Quick post: Dawson, @marcfennell, trolling, and everybody losing

A quick comment.

ABC celebrity Marc Fennell wrote a blog post about the Dawson trolling fiasco.  His argument:

I think it’s clear now that we need to perhaps have a serious conversation about the way we are hooked on social media to the point that we can’t look away… when we really should.

This is an interesting response to the event and it misses a real opportunity to come to grips with the myriad of problematic things which occurred.

As a brief outline, Dawson (an Australian television celebrity… apparently.  I’d never heard of her) got into an argument online with some people on Twitter.  One of those people, ‘K’, made an offhand and fairly ugly comment but nothing to write home about.

It will shock nobody that K, a person who makes stupid comments, is also a stupid person and had linked her Twitter account with information about her occupation.  Dawson (remember: a celebrity in a position of social power) took it upon herself to punish K by contacting their place of work.  When Dawson didn’t get the response she wanted from K’s place of work, Dawson escalated her complaint within the K’s organisation.

Here’s the rub.  To what extent is a person’s private activity an issue for employers?  To what extent should celebrities go out of their way to punish people who criticise them (no matter how vulgar the tone of the comment) by contacting employers?

K has been instructed to take paid leave while the organisation works out how to respond.

Dawson’s vigilantism stirred the vigilante underbelly of the internet.  The comments were misogynistic, vulgar, and distressing.  Dawson couldn’t cope, cracked, and ended up in hospital.

Fennell suggests that, in response to all of this, we should look the other way.  But that’s the problem here: people look away from this stuff all the time.  At its most extreme, check out this South African domestic violence campaign.

‘But!’ you might cry, ‘There’s a difference between domestic violence and misogynistic violence in Twitter comments.  Haven’t you ever heard: sticks and stones may break my bones?!’

Ignoring the sorts of comments that Dawson received is what creates the culture that it’s somehow okay to attack on the grounds of gender.  If we don’t speak up and say, ‘This isn’t cool.  There is no place for this in society, IRL or online,’ then we normalise it.

The problem here is how to denounce the activity of the trolls while also criticising Dawson for her actions without suggesting that fault on her part justifies the acts of violence towards her.  Nothing she did validates the trolls’ actions.  Similarly, nothing K did justified Dawson’s actions.

Basically, it was a pile on of stupid but if we don’t unpack it and analyse it, we don’t get an opportunity to understand why vigilante cultures online are toxic to public discussion.


Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based blogger and policy wonk who writes about conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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