Chicks On Anime
Net Etiquette

by B. Dong, C. Brienza, S. Pocock,

About the contributors:

Bamboo is the managing editor for ANN, and writes the column Shelf Life.
Casey is a freelance journalist, and also writes reviews for ANN.
Sara is an animator who's also released her own independent short film.

This week, inspired by some recent run-ins I've had with some e-awfulness, I thought it would be interesting to talk about something that we all know-- that a-holes exist on the Internet. This is a surprise to exactly no one, but in a perfect world, we'd at least be able to filter out some of the worst. As always, we'd love to hear your thoughts in our forums.

Bamboo: In the past, we've talked a bit about anime conventions, and the behavior of fans. But in reality, we all interact with fans on a more frequent basis than that. Not just through our fandom-interacting friends, or through local clubs, but almost everyday, we encounter fellow fans online. And truly, any negative behavior that you might encounter in real life from these fans is magnified online. I don't just mean flame wars and petty spats, but sometimes, things can get a little out of control. You can be harassed online, you can be treated poorly, and in general, there's not too much etiquette.

Sara, are there any types of online behavior that you find particularly damaging?

Sara: I think the most damaging aspect of online behavior is the tendency of people to forget that they are interacting with other people with feelings. The nice thing about interacting online, after all, is the anonymous aspect, so you are free to be frank and honest and, frequently, insulting without having to ever worry about offline consequences. But people oftentimes use this as an opportunity to be sexist, racist and homophobic. Because they can be as hateful as they want without having to worry about facing judgment.
Casey: During our previous discussion on censorship, I suggested that there may be an ethic of care to be applied to moderate blanket freedom of speech. Perhaps it should not be your right to spew something pointlessly sexist, racist, or homophobic in public where you're liable to hurt the feelings of many people. It was a thread of our conversation that never really got picked up by anyone else, and it's very much an anti-libertarian argument. I honestly don't know how far I'd take such a stance myself, but I certainly believe, 100%, that the semi-anonymous interactions that you see in online forums and blog comments need to be moderated with consideration for others. In this I agree with Sara; if I wouldn't call you a fag or whatever awful epithet to your face, I shouldn't be doing it online.

With one very important exception! Any ethic of care must take into consideration the harsh realities of power imbalances. I think the weak should be allowed to direct vulgar insults at the very powerful—especially when they are public figures. For example, you know how people were comparing President Bush to a chimp and matching up his facial expressions with chimpanzee facial expressions? That's okay. But it is not okay for people to lob vulgarities at their equals or those somehow weaker than they are. Imagine if I were to do the same to either of you. The Bush vs. Chimp was satire and political commentary; a hypothetical Bamboo vs. Chimp would just be meaninglessly cruel. And it would be absolutely beyond the pale if Bush himself were to Photoshop a Casey vs. Chimp and post it on the White House website. So I'd put a caveat to the issue of other peoples' feelings: Those feelings matter in direct proportion to your ability to directly hurt them. Of course, I'm to sure how much this exception would apply to online relationships between fans.

Bamboo: Over the years, I've dealt with many, many anime fans. There are some that I got along with, some I didn't, although whenever I met them in real life, they all seemed pretty nice. But like you said, it's easy to forget you're interacting with real people.
Sara: What I find most interesting is how different people can be from their online alter egos. Some of the most obnoxious people online are perfectly nice in person. It's when you take away the invisible wall of face-to-face etiquette that they let their demons out.
Casey: I don't know…most of the people I find myself taking a deep dislike to after meeting them online also repel me in real life. Perhaps I'm just lucky (or is that unlucky?) enough to have met some genuine losers. *laughs* Of course, I'm from New Jersey, so biting sarcasm and foul language alone don't faze me so much, and I was keying into substance in those cases. Actually, I'm not sure if it's a matter of “alter egos” so much as it is that people reveal more about who they really are online than they do in person. Because they're alone in front of that computer screen, they feel like they have a lot of privacy (when in fact they could be “seen” by thousands), so they let it all hang out, as it were. Generally speaking, if I don't like people as they are online, I try to steer clear of them in real life too.
Bamboo: Well, okay. There's one particular example that I wanted to bring up, and it's that this boldness can sometimes come across too strongly, to the point where you become one of those e-creeps.

