I’ve been online for a long time now. My first computer capable of surfing the internet was an Macintosh (Apple) Performa which was a pricey and amazing piece of technology for its time. Those of you who know this machine should be able to date my online starting time but for those who can’t it was 1997. That is almost 20 years which is longer than some of you have been alive. There are people reading this right now who have never known a world without the web.
I wasn’t quite as much into doing research back in 1997 as I am today and after only a couple of days on the net I started looking for entertainment and stumbled upon Yahoo chat rooms and a day or two later Yahoo user created chat rooms. Right from the start I saw people slinging insults at one another. The anonymity of the net tended to bring out the worst in people and often still does today. There was no insult that was verboten whether that insult was aimed directly at you or your friends or your family or your sexuality or your race.
Several years later I started playing World of Warcraft and I played that game for about ten years until it got so painfully easy that I couldn’t even justify the $15 a month it cost to play it. I’d have to say that the most popular insult in that game was the word “nigger.” There are 2 opposing factions in Warcraft (from here on out I will be referring to the game as WoW) the Horde and the Alliance which have different languages and therefor cannot communicate with each other. Of course someone figured out how to get at least a couple of insults across to their enemies and besides the internet phrase “pwned” (a reference to being killed by a low level Chess piece) the word “nigger” was translated by people who would have had to do a bit more than bend over backwards to find this way to insult others not of their faction. The interesting part of the use of the word “nigger” in WoW is that over time it lost all meaning and stopped being an effective insult term a lesson we could all learn in our politically correct world.
These are just a couple of examples of experiences I’ve had with online insults but in truth it doesn’t matter what online site you go to the adds are very high that at some point you’re going to be insulted and probably in ways you would never be insulted in a face to face confrontation without the incident erupting in a physical altercation. Insulting others and being insulted is a common and thus normal part of the online experience (pay attention parents) and people will go to unusual lengths to insult others. There are no “safe spaces” online and there shouldn’t be either. There is nothing online that can physically harm you and as big boys and girls we have learned to let these insults roll off us like rainwater.
Yet even with the long history of personal insulting (which has become much of a game in itself) online, over the last few years I seen videos on YouTube of people acting as if they have been psychologically if not physically (/facepalm) damaged over some insults slung at them by some unknown entity online usually in a comments section of Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or YouTube. How is this even possible? How is it possible that anyone who has been online for more than 10 minutes has gotten it into their heads that personal insults online mean anything? Just like the word “nigger” in WoW online personal insults are so frequent that they have really lost all meaning and that is not a bad thing.We shouldn’t be afraid of words, any words.
Words alone can do no real harm and in an arena where even the worst words are used so often that they have lost whatever impact they may have once had the only reasonable way to regard those who act like they have been damaged by these insults is to assume they have another agenda. The agenda is most often attention whoring or control. Now of course there are people who get off from self pity but it is those who seek control who are the most dangerous people on the internet. These people seek to quash free expression online and whining about being insulted or shamed or whatever is but the first step in achieving the kind of internet censorship that will eventually lead to totalitarianism online. Today it is your style of communication tomorrow it is your ideas and political opinions. We see examples of this from almost every nation in the world as more and more the ceiling of expression are being pressed down upon us.
The question we must seriously consider is where does that end. Because once we accept the slippery slope of censorship the downward spiral has no end and though you may cheer today because insults, colorful words and disturbing ideas are excuses to punish online users, eventually that kind of oppression will find its way to you.