Last week I met a pleasant lady who, though she had appeared a few times on television, could hardly be counted a public figure. Nevertheless, she had received many abusive messages on Facebook and Twitter as a result of her appearances, and one man had written to her thousands of times and threatened to kill her, telling her that he knew where she lived just to make sure that she was genuinely frightened.
Of course, one doesn’t know what proportion of messages on the so-called social media are abusive in this way, nor can one define at what proportion of abuse to other messages those media would be a net social bane. Another question is whether the social media express the bile that has always existed or whether it has actually increased that bile by turning the expression of it into a habit.
Certainly no one who follows the internet ‘discussions’ that follow the publication of an article will be surprised that there is so much bile about. The other day, for example, I happened upon an article about research that had revealed a vast canyon in the earth’s surface under Greenland’s ice sheet, a canyon that was longer and larger than the Grand Canyon. This was a fascinating finding, suggesting that there is still (thank goodness) much that is unknown in the world.
You might have thought that such an article would not occasion venom or bad temper, but it did. Here are the comments that followed:
James: Very interesting, but the probing is probably just a
cover for the start of checking for oil.
Carrol: The computer you used to type your idiotic post was
made possible by oil.
James: ‘My idiotic post,’ Carrol? Judging by your absurd/
unintelligible comment, YOU are the only idiot here, as
you don’t even understand what I’ve written.
Truant: All [Carrol] did was make a statement that your
computer has oil-based components in its construction,
and stated so without any accusations except that you
are an idiot.
James: No, Truant, you are as thick as Carrol.
If this is the level of insult occasioned by a geological finding in Greenland, you can easily imagine the venom that attaches to more politically contentious matters. The Guardian website censors comments that do not ‘abide by our community standards’ – and when one reads the kind of comments and language that do abide by those standards, one wonders what the censored comments must be like.
Where does all this biliousness come from?