Archive | March, 2011

Cultivating a culture of ‘mean’

22 Mar

The Internet is a wonderful, wacky place. It can do great things, like help fuel opposition movements in Egypt or make it easier to raise money for the earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan.

But the Internet has a darker side too, one which often manifests when videos or photos start to go viral. Take the latest online singing sensation, Rebecca Black. Black has been all over the news lately and the music video for her song “Friday”, which started it all, now has more than 30 million hits on YouTube.

But Black isn’t famous because she put out a really fantastic song. She’s famous for the opposite reason — the song is terrible and everyone’s passing it along as a joke. Just looking at some of the comments on YouTube it’s hard to believe how mean some people can be… “I weep for the future of mankind”…”Like AIDS for the ears”…and so on. (These are some of the nicer ones.)

Star or victim?

This behavior isn’t really anything new. People have been saying mean things and making fun of other people behind their backs forever. What is different is the scale and ease of this bullying. Anyone can e-mail a link to a video, post it on their Facebook or sign up with some anonymous username and start posting nasty remarks, secure in the knowledge that they’ll probably never be called out on it.

Some argue that the fame and fortune that accompany these viral video stars more than makes up for the hurt feelings that made them famous. But does it? Rebecca Black is only 13 years old. In a recent interview she said the comments don’t hurt her feelings anymore but I have to wonder if she was telling the truth.

He's rich now, guys! It's totally fine.

I’m not sure if there is a solution for this cyber-bullying problem. The thing that makes the Internet so wonderful in the first place — its universal access — is  what makes this culture of mean possible. And I know that I’m part of the problem. Hell, I made fun of Rebecca Black too and I love surfing Buzzfeed, looking for the next Joe Schmo I can laugh at.

But I am interested in the role that the media plays in all of this. To me, it’s an oftentimes conflicting stance. One moment, I’ll see a website or TV news station playing the latest humiliating video for everyone to see. The next, they’re digging up the person in that video and giving them a platform to show the world they’re real and they’re hurt.

Sounds like a good thing, right? I’m not so sure. These interviews might help change public perception, but I think that most people have already decided how they want to perceive somebody and have moved on. Plus, they inevitably spur a new wave of people to go online, view the video and spew out more negativity.

Remember her?

Honestly, I think the media should just ignore  viral videos. “But the people want to know!” you might cry. My response? They can easily go online and watch the videos themselves. In fact, they probably already have. We have many more important things to cover than contributing to online bullying.

As for monitoring comments, most news websites already have some kind of feature that helps with that. Another interesting idea is one I saw on The Missourian’s website. There, they make people register with their full names as usernames in order to leave comments and have a strong policy against uncivil comments. I’m sure people can just give a fake name to get around this, but it might at least give some pause to cyberbullies.