Actions without consequence tend to repeat.
–Tom B. Taker
Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
If you stick a fork in an electrical socket and it shocks you, are you likely to do it again? If you touch a hot stove and get burned are you in a hurry to touch it some more?
Tell a dog to stay off the sofa and shoo him away a single time. The rest of the time allow him to lounge all over the bloody thing to his heart’s content. What lesson do you think the dog has learned?
Do you know about the most powerful force in the universe? It’s a child when improperly parented. That particular organism has the potential, in the right circumstances, to learn faster than any form of life we’ve ever encountered. Tell a child, “No, you cannot have the cookie.” Now comes the tricky part: Let the child eat all the cookies it wants. Maybe you’re busy playing Farmville. Maybe you’re composing your next tweet. Maybe, just maybe, you’re sick enough in the head to be doing it on purpose. Whatever. You can bet your life that the message has been received loud and clear. It’s the most instantaneous form of training we’ve ever discovered.
Try to teach them something important and it’s like pounding your head against a wall. But being assholes? That they absorb like sponges.
As I often try to do in my writings, I’m cleverly building to a point. It seems pretty obvious that a lack of consequences does not generally lead to good things. That child? She’s a future Chloe who has a shit fit on national television because her parents bought her a new car for her 16th birthday but it wasn’t an Escalade. She hates them, she does. Poor baby.
Have you accepted the hypothesis yet?
I was thinking about all of this when I violently had one of those aha moments. What if the precocious child in this story was the internet? And what if the role of mommy and daddy was played by the police? What might that look like?
It was smack dab in the middle of a personal journey which I would eventually come to think of nostalgically as The Decade of Despair. It was a period that encapsulated eight years of George W. Bush. (Delicious happenstance.) It was a quest for voluntary simplicity that include a salary downgrade of Death Star proportions. It included one small time asshole boss after another, each vicious in his or her own way. Those bosses were responsible for my real education. I was held captive in a pit and they said, “It puts the lotion on its skin or it gets the hose.”
It was still a few years before the first iPhone would be released and make the world an even shittier place.
(Please let me know if this intro borders on the sin of overselling. I’m just keeping it real.)
During this period of time, there was something else, like background noise to the despair. I operated a humble little website with a “forum.” It was like a community bulletin board where people could post items for sale, discuss politics, etc. And make no mistake about it, it was a granddaddy to the evil of today like Craigslist and YouTube comment threads. People have always been and will continue to be major assholes.
The forum only had a few basic rules. Things like “be nice to each other or you’ll be asked to leave.” The goal was to maintain a convivial family-oriented atmosphere.
If you know anything of the internet of today you can well imagine how it went.
Here’s one tiny example:
A guy loved writing about his suggestions to fix America, like his suggestion of planting land mines along the U.S./Mexico border because the “spics” deserved to be blown to bits. He’d already been given several chances. With no other choice, I gave him the boot.
My experiences with a forum taught me one thing above all else: Grown humans do not like to be moderated. Not in the slightest.
Thus began a campaign against me consisting of public shaming, death threats, stalking and much much more.
Theory: Actions without consequence tend to flourish. Question: Did police help pave the way for a hate-powered internet?—
Tom B. Taker (@shoutabyss) January 18, 2014
Remember the good old days when threatening to kill someone online was ignored by the police? They wouldn't even fill out a bloody report.—
Tom B. Taker (@shoutabyss) January 18, 2014
In my past I ran an internet-based community forum. I knew about the bad people before you did. They took credit for killing my #cat.—
Tom B. Taker (@shoutabyss) January 18, 2014
I decided to take action. I wasn’t going to take it sitting down. I called the police.
“A forum?” the police said. “What the hell is that?”
“How about email? Have you ever heard of that? Here are many printouts of threats and examples of what he’s done. Here’s his name. Here’s his addresss. Here’s his phone number. Here’s a picture of him.”
“Look, there’s nothing here. Our advice is just stay out his way.”
Ah, clever. The dawn of online action without consequence had arrived. The police literally wouldn’t do anything about it. They wouldn’t take a report. They would even shake the guy down or do something drastic, like actually talk to him.
After giving several assholes the boot eventually there was a veritable team of people who hated my guts. They published pictures of me on Craigslist along with my home address. They published pictures of my wife. They photoshopped our pictures in evil ways and said vile, evil things about us. They threatened physical violence. They also came up with some inventive lies in deliberate attempts to damage my reputation. And, in one especially sick example, one of them publicly claimed he had killed my missing cat.
Remember, this all started because I refused to give them a forum to be flaming douchebags of evil.
Throughout it all, the police did nothing. Craigslist itself maintained a policy that shit like this was fine and dandy. Nothing to see here, move along, move along. By the way, we’re making money. It sucks to be you. (I believe that’s literally their verbatim policy.)
Eventually I said, “Fuck it” and pulled the plug on the forum, which was probably the most successful thing I had ever built. I burned it to the ground. Eventually the assholes lost interest and drifted away to hunt other game.
But I never forgot the lesson I had learned and never put it all together until I recently pondered actions without consequence. Look at the evil online today. Did the inaction of police in the way back have anything to do with the way things are today?
What if people were held responsible for what they said online? Even back then the technology existed to track these sick fucks down and punish them. What difference did it make if it was said on TV, in a handwritten letter, letters cutout from a magazine, in person or … gasp … in the online realm?
The police weren’t set up for this sort of thing. They didn’t understand the technology. They didn’t have the resources. Years later, when “cyber crime units” finally began to crop up, those had the single overriding goal of going after child porn and molesters. Yes, a damn worthy effort, but hardly beneficial to people suffering from what I had gone through. Nothing much had changed.
Today there is racism and misogyny all over the internet. It’s enough to make one weep for the state of humanity. Children use social media as a weapon to gang up on each other en masse and induce suicides of their peers. Right now there’s a school where persons unknown are setting up Facebook pages to bully elementary school students. The police and school system are working with Facebook to get the pages pulled down, but not until they’ve been up a while and real life damage has been done. And each time one gets shut down, a few more pop up and the never-ending process begins anew.
Actions without consequence.
Why not just catch and punish the motherfuckers responsible?
This naturally devolves into a discussion about “free speech” rights. If I say, “Go kill yourself” and the person actually does it, am I responsible for murder? What, if any, punishment should I face for my part in it? That’s not a question easily answered.
What about this one? “I hope you get brain cancer and die.” Is that acceptable free speech?
What about anonymity? Does our right to free speech allow us to enjoy the safety of the shadows while making statements like these? Should the person who says, “I hope you get brain cancer and die” be publicly exposed for the world to see?
They played a football game yesterday. One of the players on the winning team acted boorishly. How we judge the behavior is very much a matter of opinion, which we are are entitled to have. But many took to the internet to personally attack the man based on the color of his skin. Should that be anonymous? Should there be punishment?
Ultimately, I think, something will have to be done. We’re going to have to come up with some way of addressing the online world we’ve created or it will only get worse. Can you imagine what that might look like?
Meanwhile I ponder the genesis of this whole situation and the way police treated the situation when it happened to me. Is this indeed the result of no consequences for vile actions? Do you agree with my hypothesis?