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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