One normalish pandemic day in November 2020, my phone started blowing up. "Did one of my dumb internet stunts or jokes go viral again?" I thought.
I opened my phone and was punched out of oblivion…
The day became the worst day of my life. A woman I formerly shared an unhealthy relationship with incited a vicious Twitter mob against me. I was wrongly accused, and suffered immensely. This inflicted material damages, including shattered friendships, being pressured to step back from my projects, and traumatic, psychological pain. I considered ending my life a handful of times. Without a few compassionate individuals, I do not believe I would have made it.
I'm certainly not the only one to face the trigger happy brutality of an internet mob. I came across a few tales of unfortunate people who endured similar suffering. They were difficult to read, but helped with understanding that I was not alone.
One telling written by Joseph Massey outlines parallels to my story.
Your phone’s blowing up. You know something’s wrong. Your throat tightens as you read one text message after another asking if you’re OK. A few of the texts are angry and confused (“What the f*ck? Is this who you are? I don’t understand”).
You want to respond to everyone immediately, assuring them that what’s being said about you isn’t true. There’s more to the story, but context is obliterated by the heat of mob rage. Still, you exhaust yourself with explanations.
You take a few calls from concerned friends. You hear the fear in their voice, the grief. Their attempts to comfort you only pique your anxiety. “You know I care about you,” they say. “But please keep this conversation private.”
No one will stand up for you. They’re well aware what the consequences will be if they defend you on social media, which is where your life is being systematically distorted and destroyed by a faceless mob. They don’t want to lose their careers, their social group, their reputation, everything they’ve worked for. You’re in freefall and they’re watching from the windows, waving.
The court of public opinion doesn’t give you an option to present your case. People with any inkling of beef seize the invite to toss a few blows in. You can’t stand up. It’s paralyzing. You feel like you are surely going to die. You’re the only one who can pick yourself back up.
It’s been about 6 months since the shit hit the fan. It took a lot of work to be able to get back on my feet. Some days, my greatest accomplishment was leaving my bed. Even after sharing the information to “clear” my name to the kangaroo court, the damage was done. Crippling depression and anxiety became new challenges in my life. I still experience aftershocks today, but they’re manageable. Time off, loving friends, therapy, and some generous support groups helped a lot.
These days, I try to find the lemonade to be made out of the fucked up lemons. My situation unraveled the most clarifying experience I could imagine.
It revealed the quality of my relationships with people:
- Some insisted I reflect and apologize for things I did not do
- Some said to sue the perpetrators to the moon
- Some strangers had opinions
- Some were opportunistic and slithered in for scraps
- Some bloggers blogged
- Some wanted to fight back for me
- Some quietly retracted their casual pile-on tweets
- Some were loving, reached out, and helped me get back on my feet
As brutal as it was, this was perhaps one of the best sorting filters applied to my life. How often do you get a chance to see where people really stand when push comes to shove?
There’s irony to a progressive, fluid culture, dishing outrage in black and white. They’re against incarceration, but enthused to rip people apart, with no due process.
The most outrageous story is louder than fact. Casual lynchings with no accountability. How did we end up here?
The internet has developed a cancer which positively reinforces outrage and amplifies misinformation. An Internet of Beefs replaced what was a creative sanctuary. When the extremely online merged with the rest of the world during the pandemic, it forced everybody into the same room. We uncrowded meatspace, at the cost of overpopulating the metaspace. I wouldn't wish a mob attack on my worst enemy, but I think a lot of people would. Given this, I'd guess it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
No human being is immutable.
No one is irredeemable.
To believe otherwise is to diminish our unlimited capacity for change.
So what are we supposed to do in a world that’s gone mad? Our symbiotic relationship with the internet has imprinted its glitches into our minds. The internet is a collective consciousness, and its mental health remains unchecked as it accelerates beyond our control. Somewhere along the way, it feels like we left compassion behind.
I don’t know what the precise solution is, but I’d love to talk to people working on mindful experiences with technology. Creativity has always been my most effective antidote. It felt like I lost a lot, putting a number of projects and relationships to rest, but I realize now it was a great reset. The best ideas inevitably reincarnate themselves.
I hope sharing this is not only helpful for those who have been hurt, but also those who are quick to combat. I think we’re better than this. We all deserve better.
This post was published on 2021-05-27
It was #2 on Hacker News
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