Our Julie. I’m SO. PROUD. of her! Her presentation at SXSW was so profound, so searingly intelligent, so well-structured and sensibly argued, that someone astonished by what they were hearing felt compelled to transcribe it. It will no doubt go down in history as one of the most scintillating speeches of modern times, a true call to arms for our generation:
Social Media or Sado-Masochism, um, I cannot take credit, I guess it’s not the most clever thing anyone’s ever thought of but I still can’t take credit for it, uh, the S & M/S & M thing, um, there’s sort of a clichéd piece of advice about uh speaking that nothing you could possibly think about yourself is, is worse than what people are thinking about you, wait, I did that, I did that in reverse – nothing that anyone else is thinking about you in the audience is worse than what you can think about yourself and I have to say that the internet has definitively proved me wrong about that, um, after, uh, being online for over six years I have received the kind of criticism that I didn’t even know was possible when I was, um, in my teens and getting bullied the normal way. Um, my haters have come up with comments so nasty I didn’t even have vocabulary, um, I didn’t know certain parts of my body could even be ugly like my fingers (?) I have sausage fingers apparently, um, and, and really the only answer they have come up with is that I should get off the internet and die and as far as I know from my fellow, um, public figures online, this is actually fairly normal, this kind of hatred and I’ll read you, to give you an example, sort of what I deal with on a regular basis. Um, I’ll read you, I’ll read to you a couple of my hate comments that I’ve gotten just within the last couple of days, and, this is one of my favorites, “Julia, you are a despicable person, ugly inside and out, with zero redeeming qualities.” “These are my observations that has nothing to do with bullying; your antics are very well-documented and despite your best efforts to land a husband, that will never happen.” “The sooner you leave my lovely city of Austin the better. Go back to Chicago to live with your parents or whatever couch you’re sleeping on this week, you total loser!”
Um, now it’s like it can be sort of cathartic to read these aloud and laugh about them but I have to say when you get them it doesn’t feel that great, it really doesn’t, um, and I think that there’s something very unique about internet celebrity, and I will put that in air quotes, that lends itself to this sort of, um, pretty withering criticism.
Um, one, another tweet I got, uh, yesterday. “Whoa, saw pics of you when you worked on the Hill,” — this was about ten years ago — “Homely would be an understatement. I now get why you wear five pounds of makeup!” So, um, where, where’s this coming from, where’s this hatred coming from? This is, this is … by the way, these are things said about me, um, I originally, it’s a dubious distinction, I originally started out as a columnist, I was a dating columnist, I didn’t, um, go into this you know looking for, uh, internet fame. This is, this is me and, um, if you see the circle thing, it’s why do so many people hate this woman – it’s a very air-brushed picture by the way – um and, uh, this is from CNN banner saying “mocked across the internet.” Um, just to give you sort of a background, I was a columnist, um, then I did a lot of TV and then I, now I write a, uh, nationally syndicated social media column and the insults have not stopped through that entire time and if I had known what I know now when I was back in college, frankly I wouldn’t have done this because, um, I think some people are built for criticism and other people aren’t and I’m not and I guess, um, I’d like to talk a little bit here about what is it about micro-celebrity that, that leads to this sort of attacks, and, and how I think all of us are going to be vulnerable to this as we go into the future.
