The recent talk of the internet is a series of reminders that humans are still social primates, a species known for pack behavior and escalating aggression against outsiders. The internet gives you a broader range of outsiders to reach and the digital equivalents of poo and punches to throw.
If you follow the links in some recent collections of stories about incidents, you will find an indie developer driven from the market, death threats for changing reload times in FPSes or advocating cosmetic changes to currency, and add rape threats if the target in question is female. Okay, that last one is slightly unfair: add immediate rape threats if the target in question is female, add rape threats against the men too if it goes on long enough. (“Long enough” can have very short values online.)
Reading the story of Fez II, I was immediately reminded of The Oatmeal‘s reactions to feedback. On the more extreme stories, I assumed that any decent human being would immediately see them as bad, although either the volume of psychopathy is higher than I realized or I have overestimated the baseline level of decency in the species. Some comments on the above stories assert that death threats are okay because they are “obviously idle threats.” I come more from Elie Wiesel’s tradition: “When someone says they want to kill you, believe them.” I may be a bit touchy today because someone threatened to kill one of my staff after she declined to flirt with him; compared to in-person threats, Twitter threats are more likely to be idle but you will have no idea who to watch for if he is that dangerous one-in-a-million.
I would prefer to discuss what is a reasonable level and form of negative feedback to deliver online, but we as a society do not seem to have reached a sane place yet. We have yet to craft an enforceable consensus that death threats are not acceptable. One police agency arrested someone for “terroristic threats” that no reasonable person would interpret as threats, while another suggested that Twitter should address the direct threats to specific victims rather than having police treat them as a criminal matter. I imagine the same approach is taken in asking Verizon to stop people from phoning in bomb threats.
I do not think it is possible to have too many voices condemning violent threats. I do not know how much good it does adding a voice here, given our readership.
“Death threats against you must be idle, because they do not worry me.”