Friday, 10 February 2012

trolls

The Bristol  'breastaurant', Hooters, closed this week. It was part of an American chain, whose USP is its scantily-clad waitresses. Prior to its opening in 2010, objections had been raised to the licence application. During the Council meeting which discussed it, an objector invited the councillors to imagine a similar restaurant in which men were employed on the basis of their physical characteristics; the Lord Mayor reprimanded him, saying "I think you are stepping over the bounds of decency." Interesting notion, and one which I developed a little  here.

It was not the campaign which ultimately closed the place, so much as market forces; though perhaps there is a cultural swing away from the notion that such a restaurant would be a place that you'd want to go, let alone take your children; a cultural swing which feminist activism might be helping to influence; it would be nice to think so. This did not stop a claque of pro-Hooters people descending upon the Bristol Feminist Network's Facebook page, saying unpleasant things- you know, the usual "you're humourless feminists, and you're only jealous because you couldn't get a job there and you're all lezzers anyway...".

In a couple of cases, the hostility spilled over into actual threats, focused on Sian Norris, a BFN spokeswoman.The threats have been recorded, and action is being taken. Sian wrote about this in the Guardian yesterday.

My small contribution was helping monitor the hostile comments; the second capture contains this exchange:


RM: I hope someone kicks her in the vagina
BDA: Shall we?

..and the third capture discusses this exchange



BDA: Sorry, what 'assault' am I discussing?
DM: (quotes previous exchange)
DM: That one
BDA: Ahh, okay, well I hope you take that as it was meant, in jest. A private joke between friends. However, to avoid any further offence, I will remove it.

There was then some backtracking, and claims by his friends that he was referring to going to eat chicken wings, and demands that I apologise for putting the wrong meaning on things. It was not nice.

I do know that some people don't quite realise that the objects of their online hatred are real people too, and that hate speech is damaging. In my small way, I've been on the receiving end of that sort of thing in the past, and I know how it feels; I also recall the furious backtracking that took place when I challenged people who suddenly realised that they were not joking about some mythical creature, but someone as real as them.

I also know that there are perfectly decent men who just don't realise the amount of misogyny and hate speech that goes on on the internet. I know this because of comment made to me by a friend; it came as rather a surprise to me to hear what he'd said. I can strongly recommend a quick read through Helen Lewis Hastely's article in the New Statesman, if you need a primer.  Because if you're not part of the solution, you may well be part of the problem. And sometimes, if you do not actively challenge something that is wrong, then you definitely become part of the problem.

Just don't say anything online that you wouldn't say to someone's face, with your parents and/or children present, and your boss and a police officer in attendance. Then hopefully you won't hurt anyone, and you won't end up damaging your own reputation. This really shouldn't need saying. Be nice!