So here’s what the thing that I was thinking about micro-celebrity — you know, the question really that’s been asked of me and also of, of various people who are called micro-celebrities or web-celebrities or whatever you want to call it is, um, you know, “Do you want to be famous or do you want to stay anonymous?” Well, it’s both, I mean at certain times I’ve wanted to become famous, for the benefits that you know fame brings, money and giant security guards and you know apparently, um, I don’t know, lots of plastic surgery, but it, but I’ve also wanted to stay anonymous and I think that that’s why we we we we lead to this. Ok, so this is my little graph — this is as far as it goes in terms of my abilities to do graphs but, um, it, these are the real people, see, happy, anonymous, they can do whatever they want, uh, celebrities they’re getting a little wikifix cos they get (?) um, but internet- famous as far as I’ve experienced it, not so great. Um, and I think it’s because, um, frankly you are accessible enough via the especially the tools of social media you, uh, people can tweet you, they can set up anonymous Twitter accounts every single time you block them, um, and they can email you, because you know if you are online you probably have your email address somewhere out there, they can edit your Wikipedia page to say really nasty things about you, um, that there are a multitude of avenues to reach you. Whereas that’s really not the case with someone like Jennifer Aniston, I mean, um, and I’m not condoning that sort of hatred that’s in the tabloids newspapers but, um, you don’t have her email address, she doesn’t even have a Twitter, um, and, and that’s what I think if we look, if you look at that sort of intersection there, between celebrities and internet-famous, you see someone like Gwyneth Paltrow sort of bringing herself from celebrity down to like internet-famous and starting to get the hatred. Like I don’t know if anyone has noticed that but people harass her in a way that they didn’t back when she was just an Academy Award winner, when she was untouchable, um, and so I think that there’s something, there is something that is vaguely accessible, um, but it’s almost like you can take these people down.
One of the things that, that people talk about frequently is sort of used as a justification for the kind of um uh hatred that is shot at me and others like me online is that you’re a public figure, you brought it upon yourself, but these … you know these numbers are roughly accurate, um, is everyone on there now, are we all public figures and all subject to this sort of hatred? Um, I feel like the message I’ve been getting is this, from, from my, I have several hate sites, I have a lot of people who just think, you know, I don’t know, I’m ugly and horrible, and this is what they, you know, they in essence say, by posting things on the internet and that goes for me but it also goes for everyone here: you give up your right to, to say that you, you know, to say that’s not acceptable to say that about me, you give up your right as a quote unquote private person right? Um and I, I would contend that that’s not fair, and I would contend that that, um, that’s really dangerous for society because I think most people at this point, um, certainly in this room have a Facebook profile, have a Twitter account, have a blog, and would feel like if, if that gives people the ability to write the sorts of things I read to you, and, um, by the way, much worse, to –in my case they’ve contacted employers, they have contacted, uh, boyfriends, they’ve contacted my family, because all of that information is accessible –and yet they’ve remained anonymous. Um, it’s almost like internet celebrity has given them an all-access pass to judge, to judge my life, based upon what they see online and you know they’ve really given sort of me and people like me two chioces: um, you can either get off social media or you can stop complaining, they say it’s complaining.
It’s not that I think criticism is a bad thing, it’s that I think these sorts of ad hominem attacks are really dangerous and I think that they can lead to a downward spiral kind of, um, society that we don’t want to live in and I think unless you, you’ve had something like this happen to you, um, you don’t realize it’s, it’s not just words, and you know we…uh…the best analogy I can give in this particular case where people haven’t experienced it, but I am guessing maybe most of you have in one way or another is, um, you, would you ever say to someone, uh, you have to choose between walking outside or being harassed. Like I don’t think that any of us would ever make that argument and yet that’s the argument that we’re, you know either condoning through our silence online and I hate to be, I feel like this is a rallying cry but I, I didn’t mean to be so like on this but this is a huge issue and it’s not, um, it’s not to limited just to internet celebrities. Obviously we have issues with teen suicides but really as a society as a whole we’re dealing with these issues and I think that, um, if we don’t say something, if we don’t say, this isn’t constructive criticism, talking to people like this, is really, um, nasty and it can have real consequences.
