The internet is often a terrible place, making things like the takedown of Weinstein all the more gratifying. But even the bright spots arent perfect
I mostly hate the internet. But the outrage and debate that has arisen in the wake of the Weinstein allegations couldnt have happened without it. That has to be a good thing, right?
Hey. I mostly hate the internet, too. And until this business with Weinstein, I have mostly hated the internet for the way in which it enables certain kinds of debate. Some extraordinary benefits are coming out of the Weinstein revelations, mostly obviously the sense of collective strength derived from the testimony of so many women. But in terms of the systems via which it has emerged, Im not sure this scandal entirely changes the game.
Lets try to break it down. It is generally agreed that, apart from negating the need to ever leave ones house, the main benefit of the internet has been social connectivity: specifically, uniting special and marginalized interest groups in ways that amplifies their voices and gives them a seat at the table. Such is the situation with Weinstein.
The power of womens voices has be overwhelmingly, gratifyingly raised these past weeks, as women of all ages and demographics feel emboldened to step forward to share their stories of sexual harassment. For what feels like the first time in history, the sheer bloody numbers teetering towards the universal have been viscerally felt. Its like a miraculous release after decades, centuries, millennia of bullshit.
Of course, special and marginalized interest groups also include people whose special interests dont align with ones own. The Ku Klux Klan is a special interest group, as are dungeon-dwelling trolls. The internet is not a subtle instrument. It promotes broad strokes over nuanced ones. It rewards outrage. In the case of Weinstein and his ilk, social media is a way of leveling the playing field between men of immense wealth and power, and the rest of us, and in this instance, the outrage is warranted. But it might be worth considering the mechanisms via which that outrage is expressed, and understand that if those mechanisms are being strengthened, there are potentially negative as well as positive implications.
Im talking about public shaming, whereby individual transgressors are rounded on by potentially huge numbers of people online, in some cases on the basis of scant evidence, and for recreational as well as legitimate reasons. The dissemination of spreadsheets aggregating unsubstantiated allegations against scores of men which inevitably get leaked is strongly cathartic given the total lack of interest most institutions have shown over the years in rooting out sexual harassers. But it is not a foundation on which to base policy change.
Obviously, changing perception is a necessary precursor to changing policy; just look at the history of gay rights legislation. And I dont hold with the idea that highlighting trivial acts of sexism undermines those at the serious end. It is all part of a continuum under-girded by the same, misogynistic presumptions.