western Civ teacher was one of those. But he went about it a bit differently. When his students returned to class, he looked at them and told them that he had been instructed to issue detentions, but that he wasn’t going to do it.
“But,” he said, “if you truly believe in what you just did, if you believe you were right, if you believe you were justified, if you stand by your actions and have the courage of your convictions, you will go down to the principal’s office right now and demand your detentions. Because actions, even justified actions, have consequences, and if you believe in something enough to undertake the action, you have to believe in it enough to accept those consequences, or you’re a hypocrite.”
Every one of his students went down to the office to demand their detentions. He said it was the proudest day he would ever have as a teacher. He had tears in his eyes as he related the tale.
When I say trolls lack the courage of their convictions, this is what I mean. Not only do they, as Ms. Clare rightfully points out, break the social pact, but they take advantage of the lack of accountability inherent in the anonymous nature of internet interactions to do it.
If they truly believed in what they were saying, they would put their name to it. They would accept the consequences for it, whether that consequence is adhering to a permanent ban from their fora of choice, or having their employer discover just how they behave on the internet.
But they don’t, and that is why they are always wrong, no matter how justified they may believe themselves to be.
Without accountability, there can be no meaningful protest. Without accountability, it’s all just noise and bluster.