November 20, 2013

Does this help at all?

Please, folks, stop picking at it.

We’re being had.

If your Facebook is anything like mine, numerous people have already indignantly shared a piece with you called “Five Reasons To Date A Girl With An Eating Disorder”* with comments along the lines of “I CANNOT BELIEVE PEOPLE LIKE THIS EXIST” and “THIS MAKES ME WANT TO GO SIT ON THE EDGE OF A CLIFF AND SCREAM UNTIL I WASTE AWAY AND THE SEAGULLS FLY IN TO PICK MY BONES” and “WHOOPS IT’S TIME FOR ME TO LEAVE THE PLANET, FOR SURELY THE REDDISH WASTES OF MARS WILL NOT INCLUDE OPINIONS LIKE THIS.”

This has happened before. Probably it will happen again. Just as UpWorthy discovered we were suckers for Videos That Restored Our Faith In Humanity, the folks over at Return of Kings (but there are others, and there will certainly be others) have figured out our equal hunger for Things That Fill Us With Rage and Despair. “GAAAAH” we say. “THAT WAS AWFUL! I HATED IT! I MUST SHARE IT WITH EVERYONE I KNOW!”

Stop, please. In general.

Here’s how one of the commenters on the Roosh V forum, a home base of sorts for the people behind these articles, puts it: “I love how these women don’t understand the internet. When they see something they think is horrible, they want to share it far and wide and get as many eyeballs as possible on it. It would be like if their was a little dog with explosive diarrhea sitting by itself in a corner, and instead of leaving it alone, they pick it up and carry it across the entire house, spreading [feces] all over the floor, saying “[OMG] everyone look at this dog that keeps [dumping] all over the place! Can you believe this? OMG!”

It’s certainly a vivid image, spelling aside. His theory that “The female imperative that craves drama and emotional solidarity from peers overrides all logic. And so it is that feminists unwittingly find themselves foot soldiers in the RoK army, helping to spread our message far and wide. Thanks [ladies]” seems a tad rockier, but, frankly, they’ve got a point.

If you drag yourself all the way over to the remote corner of the room where a dog is taking a dump and insist that You Guys Gotta See This, Because One Look At It Turned Me To Stone — whom does it serve?

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” Eleanor Roosevelt said. Add to the list of things no one can make you do without your consent: hate-read an article that makes you quiver with rage, then hate-share it with all your friends, thereby publicizing it to the ends of the earth.

The impulse is strong.

One of the problems with online life is that it blurs the distinction between despicable things people say to your face (at which you can quite justly take umbrage and summon all your friends To Arms! To Arms!) and despicable things people say off in a quiet corner to crowds of like-minded friends. It’s all there in the open — if you look. But why go looking? It’s the Internet equivalent of rubbernecking at accidents — you expend a lot of effort to see something that will make you actively unhappier. Oh yes, and it generates traffic. While in actual life, traffic is something people avoid like the plague, on the Internet, traffic is God. Traffic dictates what comes next. If people clicked on whatever it was, there will be more of that thing. It spreads because it spread.

Stop picking at it.

Return of King’s Twitter notes, “For the love of god, please stop sharing our site links. Our server can not handle the load.” After 7,000 people tried to comment at once, they experienced a “massive database failure.” The violent rush of people over there to See The Thing That Is So Offensive only managed to wound the site, not kill it, and now there’s a petition to Take This Dreadful Thing off the Internet. It has already reached 700 signatures. “What I saw was so horrible,” you say, “that not only should no one choose ever to see it again, but also the choice should be taken from them.”

But that just makes more people stare. Turn around. Walk away.

Don’t sign the petition to have it removed from the Internet. The cure for speech you don’t like is more speech, not urging people to Take That Down At Once Lest You Glance At It And It Turn You To Stone.

The problem is not that this exists on the Internet. All kinds of things you wish were not on the Internet exist there, just as there are all kinds of gross things on the sidewalk: rats and hunks of garbage and old newspaper that smells like a dead fish that had low standards for personal hygiene. You can either spend all your time seeking out the rats and garbage and glowering pointedly at them, or you can walk calmly to your destination. I guarantee that spending all your time pointing at the rats won’t diminish their number.

Just look away. I know it is hard to rest when Someone Is Wrong On The Internet — especially when it’s this egregious and taunting. But I have faith in you.

“Ignore it, and it will go away,” is, I know, the most annoying advice possible. “I don’t want to ignore it!” you said to your mother, walking home from school. “I want to punch it in the face and make it taste sweet justice! I want to wake up all my friends and say, ‘CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS EXISTS? WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE? GET EVERYONE WHO AGREES WITH ME AND LET’S THROW A TWO-MINUTE HATE!’”

Don’t waste your time. Go here instead. Or here. Heck, go outside. Read a book. Climb a tree. Go out on a bicycle and irritate all the people in cars around you.

This thing that bothered you so much? Its message is weak and wrong. That fire will die quickly without the oxygen of amplification. It’s not worth expending indignation on. Save your strength. There’ll be another time. Go out and do the things you do that make life nicer. Don’t click on this. Don’t share it. Just let it be. If you want it to stop, stop staring when it happens.

*I’m not linking to it.**
**Dang it, you’re not Googling it, are you? It says exactly what you would expect it to say, but without the colorful prose you envisioned.***
***Okay fine, do you want a link to it? Here.
****Hear you nothing that I say?

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.