Um, it’s also very gendered. This is Gary, I’m sure most people know Gary, Gary and I have had many long discussions about how to deal with internet haters. His perspective is that you call them up individually, like you email them individually, every single time they say something, you respond. Gary does not sleep a lot, but Gary is also a guy and I have to say there’s a huge difference in how he’s treated. He’s talked to me about the kind of criticism he gets, trust me, he doesn’t get, uh, as some people call it body snark which I think is actually a little bit too kind of a term, no one has ever said, “Gary you’re fat, you’re ugly, you’ve no right to be on the internet, you’ve no right to say the things, you will never have a healthy relationship;” they don’t insult his marriage. Um, they, you know and so he, I guess, at least in my experience it’s almost like this, uh, um, repeated attacks on your psyche get to you to such a point where you’re like, I don’t want to respond, I’m certainly not going to call someone who’s just said something I’m going, about to read you this comment and this is how I, I really think that this showcases how gendered this, um, hatred is online. Um, this is an email that I received: “It is extremely disgusting that men find high-mileage tramps such as yourself to be dating material. I would love to watch you get punched senseless. You are not a gifted person or an achiever of any sort, you are a – excuse my language – fucking failure, a typical New York failure. If I ever find any of your written nonsense on Amazon or Yahoo it will probably get ugly. You are a dumb – again, excuse my language – cunt. I bet you,” – this is my favorite part – “I bet you own a copy of Eat, Pray, Love.” I do actually but, um, I didn’t know that that was like a, like a big offence. So I guess I would just say like it’s you know to me that’s really concerning and I will say I actually used to be a very confident person. This had a, this had a cumulative effect on me, I cried three times during this week. You think this is, I looked into my hate site whenever I had some of these criticisms, this criticism, this hatred frankly and it’s, it gets to you after a while. This is what I’ve done to try to get them to stop. Mostly cried but it doesn’t work, none of it doesn’t work and I’ll tell you why, um, they’re anonymous and I know we had a 4-chan, um, presentation by Christopher the other day who, who lauded anonymity and I would just say this: Um, the problem with anonymity in this particular case is that they cannot be accountable for their actions and I, I would have only say that, you know, say what you’re gonna say using your real name so if you are using defamatory comments, if you’re using defamatory language, if you’re libellous, at least you, um, you can be held accountable but frankly I don’t have the time or money or the cyber-detective skills to track down the people who are doing this and I’m guessing that most peope don’t and I don’t think we should live in a society in which we require people to have, you know, friends who are PIs, um, in order to escape this scapegoating.
Um, really quickly, Obama just launched his campaign to stop bullying last week. It was primarily targeted at teens. I think that, um, there’s a huge issue there in the sense that, uh, it’s not just for teens, forty-five-year old bullies exist, um, and they beget you know thirteen year old, their kids are thirteen-year-old bullies who grow up to be twenty-eight year old bullies, it’s like the age in my opinion doesn’t so much matter, it’s establishing a culture of you know sort of civility. Um, frankly it hasn’t really gotten better for me, I find it actually gets worse, you know, you might hear the same things over and over and you start to believe them, you know, I’m fat, I’m ugly, I’ll never maintain a personal relationship.
Um, what I think we can do:
WordPress has a great, um, an amazing, uh, uh, TOS, um, clause I guess, they do not allow personal attack blogs, don’t know if you can read that: “…blogs with the primary purpose of attacking an individual or group…”, um, they have a particular low tolerance for anonymous bloggers who make personal attacks. I think people say, “What is the line?” I think it’s actually more clear than we would all admit; you read something, it works like an attack, it’s an attack, I think it’s pretty clear if something is constructive criticism or not, um, and if it’s not then that can be debated but, um, I think companies need to stand up for it, companies, ISPs need to stand up for this, um, you know, service providers, I think individuals need to not read, I know this is going to sound like a Pollyanna thing but I think they need to not read it, not engage in it and I think the government frankly, um, needs to create – you’re going to make fun of me – cyber police, I swear to God, I think they need a cyber police to call someone to say, “Someone’s harassing me, please make them stop.” This is, um, this is what a commenter said when I said we should try to be a little nicer online and I honestly, I don’t think that would be that bad if we just had a law that just said, “Just don’t be mean!” and you know, I may sound like I’m competely naive but trust me, after years of these kinds of comments because the last thing you want is for this to happen to your sister, to your daughter, to your friend, you know, it and it will and we going on in this direction if we don’t stop now, this is crusade, I hope you guys, um, could at least take this, you know, back to your blogs, back to your homes and, and stop this…um, I’ve totally run out of time.