This post to The Blogging Times was inspired by a few more scalps being scored by online vigilantes. This phenomenon is nothing new but the thing that interested me about these two was that they come from opposite ends of the spectrum with regards to their transgressions. Lucy Gao made an absolute prat of herself regarding her personal life and Lee Siegel made a very serious professional blunder. Without further ado, here’s the video, more discussion to follow.
It’s more than a mild understatement to say people have a tendency to be judgemental online. If you haven’t heard many of the stories on this topic, the Wikipedia article on Internet vigilantism is a good place to start. There have been a huge number of stories over the years that could be included under this umbrella and depending on your point of view (and maybe the specific case) this is either the rise of empowered citizens or scary as all fuck.
The end of the spectrum that is easier to support involves serious professional or criminal misconduct. Some people go after pedophiles, some bait scammers and there was even the case that basically ended the careers of a couple of US journalists when they publicised a memo that made George Bush look bad. The memo was the smoking gun that proved W had skipped out on his national guard service which he was only doing to avoid going to Vietnam anyway. It was just a pity that they didn’t do enough fact checking to find out that the memo was a fake. Personally, I think if someone dug far enough they’d find the whole thing was set up by Bush supporters… I should probably take off my tinfoil hat now.
This is the company that Lee Siegel falls into. As someone employed by a magazine as a professional writer there are standards of behaviour he’s expected to follow. It seems he was a hell of an unpopular art critic. It also seems he had trouble dealing with the strong reactions he rather negative and apparently clueless writing provoked. So he invented a persona to post positive comments about himself on his own blog because no real people would support him. Which makes him unprofessional, unpopular and a pathetic loser. I have my fair share of haters but at least I have real supporters in my corner to balance them.
At the end of the spectrum that makes me more queasy are people who have been exposed and humiliated for stupid and/or embarrassing things they’ve done in their personal lives. There was “dog poop girl” who suffered fairly severe retribution for not cleaning up when her dog crapped on public transport. There’s multiple stories of people sending inappropriate emails from their work accounts that get them fired. Sometimes they’re bragging about sexual exploits, sometimes they’re having nasty bitchfights over petty things and sometimes they’re just being jerks.
And then there’s poor Lucy Gao. It isn’t as if she actually hurt anyone, she’s just… well, she’s a fucking idiot. A sad little control freak socialite wannabe. But I’m not sure that she deserved to have her life ruined. It isn’t as if I lie awake at night tortured by the injustice of it all but being an idiot doesn’t justify being vilified around the world. Anyone who believes in karma or simply being fair wouldn’t indulge in this shit.
Some readers might be surprised I would be so conservative on this topic, after all, I’m not shy about cutting loose when I think someone deserves it. The difference I try to maintain is I focus on public personalities or at least someone who launched an attack on me first. And I can’t imagine a scenario where I’d divulge someone’s private details simply because I thought they were stupid and/or embarrassing. I honestly think we’re barrelling straight for a hell of a shitty future as this sort of behaviour becomes more widespread. Anyone still want to know why I wear a mask?
Actually, I know I’m playing russian roulette by having this online profile. Because I take an admittedly extreme stance on a range of topics, I piss a lot of people off. If I ever get any halfway serious public profile there will be a long line of people waiting to fuck me over. Hell, outside of strangers that I piss off, I know for a fact a particular ex-girlfriend would go straight to the tabloids to talk shit about me if I attracted any fame under my own name. She’s a pathological liar but it seems most tabloid writers are as well so they’d get on like a house on fire.
I know all the bad things I’ve done in my life and I’m prepared to own up to them. I’d better be, because the odds are I’ll have to one day. It’s an interesting concept – would a future where every little detail of your life could be made public encourage people to behave better? I’d doubt it. Besides which, even if you’re a saint, some fucker will spread vicious lies about you. So OK you guys, when some horrible stories get circulated about me, you know it’s all lies, right?