Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hiding Behind Masks

Atrios posted Shepard Smith discussing the hatred he sees in his e-mail messages:

All kudos to him and the Fox News for allowing this to be aired. The validation of hatred is something I have thought about a lot. That's one bad change that the cyberspace has allowed: We walk through it masked, with a false sense of anonymity, we open our mouths and out spew all the resentment, fear and hatred we must bar in during our everyday lives. It's as if we didn't say it, after all. Some cyberspace creature did it and there's no flesh in that space, no flesh that can bleed, no bodies that die. What's perhaps worse, we may learn to take others spewing as something innocent, just a way to let off steam.

Or that's how it sometimes feels. You can find websites which specialize in White Supremacy or Male Supremacy or hatred of the Jews or of the Muslims, and those who participate there get validated in their anger and in their stereotypical beliefs, not corrected, not helped to see their grudges from a wider perspective, not made to begin the slow process of understanding.

It's not debate I want to limit or even strong feelings and language. It's the self-perpetuating enforcement mechanism which I see as dangerous, combined with more and more isolation in the sources that people use for their news, more and more of ganging up against the 'others', more and more scapegoating. The e-mails and blog comments shot into the silent space that is the news media isn't a solution to all this but perhaps part of the problem, because the masks are still on and because the lines are drawn for battle and not for debate. All that contributes to the process of 'othering' the opposition.

The masks in the title of this post are not necessarily bad, of course. Neither do I mean to attack Internet anonymity, for example, but the general feeling one easily gets that the voices in the cyberspace are not attached to real people, that what one says doesn't somehow matter as much as saying the same thing out in the street or in someone's living-room. Though locker-room talk is perfectly fine, for some reason.

I'm not sure if this makes any sense, and I wish to stress that my concerns are only about a small percentage of cyberspace exchanges. A much, much smaller percentage still would actually engage in violence because of the extra support they perceive from various websites. Still, talking about this is something we should do.