There’s a lot of complaining about the Internet, but I love it. Yes, it can be used for very bad things, but its ability to connect people, to provide information, and to help me not be lost are all very good things.
However, there is that “very bad things” aspect of the Internet that can’t be ignored…
There’s always someone online (or anywhere else) who manages to get attention, or even become famous, by being awful.
As the member of Childfree Girls who’s usually managing our Twitter account, I have the opportunity to see a lot of outrage-retweets of audacious, offensive personalities. The retweeted material I see most often originates from two accounts.
The first belongs to Stefan Molyneux (@StefanMolyneux), identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a self-described philosopher” who uses his platform to solicit donations as well as to “amplify his views on anarcho-capitalist ideology, atheism, philosophy, anti-statism, pseudo-therapy and anti-feminism.”
The Stefan retweets I see most often are those that degrade and condescend to women in incel-like fashion, urging them – like an authoritarian father talking to a toddler – toward motherhood and assuring them of their reduced value as they age:
Other tweets of his misguidedly shame women who take on the full responsibility of raising children after the biological fathers have decided to opt out of the rearing:
(As you read the next tweet, imagine a boy of ten absorbing the message as he sits quietly on his bedroom floor while his mom makes dinner after a long work day):
In his dogged effort to put women in their invisible place, Stefan even dishonors the country’s military by denying the critical role female service members have played since the days they had to disguise themselves as men to hide from the men who wouldn’t allow them to serve.
(I wonder what wounded female troops would think reading the tweets above. What the loved ones of those killed overseas would think.)
The other retweeted material I see while browsing comes from an account run by Lori Alexander (@laalex2), who describes herself as, “A wife, a mother, a grandma, and a keeper at home. Loves Jesus and is not afraid to speak Truth because it sets you free!”
Lori, an internet preacher who focuses on what she believes God wants women to do or be, is also anti-*feminist at the far end of the spectrum. (Note: some of her followers think it’s her husband who’s actually writing the tweets.) Her MO is to discourage women from believing themselves to be individuals with any value separate from that which (from Lori’s perspective) comes with being a wife and mother:
She minimizes the skill, effort, and talent of girls and women with passions outside of wifedom and childrearing.
Sticking with the anti-feminist theme, Lori calls women “satanic” for seeking equality, then punches women in the face by suggesting that the brand of masculinity that shrinks women into a mold, the brand of masculinity she seems comfortable having adopted, was “created by God.”
Here, she preaches to girls and women that they’re at fault if a male partner abuses them, a damaging message the abused hear from their abusers on a regular basis:
She also pressures women to mindlessly and carelessly have children, thereby simultaneously 1. encouraging women to be irresponsible and/or unhappy, and 2. inviting unwanted children into the world:
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good
men people to do nothing.” ― Edmund Burke.
When my husband sees my fingers pounding my iPad keyboard, he’ll joke, “Somebody wrong on the Internet, again?”
It can seem like a waste of time to respond to either of these accounts, or to accounts like them. Who hasn’t heard, “It’s just the Internet”?
But it isn’t “just the Internet.”
For each tweet or post that’s published, there is a set of human eyes reading it, a thinking, feeling human brain absorbing it.
As silly as responding to Lori and Stefan may feel, wouldn’t it be wrong to not respond to them–or to others who use their online space to make people’s lives a little harder, a little unhappier?
Should defending people be any different online than it is in real life when so many of us live a large chunk our lives online?
It’s never a waste of time to respond with an opposing view or in defense of the attacked, whether the attacker has 12 online followers or 12,000. I know it can seem like one little Twitter voice alone – just mine, just yours – won’t have much of an impact, but a deacon I once interviewed for a story put it like this:
“It’s the height of arrogance for any one person to think they alone can inspire change, but when many people, many voices, come together, good things can happen.”
My hope is that more and more of us, when we see someone “being wrong on the Internet,” will know that it makes all the sense in the world to offer a clear and reasonable defense. Not to shame or embarrass the wrong, but to protect anyone reading the hurtful or damaging messages who could be in danger of being misinformed, mistreated, or marginalized.
*Literal definition. Supports the “political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”
Kristen Tsetsi (AKA Sylvia D. Lucas) is a former journalist and the author of the novels The Age of the Child, Pretty Much True, and, under the name Chris Jane, The Year of Dan Palace. Her website is KristenJTsetsi.com.