“Stereotype threats” online: is it dangerous?

Whenever I visit Facebook it’s really not hard to find people starting debates on statuses, news articles, photos, memes, the lot! The negative atmosphere is easy to bring up on Facebook, no matter what the topic. I can assure you, you could go on any meme or ‘shared’ photo that comes up on your timeline and find an argument.

In the past (say a month ago, I won’t try to sugar coat myself), I’ve fallen for the habit of arguing with random people on news articles and stories to defend my own beliefs on things. When celebrities come out as bisexual or a sexuality that isn’t just gay, I have argued with the latter of people on those articles who just love to shout how these celebrities are confused or ‘shoving their sexuality in people’s faces’. I’ve also seen people argue that straight people should have their own pride, that feminists are evil, ‘ugly females that want all men dead’ or even other disgusting topics where people defend rapists or racists or murderers. It definitely riles me up and as I love to voice my own opinion, sometimes I get stuck in the loop of debating with these random people who probably live on the other side of the planet.

Recently, I’ve tried to take a step back and realise, there is no point arguing with these people. Most people have these toxic racist/sexist/homophobic beliefs ingrained into them via their upbringing or media brainwashing and a single teenager on the internet is not going to help them open their eyes. This was one if the many reasons I’ve considered blogging, I can voice my beliefs to try to help people see the dangerous effects of having xenophobic beliefs and share my own research on topics.

Plus, on the internet, people can get away with being rude and hurtful absolutely scot-free. If your social media profile is private enough, nobody can get to you further than replying to your comments, and they can easily choose to block you and continue with their anger. I think people enjoy taking out any internalized anger online as you’re hardly going to be punched in the face or face consequences for your actions.

Today I read a story about how our new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has appointed ‘vegan’ Kerry McCarthy as shadow Environmentalist secretary and a spokeswoman for our farming industry. First of all I am disappointed with most media’s descriptions of her immediately as ‘vegan’, I can see why it’s relevant to the story she is currently involved with but that shouldn’t label a person? It’s not even a needed label, are you expecting me to go around describing people by it? “Ah yes you’d love my vegetarian friend Jo, although I’m not sure about my meat eating friend Sarah”. It’s just adding on an unnecessary connotation to a person that separates them for a reason that is only important to themselves and nobody else. It’s also another way of pushing those stupid, internet-based stereotypes that hook onto people. Vegans get the stereotype of “elitists who try to make sure everyone knows they are vegan and will absolutely destroy anyone who even mentions meat in front of them”. I’m not denying there are vegans like this, but you should also admit there are meat eaters on the same level. (Have you ever met a ‘meat-eater’ who will literally not shut up as soon as someone says they do not like meat? Yes we get it, steak is amazing.)

The problem with reinforcing ridiculous stereotypes like this is that it creates an online way of threatening that is almost school playground like, which is shoving the thing the person does not like in their face as if that’s going to make them change their beliefs. On an article talking about Kerry McCarthy’s idea to advertise meat consumption in similar ways to smoking you could find a hoard of bizarre comments with almost borderline sexist slurs and threats that involve meat, cause “she’s a VEGAN we must make her cry by mentioning BACON”. Most vegans choose to stop eating meat, they do not suffer from PTSD at the mention of meat, by using meat in your threats you are simply making yourself look childish.

Disclaimer: these comments I found on a Lad Bible article, which really speaks for itself, but here are some of the things I found

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So those are some incredible examples of the responses to this whole topic. Again, this is from Lad Bible which has the audience of mainly young people ranging from possibly 11-20 odd. I removed the names and photos for privacy but I can confirm these comments are mixed from females and males, admittedly male commenters pop up a bit more but that could be from the audience Lad Bible gets.

The obvious problem with these kind of topics is that arguing over people’s ideology on things such as food, diet, health, equality etc. suddenly can become even sour and toxic because for no reason aside shock value and threat, sexism (and other ‘isms’ but in this example mainly sexist slurs) come into it. The amount of people shouting ‘bitch’, ‘cow’ and ‘cunt’ in the comments was astounding. That one example there where she is called a ‘shit, ugly stripper’ is unnecessarily derogatory. But why do online ‘debates’ (more like battles) take this spiteful turn?

Like I mentioned before, the safety of being behind your computer or phone screen with privacy options put on your name makes it a lot easier to get away with this. Which is unfair and might take a while to change. But it is an extremely harmful system that works on the internet. Obviously this ‘vegan’ debate can be considered a minuscule problem. Other turns I have seen this pattern take is when it comes to arguing for actual sexism/racism/homophobic issues. Online warriors use these stereotypes they’ve built up during their time as being an online bully to try threatening people. The amount of times I’ve heard people drag out the rape jokes when ‘debating’ with a feminist is disgraceful.

This is definitely a pattern of ‘according to this stereotype I’m going to push this topic into your face because I don’t have any research to use in debate’ which becomes more and more dangerous when debates move on to more realistic topics. Bringing up history of rape, abuse, murder, violence etc. as a ‘joke’ or a ‘threat’ when talking to people is actually a lot more real than you’d imagine because some communities will turn these topics into ‘stereotype jokes’ or ‘dark humour’ which somehow gives them the ‘get out of jail’ pass and allows them to corner people who have not even communicated with them once.

Do you think this behaviour should be stopped? Would you say it is a growing online issue or an overreaction on my behalf?

I’d love to hear some feedback.

Thanks for reading,
Lenah x x

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