Digital Hate Stems from the Physical World

New York City’s The Village Voice just ran an article on Monday highlighting the ridiculous, contradictory and racist vitriol being raised  over a proposed Mosque being built near Ground Zero.

Author Foster Kramer is quick to point out that perhaps the 68% of Americans who oppose the Mosque being built, should also be offended by the Burger Kings, strip clubs and the vendors selling tacky, imported 9/11 souvenirs that currently surround the World Trade Centre site.

While Kramer’s piece is well-written, passionate and hard-hitting in its simplicity, it is the endless stream of comments posted by readers that I think warrants a brief discussion.

Of course, the internet offers the opportunity for almost anyone to post whatever hateful, ignorant thought that pops into their mind under the veil of digital anonymity. Like this one from Laura:

“Moslems are liars. We know the real reason they want to build a victory monument there. America is waking up to your bullshit. Maybe someone will fly Boeing 747 into the mosque when its finished.”

All spelling and grammatical errors aside, such sentiments should be taken seriously. If one person believes it enough to post it online, how many more people think the same thing? For anyone who believes that racism doesn’t exist or that political correctness takes things “too far,” I encourage you to take a scroll through the comments that accompany most online media sites.

But Canadians have no reason to smirk at the divided nature of our southern neighbours.

Back in July, the city of Vancouver discussed changing the name of Stanley Park to Xwayxway, the name it was originally given by the First Nations people who originally lived there thousands of years ago.

A virtual shouting match ensued on Yet again, we see the same frighteningly commonplace occurrence of racist comments, only this time against First Nation peoples. As E. Cartman wrote:

“Whities have done more in 100 years than the first nations did in 1000. What would it look like if they never arrived? Like bush and rock. Great advancements.”

Again, I think the internet provides wing-nuts with the means to spout whatever Fox News-addled thought that rolls into their heads without any real, or at least face-to-face, confrontation or repercussions.

But how many Canadians were merely thinking what E. Cartman wrote? That’s the issue here. Internet message boards, blog comment forums – I think these represent a cross-section of our society, or at least the members of society with Internet access.

So should we sink our time into endless hours of digital muckraking? No. Am I suggesting the Internet be censored of such comments? Far from it. I think we need to understand that yes, our society is filled with racist, ignorant, bigoted people and that these attitudes need to be addressed and confronted in the real, physical world first. The Internet is, and will likely continue to be, a breeding ground for some of the most disgusting, depraved and ignorant elements of humanity. But such digital depravations exist because they reflect the thoughts and interests of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. That is where change needs to occur first. Make ignorance and bigotry unacceptable in your community, watch it disappear from digital communities.

Posted on August 19th, 2010

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