|Gossip Gone Viral!|
Recent studies have indicated that Internet users with female screen names receive 25 times more malicious feedback and negative comments than those with male names. This statistic further applies to chat rooms, message boards, and networking sites, making it apparent that the Internet is becoming a free-for-all where people can make vicious, unwarranted falsities about their peers. This is incredibly dismaying because the majority of these sites are publicly viewed, allowing the perpetrator access to a wide audience. The effects on those ridiculed can be devastating.
The gossip is spread through message boards, socialnetworking sites, and sites that blatantly evoke cowardly behavior by offering rude discussion starters. Although there is a space to enter one’s name or screen-name, the space is usually filled with an alias or “anonymous,” which gives the user freedom to say whatever he or she wants without having to deal with the consequences.
More recognizable are the college gossip site like the late “JuicyCampus” which gained a popular following at Pacific last year.
Even worse are sites, like “The Dirty,” that exist solely to ridicule and harass women. The users (anonymously) post pictures of people they know or have seen on MySpace or Facebook and start discussions with degrading (and down-right nasty) comments. Although the words are often menacing and cruel, the comments are not removed unless the site is contacted. There are also agencies which have assembled in order to attempt to put a stop to harassment.
CEO of ReputationDefender, a firm that works to remove the nasty comments (or makes them harder to find), Michael Furtik puts it best: “Nasty gossip has gone viral.”
Though there have been cases where individuals were convicted for harassment (via MySpace and email), the issue itself is difficult to convict, given the cloak of anonymity internet trashtalking ensures. This means an individual can say anything and not be held accountable, making the discussions incredibly vulgar and outrageous.
Fortunately, there have been many incidents where online attackers were identified and charged, but oftentimes the right of freedom of speech makes it possible for such information to remain in circulation.
According to popular women’s magazine “Glamour,” online attackers tend to focus on two things: physical traits and sexual behavior. The example given was of a comment on a young woman’s modeling photo that read, “She’ll spread those cottage cheese legs for anyone.”
When I first came across this information, I immediately assumed that most of the comments on sites such as “The Dirty” were from other women because, well, girls have a reputation for being the cattier of the two sexes. I was appalled to discover, however, that most of the comments on the site are reported to be from male users.
According to Danielle Citron, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law who studies online bullying, the Web has become a “haven for women haters, partly because it’s no longer socially acceptable to sexually harass women at work or school.”
“We’ve pushed a lot of animus to the Internet,” she continues. “That’s where men who resent women—perhaps because they feel outpaced b y them at work or school—can express it anonymously.”
She goes on to elaborate that there are plenty of “mean girls” out there, as well, though their motives are different, as they do so in competition of social status or men.
In order to protect YOURSELF from such scrutiny, there is little you can do. The fact of the matter is this: people like to talk themselves up. When they are given an opportunity to say something particularly nasty (but never had the balls to say to your face in the first place) they will take it. And if that’s their idea of fun, then hell—I wish I were entertained so easily.
Joking aside, the fact of the matter is that their victory is short-lived because while they may have hurt someone, but in the end, they have to live with the fact that they don’t have the confidence to actually say anything intelligible in the midst of conflict.
The only way to prevent degrading pictures from finding their way onto the sites is to NOT post such photos on any social-networking site. If someone is writing something about your character, politely email the webmaster, asking that the comments be removed. And if you’re really scared, there’s actually the above-mentioned ReputationDefender, which monitors “gossip” about you for $15 a month!
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