The Summer of Hate

Earlier this week, anti-porn activist Melinda Tankard Reist sought legal advice from a defamation lawyer after a blogger labelled her a “fundamentalist Christian”, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. ‘'Why does being a blogger exempt you from the laws of defamation?’‘ she questioned.

While The Guardian last year reported a rise in defamation claims levelled at Twitter users and bloggers in the UK, it could be said that the increase is in litigious outcomes rather than in the nature of opinionated expression itself. So argues Meghan Daum in an article titled ‘Haterade’, published in this month’s issue of The Believer.

In 2004, when Marieke Hardy began writing the provocative blog Reasons You Will Hate Me under the pseudonym ‘Ms Fits’, she could barely have anticipated how appropriate a title she’d chosen as a storm of criticism, some of it rather unseemly, lingered in the distance — fed by both anonymous and prominent fellow users of the printing press/internet.

This storm struck hardest in November last year. Spurred by feminist blogger Sady Doyle’s #mencallmethings Twitter campaign aimed at naming and shaming anonymous male commenters for their hateful and misogynistic slander, a rightfully offended Hardy mistakenly outed one Joshua Meggitt as the man responsible for a concerted (and undeniably nasty) five-year-long campaign of abuse posted on a blog under the name ‘James Vincent McKenzie’. An apologetic blog post (now inaccessible) and a $13,000 settlement payment to Meggitt later, Hardy’s hater has recommenced the campaign whilst none are any wiser to his identity.

As any seasoned blogger or online columnist would be well aware, slanderous comments and hate blogs are commonplace and geographically widespread. While those proffering an opinion online are most frequently maligned, also susceptible are businesses critiqued by user review sites. The urge to retaliate against our critics can take many forms, taking the Ocean Avenue Books vs Yelp incident as but one example.

In ‘Haterade’, author and essayist Daum traces the online put-down through its historical antecedents: yet more pseudonyms, political interests and public figures including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.

Whilst “the goal is to be heard, to inspire reaction and generate discussion”, Daum — like Hardy and so many others — has “a stable of regulars [who] have become so personally invested in their dislike” for her that their smears have wandered well into the terrain of her personal life. This behaviour, she argues, has rendered much comment less about “joining the conversation” and more like watching a dogfight.

But, Daum offers, if harsh and ill-considered judgement is the cost, valid criticism is the “priceless” benefit. “When ideas are given their due — that is, treated as living, breathing, imperfect things rather than written off as glib reactions to preexisting ideas — something rather magical can happen. There can be a second of silence during which we, as readers, think before chiming in. There can be a gasp of recognition that reminds us why we read or write in the first place.”

Click to read the full article.

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17 January 2012


There are 8 comments so far

8 comments so far:

I had first hand experience with this sort of slander and misinformation when I published an opinion piece in the Age about Peter Roebuck's suicide. Derryn Hinch, picking and choosing diligently from the piece, concluded I was condoning child abuse and corporal punishment. Nothing could be further from the truth.

17 January at 07:10PM

I'm just posting this to enjoy the fancy ironic tingle of commenting on this article.

Jon Tjhia
18 January at 12:58PM

I couldn’t agree more. It saddens me the number of people who make hateful comments and hide behind the internet’s anonymity to do so. If you believe in your opinions you should have no issue standing by them. Take responsibility for your opinions and print your name alongside them. I would personally disregard any comment that is made by “anonymous”.

Rachelle Douglas
23 January at 09:52AM

These links are really interesting (and slightly disturbing), and highlight one of my favourite things about the Wheeler Centre site - the comments might be few and relatively far between, but at least they are always intelligent or, at the bare minimum, civil. Something increasingly rare and precious these days, it would seem... Kudos to the Wheeler Centre and its community of participants for keeping it that way.

Lois S.
23 January at 11:35AM

Don't neglect the hateful gesture - clenched fist, arm extended upwards and mouthing of words - unfortunately now on full display in the Australian Open.

Lillia A.
23 January at 02:37PM

Yeah, that's shocking. I suppose it's not hard to surmise that the culture we live in facilitates snide or mean spirited expression online. We've become very adversarial.

Mark W
23 January at 03:38PM

There's a really good essay about this - The Trial of Mary Bale by M.J. Hyland published in The Best Australian Essays 2011 edited by Ramona Koval - it's about a woman who becomes the centre of a phenomenal online hate campaign - worth a read.

Indeed — and you can read that in full here.

Tamara D
24 January at 08:05AM

Tim Soutphommasane takes a decidedly more cheery approach to bad vibes here:

26 January at 11:55AM

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