On Internet Outrage

This morning I noticed a really good post by Cora Buhlert on the subject of internet outrage and responses thereto. This is a matter of some interest to me because, as a trans woman, I am apparently one of the most vicious online bullies in the world. Well, at least according to cis, white feminists anyway. And Piers Morgan, of course, poor little downtrodden fellow that he is.

The sort of incident that Cora talks about should be well understood by now. It has a very familiar pattern, as follows:

1. Someone with a fair degree of privilege writes something that is calm and superficially well-reasoned if you don’t question its assumptions, but is at best naive, and at worst condescending and insulting to significant numbers of people.

2. People with far less privilege respond with frustration and anger.

3. Friends and fans of the original poster clutch at their pearls and complain about how the Internet has been poisoned by the presence of violent bullies.

There is also the flip side, which goes like this:

1. A member of a “minority” group writes a post asking for more representation (and I used scare quotes there because women and people of color are not “minorities” in the human population as a whole, they are just seen as such by people used to a predominantly white male commentariat).

2. People react to this with furious blog posts, threats of violence, rape threats, death threats and so on.

3. Pearl clutching is conspicuous by its absence.

Of course not every Internet flame war falls neatly into these two categories. And in all such cases trolls on both sides revel in stirring things up. But it isn’t hard to diagnose where on the spectrum a particular flare-up falls. Just ask yourself why the people who are angry are angry. Is it because they are being talked about in unflattering terms and silenced yet again, or is it because they feel that their position of privilege is threatened.

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