In recent years, it seems internet outrage culture has gone into overdrive. Whether its the reactions to James Damore’s comments at Google, JonTron’s thoughts on a livestream or any number of other examples, it’s clear that virtually everyone is now one wrong tweet or action away from a social media firestorm that’ll destroy their social life, career and everything else along with it.
It’s a worrying trend really, and overall one that’s proven very damaging to society for all the reasons you might expect. It hurts freedom of speech, destroys the ability to make up for mistakes and turns life into a paranoid mess straight out of the times of the Salem Witch Trials.
But it’s also damaging for another reason. One which (somewhat appropriately) was also true of every other moral panic throughout history.
And that’s that it especially hurts people on the fringes of society. Instead of helping the world become more ‘tolerant’, it just makes life ten times worse for anyone outside of the mainstream.
Like say, someone who isn’t neurotypical. Someone who might be on the autistic spectrum or what not.
For people in this situation, life is already filled with challenges, from job interviews that are virtually impossible to pass to the hassle of trying to find friends without scaring everyone off beforehand.
But now social shaming makes it ten times worse. Now, they have to go their entire lives standing on egg shells because one wrong move will be taken the wrong way by the wrong person.
And if that happens, well they’re screwed. Suddenly the virtual torches and pitchforks come out, social media sites go into an uproar about ‘microaggressions’ and employers are being contacted about how their employee is now somehow some ‘sexist’/’racist’/whatever monster who should be fired before everyone boycotts their business.
Now making mistakes isn’t an acceptable issue. It’s the start of a media circus that will probably destroy everything you’ve ever worked for.
This now means that for anyone on the spectrum, actually interacting with people in real life has basically become as dangerous as walking through a minefield. Now any mistake in interacting with anyone at all could be the start of an angry tirade on Medium/Tumblr and everything you’ve ever worked for going straight down the drain.
Worse still, it’s not even like you have to do anything to get this reaction either. No, just the appearance of being a ‘bad’ person or having questionable views can be enough now. Just ask that NASA scientist who basically got humiliated for wearing a t-shirt that someone took the wrong way. Or those guys who got into hot water for making a dongle joke at a tech conference (which wasn’t even intended to be part of a public conversation).
Note: The person who reported the dongle joke thing ended up being sacked for causing the outrage too. Which is also a ridiculous example of this internet controversy bullshit.
So if a member of the mob doesn’t like your taste in clothing or your comments to friends or potentially even the way you look at someone, that’s it. You’re as good as screwed.
Oh but wait, I forgot. You don’t even have to do, say or be someone controversial to be in trouble now.
No, even looking like the wrong person at the wrong time can cause problems now. Remember that Covington school kids controversy?
Yeah, some ‘geniuses’ over on Twitter thought they’d identified one of the people in it, and got to work flooding his family’s mail/messages/emails/whatever with angry comments.
Except like many other wannabe internet investigators, they’d actually got it wrong. So this unfortunate family got flooded with death threats from internet tough guys/SJWs because their kid just happened to look like some other kid who was in the news at the time.
Above: This scene is becoming increasingly realistic in the days of social media sites and internet shaming.
It’s created a precarious scenario where your entire life can be turned up upside down in the blink of an eye.
And it’s a situation almost purposely designed to screw over those on the autistic spectrum. Put someone who struggles with social interaction, cannot interpret human body language, gets overwhelmed in certain situations and struggles to cope with society in the same place as an angry internet vigilante, and it’s a disaster basically waiting to happen.
What’s more, it’s not just limited to them either. No, nowadays anyone who behaves outside of the ‘norm’ is increasingly at risk of becoming an instant social pariah, and I feel it’s going to cause serious issues for those with disabilities, the mentally unwell and those with neurological differences in general.
Things don’t exactly get better online either.
No, while the lack of body language and unspoken visual cues make it somewhat less likely that mistakes are made there, online comments, forum posts and social media discussions are their own kettle of fish.
For instance, got a view which doesn’t jive with the majority of a social media service? Or at least, the audience there loudest about their views?
Well I guess you’d better keep quiet then, since there are people on these sites just waiting to go on the attack for the slightest sign of a differing viewpoint. Like on Twitter, which is basically a left wing echo chamber at this point, and where anywhere espousing a right wing or centrist viewpoint on anything basically needs a strong supporter base if they don’t want to get crucified.
Bad enough for normal people to deal with, outright brutal for those on the autistic spectrum or with other such conditions/personality differences to cope with.
But it still gets worse. Not only are people outside the ‘mainstream’ at a higher risk of having their life ruined by social shaming and drama, but the consequences are significantly more dire for them too.
Because based on the stats I’ve seen online, people in these situations already find it extremely difficult to get work, or to hold a stable job. How difficult? Well, the National Autistic Society in the UK says that only 16% of people on the spectrum are in full time employment.
And for those in that situation, that’s not an easy situation to come by either. Support is limited (like it is for all psychological differences and issues), interviews are difficult, culture fit is a huge barrier to overcome and a lot of quirks associated with these conditions are not exactly appreciated in your typical office environment (let alone retail or what not).
Hence if someone like this does get caught up in a controversy, that likely means tons of hassle, a job search that goes from difficult to nigh impossible and months of trying to find employment with limited social support.
It’s a nightmare, and a perfect example of how damaging the current political climate is to those with said differences.
So please, stop the random ‘shaming’. Stop desperately trying to make mountains out of molehills over random jokes and acting like t-shirts or Twitter posts are huge problems that need ‘fixing’.
And most importantly, ask yourself this:
Am I really seeing the actions of someone who is ‘evil’ or selfish?
Or is this all a misunderstanding born of limited knowledge of social cues and mainstream culture?
Do that, and you’ll avoid forcing more people in difficult situations out of employment and their hard earned normal lifestyle.