Aaron R. Davis
Last week, I extolled the virtues of Tumblr as an online neighborhood superior to other social networking platforms. In just seven days, I’ve come to realize that if it really is a neighborhood, it’s one that’s already got a serious gang problem and the local buildings are tagged with hate slogans.
Here’s what happened in that short amount of time.
Somewhere out there on the Internet, there’s an 11-year-old girl called Jessi Slaughter (not her real name), also known as Kerligirl13 (also not her real name). Apparently this story begins earlier this month when Stickydrama — a crowd-sourced gossip site for the kind of kids who used to gather in record store parking lots and do nothing — linked her to the lead singer of a band called Blood on the Dance Floor. So there’s your first problem; some idiot kids thought an 11-year-old girl was hooking up with the lead singer of an emo band. When asked for a comment by a user, she denied it (though she seemed to be enjoying the drama and attention), and the user went to the Internet’s go-to stock criticism for girls and called her a slut. Because there’s a word that doesn’t get thrown around enough online.
Yes, like a lot of people who go online, state their opinions and live on drama the same way plants live on light, Jessi had a lot of haters. She posted a YouTube video calling them out, saying things like “I’ll pop a glock in your mouth and make a brain slushy,” “suck my non-existent penis” and another overused Internet favorite “get AIDS and die.” Well, of course, it didn’t end there. It went right to the hive mind on 4Chan and the self-righteous teens on Tumblr.
Now, here’s the thing about kids on Tumblr: they think they’re the smartest kids in the universe. I know, all kids think they’re the smartest kids in the universe, especially this first generation that’s actually growing up with the Internet, but these kids are the worst. Thanks to generations of self-esteem-centered schooling, Steven Spielberg movies revering the magic of childhood and Montessori, we’ve got a generation of kids that so worships the idea of an important, innocent childhood in the Garden of Eden that they are constantly lamenting the passing of childhood into adulthood and are embarrassingly nostalgic for the moment they’re actually living in. More than that, all of these Holden Caufields, constantly misquoting Peter Pan as thought it’s a fable about innocence and not a cautionary tale about the fear of growing up, are actually angry at the notion that kids out there might be growing up faster than they used to because of things like the Internet.
These kids live and breathe the World Wide Web — they can’t exist without it — but they also think every adult on it is a pedophile and that every kid on it is too young and needs to be protected. And yet, in a dichotomy that will actually break your brain if you think about it too much, they are constantly tearing those kids down and bullying them like crazy simply because of the facelessness the Internet allows and because “kids should expect it if they’re going to be on the Internet.”
Yes, teenagers have become so cynical now that they think it’s to be expected that politeness, good behavior and common courtesy don’t exist on the Internet. Not only that, but that they don’t have to exist on the Internet. These are the same people who made fun of Demi Lovato’s little sister — the one who plays Eva Longoria’s daughter on Desperate Housewives — on Twitter, calling her fat until she cried, and then felt that she should have known better if she was going to be on the Internet. And she’s only eight. Jessi Slaughter, at 11, was apparently fair game.
I was actually on Tumblr when Jessi’s video started going around. At first, there was the usual hypocritical judging of her parents, as kids that I’ve seen go after each other viciously just because someone badmouthed the Jonas Brothers concluded that someone so detached from her words was dead inside. Then they began to take it personally, and the Tumblr kids who whine about being marginalized everywhere else in life and on the web and who constantly extol the virtues of Tumblr as a place that doesn’t judge who you are started to judge who Jessi was and decided it was time for someone to learn a lesson. Pictures started going around of this 11-year-old girl with her shirt off and holding her breasts. Yes, Tumblr and its quick and easy reblogging platform became an instrument for what looked to me like the dissemination of child pornography, and all because these kids felt some 11-year-old girl they’d never heard of an hour or so before needed to be put in her place.
Now it gets worse.
Jessi’s real name, her phone number, her address, links to her Facebook; they all started showing up online. Prank calls started, pizzas were delivered, her Facebook was spammed and apparently someone was considering sending call girls off of Craiglist to her house. Encyclopedia Dramatica, one of the most despicable things on the Internet, had a section on “How to troll Jessi Slaughter” that included “tell her to kill herself.”
Then Jessi’s dad filmed himself yelling at the camera in what seemed like a blind rage. It was understandable: a father who probably had no idea what his little girl was doing on the Internet was angered that she was being harassed by people who should know better, but who thought it was not only funny, but righteous, to bully an 11-year-old girl. Unfortunately, most people just thought the video was hilarious, Boing Boing picked it up, and it spawned several memes, including “You dun goofed,” “Consequences will never be the same” and “Cyberpolice.”
Seriously, I know kids on Tumblr who were actually disappointed in themselves for missing all of this. And those are people who have told stories about how mortified they would be if anyone they knew in real life found their Tumblr pages.
These same kids do know better. They’re physical cowards, but because they have an Internet connection and a pirated copy of Photoshop, they think there are no consequences to their relentless cyberbullying. They think because they can leave anonymous messages in peoples’ Formspring boxes that they don’t have to be humane.
Meanwhile, Jessi Slaughter was placed under police protection and briefly taken to a safe house because of a stream of prank calls that included death threats. A lot of death threats. Enough death threats that there’s a criminal investigation going on now.
Tumblr responded by posting a fake link to a non-existent AP article about Jessi’s suicide, which actually links to some video of a Russian singer. How hilarious. This is what’s become of Tumblr, once considered the hip, witty, creative social network on the fringes of the Internet.
And, as I’ve alluded to a lot here, the sad part really is that so much of this came from the teenagers who claimed to be so above this type of thing. And nowhere have I seen anyone on Tumblr say that they’re sorry about this, that this is disgusting, that they’re disappointed that everyone turned into this pack of bullies demanding the total humiliation of an 11-year-old girl. I don’t care how rude Jessi was in her video, I don’t care if you think Jessi was “asking for it,” you’re supposed to know better and not go after a child just because she got you all riled up. No one’s on Tumblr saying that maybe self-control should have reigned instead of what happened.
Instead, Tumblr’s become another home for bullies and trolls who hate anyone different and make a sport out of cyberbullying. I see it all the time, and let me tell you, it is pointed. Its object is to make someone so angry, so sad and so defeated that they finally kill themselves. And the fact that none of the players involved understands that object — that they’re all shouting in a blind rage without a thought to the emotions involved — makes it that much more tragic.
Welcome to Tumblr: a consequence-free playground for sociopaths.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.