The internet is a funny, scary place.
Over the past 48 hours, an Australian woman has been subjected to a torrent of the vilest imaginable abuse from fans of an American performer, whose work could be said to be misogynistic. The Australian woman made a public comment asking for her government to reconsider granting the performer a visa to enter Australia due to the content of his music (which features lyrics glorifying rape, sexual assault and violence against women) and when the performer announced, erroneously, on Twitter that this had resulted in him being denied access to the country, the woman endured thousands of disgusting Tweets. These Tweets were sent by fans (overwhelmingly male) of the performer – so, way to go with proving that listening to such music doesn’t encourage a person to feel, or think, or act in misogynistic ways. Or maybe the music speaks to a deep level of preexisting anti-woman sentiment in the fans’ minds. Maybe it’s both.
Here is a link to her Twitter feed, should you care to check it out. I’m not sure I’d recommend it, exactly, but it’s up to you. She shared several of the vilest threats she received, and also some of the supportive messages. It’s an education.
Also over the past 48 hours or so, a story about the horrific death of a lion in Zimbabwe has been making headlines globally. Lured from the safety of a national park, hunted, tracked and eventually slaughtered, the lion was skinned and beheaded and its carcass left to rot. The lion was named Cecil by the rangers in the park where it had lived since at least 1999, and it was part of a longitudinal study by Oxford University. It was a local ‘celebrity’, drawing tourists and those who wanted to marvel at its beauty and splendour. By all accounts, Cecil even enjoyed the company of people. But it has emerged that an American man, known as a big-game hunter (and one who has had brushes with the law due to irregularities with his behaviour) had paid a hefty fee to hunt and kill ‘a lion’ – not necessarily Cecil, if the hunter’s account is to be believed – in the area, and had apparently believed his actions were entirely legal and above-board.
Except, when the animal was dead and it became clear that it was a collared lion, being monitored, the hunters made every effort to cover up their actions. They tried to destroy the collar., unsuccessfully They still skinned and beheaded Cecil, and left the remains behind. They made no effort or attempt to ‘fess up. The hunter returned home. The ‘guide’, who had been paid the hefty fee, pocketed it and turned away.
This situation is abhorrent. I, personally, condemn it in the strongest possible terms. I do not agree with the hunting of big game, whether one pays a ‘fee’ to do it or not, and whether or not this fee goes towards conservation. If one can afford thousands of dollars to destroy an animal in the name of ‘conservation’, why not simply go on safari to observe, take photographs, and pay your fee to preserve the animals? I do not agree that a lion which may have been more accustomed to humans than most deserved to be lured, tricked and tracked, shot with a bow and arrow and left to suffer for almost two days before finally being killed. I hate what this hunter has done with every fibre of my being, and he should be punished. He should never be allowed to take part in another hunt. The entire sport, when done in this way, should be abolished. (I’m not including hunting in indigenous communities, which is done to provide food, shelter and other necessities to maintain life, here; I’m talking about hunting as ‘sport’, whether paid for or not, simply for the ‘thrill’ of the kill).
But I do not stand over online harassment of this man’s family, staff and clients at his place of work, nor of the man himself. I don’t agree with vitriol being left on his website, or threats being made to his safety and wellbeing. If we condemn the abuse meted out to the Australian woman who dared to make a stand against misogyny, we can’t then turn around and shriek blue murder at a hunter whose actions happen to make us sick. Online abuse is online abuse; just because it’s being aimed at a ‘deserving’ victim doesn’t make it right. I hope that the family and friends of the hunter in question (and, grudgingly, he himself) are not feeling the same fear and stress that the Australian woman must have been feeling over the past few days – he deserves to be punished, certainly, and I hope he will be, to the fullest extent of the law. But his family and associates are innocent. They are as innocent as the solitary woman who said ‘no’ in the face of misogyny. I am not defending the hunter or his actions, which I believe to be abhorrent. I’m simply saying that in the clamour for ‘free speech’, we forget so easily the huge responsibility which comes with that privilege. We should use our freedom of speech to enact real change, and make meaningful commentary, and engage in true debate. If we sink to the level of online trolls, we have already lost.
The type of online abuse being suffered by the American hunter and the Australian woman is vastly different. She has been threatened with horrific physical abuse and threats of rape; he has received a few death threats among hundreds of largely clearly-phrased, well-written letters of condemnation. This, in itself, is a lesson. Women and men do not fare the same online. There are lessons we can learn, and things we can take from this situation – it’s an opportunity to begin a sea-change in how we conduct ourselves on the internet.
It won’t be taken, of course. I know that. Trolling will continue, and online hate will continue. But not, if I can help it, in my name.