Content note: this post discusses online abuse, death threats, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia and neo Nazis
The media discourse on online abuse has always been bloody dire, controlled by people from powerful platforms who are, briefly, wrested from their little grammar school debate club bubble. If you’re reading this blog, you probably feel this already. It’s a dangerous discourse, rooted mostly in bruised ego and utter obliviousness, but I cannot help but think that perhaps it serves a murkier function.
Yesterday, journalist Owen Jones tweeted a sample of the homophobic abuse he receives frequently from right wing men. If one scrolls down the thread, you will see that a certain Professional White Woman Expert On Internet Abuse™ begins yelling at him for pretending that right wing men are the problem, when the real enemy is left wing men and that Jones was derailing from this. In waded the boyfriend of a New Statesman editor to air his views that he was called a “dick”, just that day, by someone on the left (gasp!). Later, A Very Intelligent Man And Homebase Shopper decided to just pop in and go on like Jones was the one being derailing and disingenuous.
All Owen Jones did here was point out that online abuse from men on the right is disgusting, toxic and vicious. And he’s right. I think most of the demographic who read this blog would agree that right wing men are the worst abusers of all, and have at least once received a deluge of nastiness from the neo Nazis, if not a full-on campaign of hate. But in doing that, he challenged the mainstream model, and ranks closed as they felt their control on the narrative slip just slightly.
To the clique, the narrative goes like this: Nice White Ladies are the primary victims internet abuse. Misogynists are conflated with someone who disagrees with some of the frankly unpleasant and oppressive stances these people take. Secondary victims could include melts being called melts. “Jolyon” and “cis” are apparently slurs on a par with the N-word (perhaps worse, given how silent this large media club remained on the horrific misogynoiristic abuse received by Diane Abbott). This post is abusive, because it’s written by a Not So Nice White Lady, features the word “melt”, mentions Homebase, and disagrees with them.
I mention obliviousness as an explanation of this behaviour, because it may be in part true. Imagine living your whole life in a small privileged bubble of being told you’re special, only to have it exposed that actually, most of the rest of the world think your hot takes are rubbish and wrong. That’d sting. And if you go through life without receiving much nastiness, on account of lucky accidents of your birth, it can make you feel like when you experience a bit of meanness, it’s somewhere on a par with the vicious racism and misogynoir which daily grinds at Black women and WoC; that your being called a slug is comparable with frequent bouts of open homophobia; that someone suggesting your latest newspaper column is shit, using the word “shit”, is exactly the same as when trans women are harassed, threatened, and put at risk.
However, it’s also true that these people receive less shit from the right than the rest of us. This is because they are not resisting right wing men. Men, all men, have pretty much two modes when it comes to relating to others: they like you, or they want to grind you to fucking dust because you haven’t given them their own way. White, right wing, cishet men seem to have the speediest hair trigger on deciding they want to destroy you. And if they don’t want to tear you apart, what are you doing to appeal to them?
The answer is that the particular media sect that likes to control the narrative are useful to the right–from the common-or-garden Tories to the outright neo Nazis. These groups share enemies in common. The TERFs are useful to the right for their hard work in doxxing and smearing trans women. The SWERFs, likewise, but in attacking sex workers. The media misogynoir and calls for a debate about Ordinary People’s Very Real Concerns About Immigration is very useful to the wider cause of racism and white supremacy. The hacks provide a nice, respectable face for the abominable views of the right and do great work in furthering it.
And, of course, any resistance can then easily be smeared as abuse. Perhaps, even, viewed through the lens of ignorance, it can be felt as abuse.
I am not saying here that men on the left are above reproach. Indeed, I’ve pissed off a fair few in my time by engaging in intra-community efforts to tackle misogyny, because it’s our struggle to have (not one for the slugs!). However, it is the right who are by far the worst perpetrators; and I think anyone who has gone up against them by the mere act of existing while opposed to their ideals will agree.
Online abuse narratives are fucked, and it is incredibly difficult to allow the truth of the situation to get out, since it is so controlled by those who would promote a conservative agenda. But the fact of the matter is this: those who talk most about it from their platforms are often the ones who receive least.
Related: How online abuse is politically hijacked, Owen Jones