I’ve long maintained that so many of the horrors of the Internet Age are not new ones. Harassment of women, of minorities, of LGBT people, none of these are new. Even the methods are largely the same: death threats, intimidation, and revealing of personal information. What is different about harassment in the Internet Age is that awful people now have far more reach, with far less effort. By any measure, 2014’s biggest Internet hate campaign, GamerGate, has only a few hundred members, but has leveraged weaknesses in technology to amplify their voice of hate to what sounds like a mass movement.
But the same tools that extend the reach of hate, also extend the reach of love. Some of us in the technology space on Twitter roll our eyes when we see the latest sociological outrage flow past us on our timelines, but Twitter and similar online spaces are fast becoming places where the victimized can find people who are able to support them, and amplify their voices above those of their attackers. Through services like Tumblr, and even Reddit, a transgender teen can find the support they don’t get in “real life,” though often it’s not enough to save them.
When you’re not in the space occupied by marginalized voices, and they penetrate our bubble, it can be frustrating. “Why do I need to hear about people being harassed online? This isn’t what I come on Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/Reddit for!” This is why I’m convinced that half of the volume of Internet Outrage is people being outraged over the other half of the outraged expressing their outrage. Where others see an annoyance, I see those bubbled up voices as the Conscience of the Internet: a voice poking through the mundane din of our feeds to remind us of our humanity, and our duty to others. The only way we can reduce the reach of the horrible people is to expand the reach of the victimized.
Two decades into the mainstreaming of the Internet, there’s still no shortage of eye-rolling over Internet Activism. It’s true that Internet Activism with no real life component is largely ineffective, but if there’s one thing that Internet Activism is good at, it’s amplifying the voices that would never be heard through other means. We can cultivate, mute, and prune our feeds like tending a vegetable garden, but no matter what, something uncomfortable will still bubble though. It’s what we do with those discomforting moments that creates our online social conscience.