Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Internet cult of personalities, and the real people who are hurt when they're misused
The cult of personality some people can build online is frightening. And that when you have one, everything you say is gold to them, and all you get is how smart and brilliant and thoughtful you are no matter what, and all of your rage is always justified no matter what, and if people say otherwise, your followers will jump on them. "Righteous anger" seems to be a big part of this. And using that righteous anger against people with a smaller platform than yours. Blasting away at a person on tumblr knowing that you're going to get hundreds of your followers joining in and saying how smart you are, or that will jump to your defense on Twitter. And losing the awareness of what you're doing, and doubling or tripling down to play to your audience when you realize you're wrong instead of apologizing, or asking people to stop fighting for you.
I've always been really scared of this happening with me, because I don't want to be one of those people who gets used to everything I say being gold, who gets used to having hundreds of people jump on anybody who disagrees with me, therefore not having to deal with the emotional impact it otherwise might have on me. And it would also really really unnerve me.
It reminds me of the B-plot of the TNG episode "The Outrageous Okona" where Data is trying to learn humour from Joe Piscopo on the holodeck, and at the end he's telling jokes and everybody is laughing in the audience, and he realizes that it doesn't matter what he says, they still laugh as if they're hearing the funniest joke ever.
That's how it seems to me whenever I see it in action, that it doesn't matter what the person at the center of that cult of personality does or says, it's gold, it's brilliant, if it's social justice related, they're like a great feminist or whatever, and their personal whims and tastes can be framed as social justice and people will eat it up. And being factually wrong, or having misread something doesn't deter them or their followers, and at some point it seems as if they are deliberately trying to engender more loyalty from their followers, to make an example of people who disagree with them, and to come up with new rage for their followers to glom over.
I get scared of this a lot because of how much Escher Girls has grown and how hard I try to make sure I'm not using it to attack somebody who is personally annoying me, that I avoid making it all about myself, etc. Like, in that, I don't want it to be about me, and having it become my platform where whatever I say is eaten up, or I'm the definitive decider of XYZ.
It's also why I have a "no amateur art" policy, and my comment guidelines includes not trashing artists' personally beyond criticizing their art style or choices. I don't want it to become a place where people bully others, and I also think sometimes that's meant I have sacrificed some personal popularity in doing it, and sacrificed people having the same loyalty to EG that they have for other sites, because I don't want to be that lightning rod of anger that writes giant big rants and gets applause because I'm picking on some person smaller than me. It seems like a very effective way to get popular on the internet though, I'm noticing.
Often, I worry I'm doing feminism wrong, or internet e-fame wrong. I mean, I do occasionally wish I was more popular sometimes. I do sometimes feel bad about myself that other people get all the "YES THIS" and other people get the "this person is so brilliant" and I get sort of ignored because half the time, nobody even knows I run Escher Girls. But then I also know I don't really want the kind of fame where every one of my tweets gets RT'ed if it even remotely sounds smart, that every conflict I get into is always going to have me looking the best to my followers, and that I start losing myself in that, as I've seen other people. And start using that to get rid of ANYBODY who upsets or aggravates me online just because I get so used to having an easy mechanism to get rid of the stress of being in an argument or disagreement online, and forgetting how big a platform I have. I think there is some responsibility to having a large internet platform with active followers willing to defend you, attack for you, etc... you can't just hide behind "I can't control what others do", because, while you can't, you CAN speak out against it, and you can be aware of what you say what you post and how your audience is likely to react to it.
This isn't really about me and Escher Girls though, even though I have a lot of self-esteem issues related to that, it's about the cult of personalities and how scary it is when you see one of them in action bullying somebody when the star person is clearly in the wrong, but their followers just don't care at all, and keep telling them how smart and brilliant and progressive they are, and how their anger is this purifying fire.
Recently it happened to a friend of mine, and I feel responsible for it because it's my reblog of her that got her all this attention. I wanted to share her post because it spoke to me (and it spoke to pretty much everybody else that read my post from my viewing), and I wanted to share it with others. But my reblog of hers was ignored in what happened. And the problem is, while her post by itself was part of a larger conversation about female characters on her blog, my post WAS meant for public consumption and clearly articulated what she was trying to say in her post, and gave the context. A popular webcomic creator reblogged just her post (without mine) and raged at her. They completely misread her post, and it led to a giant huge massive pile on that's had my friend feeling really vulnerable and hurt. People calling her a misogynist, misgendering her on the assumption she must be male to be as terrible as they think she is, and etc...
What's worse is I don't think a lot of people even read her post, they just keyed onto the anger of this person because they are seen as a smart and famous feminist person who must be on target if they're that angry at somebody. Some reblogs even specifically said that they didn't even need to read the post to know this is an awful person, which is an excellent way to go living life. It's like the Simpsons: "I'm not signing anything until I read it or somebody gives me the gist of it."
My friend's trying her best to take the high road, but it's hard, especially with everybody acting like she doesn't exist in the reblogs, like they can't talk to her, or ask her to clarify, and people not reblogging her clarifications because they'd rather the narrative set by the famousy person. They're trashing her as if she can't see it, as if they can't just open a dialogue with her and go "okay, what specifically were you talking about" and they're SERIOUSLY strawmanning her instead of responding to what she was specifically saying in her post. And this famous person is sitting back and letting it happen, in fact they're doubling and tripling down with more posts attacking what my friend didn't say. And given that they're ignoring the people pointing out they misread the post, and eating up the "YEAH YOU SHOW THEM" and "YOU ARE THE SMARTEST" and etc other things on Twitter, it's clear that no amount of reason is going to work. They're deliberately choosing to continue the narrative they created and ignoring the people who try to point out the clarifications.
And it's just frustrating. My friend is upset, and I feel helpless because I feel responsible for this. I already clarified on EG, I already posted in a follow-up her clarification posts, so I know I've done all I'm comfortable with doing on EG, with that platform. But it just really angers me. It angers me how lost in the cult of personality people are, how it doesn't matter what that person says or what my friend actually says, the audience will clap and cheer for the good guy and hate whoever they're fighting. Like it's wrestling. Cheer the Rock, boo whoever the Rock makes fun of. (I haven't watched wrestling in years. If the Rock is currently a heel, substitute whoever is the popular face who makes fun of people.)
And in the meantime, an actual real person in my friend is being bullied, trashed, derided and feeling angry, frustrated and upset because this person has decided she's a bad person who deserves to have the weight of her platform crush her, and their followers have more than eagerly dove right in.