There's an online… personality, I guess you could call him, who's infamous in some cosplay circles. He also happens to be pretty obnoxious and rude in real life, but online, he's been known to send some dicey PMs and instant messages. To the point where it's sexual harassment. Things like telling girls that he wants to lick their boots, or that he wants to see them making out naked. He's even offered to let them tug him around a convention on a leash, as long as he could kiss their feet or what not.

The thing is, you could ban these types of people, but they don't go away. They might continue to email someone, or IM someone, even creating multiple accounts to do so. There's no way to monitor this kind of behavior.

Sara: Right. Ban someone from an anime convention and they can't come back. But it's almost impossible to ban someone from the internet. Like you said, they can just pick another pseudonym and continue the creepiness.

While the messages from people like the guy you were talking about are pathetic and kind of frightening, I can understand the motivation behind it. The dude wants to tell girls online about his weird fetishes and try to get some. Sometimes when people intentionally try to mess with people online I wonder what they could possibly be thinking.

There was this one news story about a year ago about a girl who committed suicide because of people calling her names on her myspace. And the person who turned out to be doing this was a grown woman who wanted to see what this girl was saying about her own kid. I don't know what appeal a grown person sees in calling a teenager “slut” and “fat” is, but it's kind of sick.

Casey: Well, I do not run in cosplay circles so I have, thankfully, never encountered this particular person. But it gets back to what I said earlier about power imbalances—and the abuses of the powerful directed toward the less powerful as being especially egregious. A man sexually harassing women is an example, as is a parent cyber-bullying a teenager.
Bamboo: Casey mentioned in one of our first discussions that people who are perceived to be female on the Internet are treated differently than those who are perceived to be male. Jokes about, “Oh, she's actually a dude!” aside, it's interesting to think about the mindset behind this. Is this a reflection of just the Net, or does it mirror our fandom's views of women?

But going back to what I was saying about that skeezy guy… it's worth pointing out that the girls aren't entirely free of blame. Many times, girls aren't willing to come out and say, “Hey, back off,” or “You're being really disgusting.” Sometimes it's because they find the behavior to be so pathetic it's hilarious, but also, in some respects, it's easier to ignore someone and hope they go away. If you're confrontational online, you end up making the problem worse. And once again, there's no real good way to deal with it.

To bring up a somewhat controversial question—do you think there's a double standard? We certainly hear less about girls who message guys saying, “You make a really hot Cloud!” Not to mention that some would argue that the reason why female cosplayers post suggestive photos of themselves online is to get attention in the first place. Sara?

Sara: I think there is a double standard, and it mirrors the broader double standard of sexuality in America, even outside of anime. I know of girls who put pictures of themselves online to feel better about themselves but then balk at the attention. That said, I don't think that's any sort of justification for internet stalking and harassment.

Plus there are guys (and general public) who complain about the way fangirls act online and at conventions, particularly in the way they fetishize homosexuality in their reaction to BL titles. There are pictures online of girls posing with paddles, and tales of “glomping” at conventions. This brings up a kind of interesting point—women seem to be more annoying in person (how many of use have complained about overhearing fangirls screech about how “kawaii!!!” Heero Yuy or whoever is at the top of their lungs?) while guys tend to be more annoying online.

Casey: We've discussed the whole issue of drag (where one minority group assumes the trappings of another in order to escape a specific set of oppressions) at length before when we talked about boys love and yaoi, so I don't want to revisit it again here. As for Bamboo's first question, I don't there there is any doubt whatsoever that we reproduce the sorts of social relations online—equitable and inequitable—that we know in our offline lives.

In relation to female cosplayers in sexy outfits, it's always important to be exceedingly suspicious of any talk of a “double-standard” when it comes to women in revealing clothing—especially when the blame seems to fall on the woman: i.e. “She was asking for it!” Waitaminute, so it's her responsibility to keep male desire in check? That's the sort of lame, blame-the-victim excuse you hear from rapists and perpetrators of domestic violence. So she wants attention? So what? That doesn't excuse someone else's misbehavior! In any case, I think people should be held responsible for their own actions, not the actions of others. That goes for both real life and online life.

Bamboo: Yes, but cannot forget the fact that the girls are doing it for someone. And the fact of the matter is that you could a hot guy come up to one of those girls and tell her she looks sexy, and she'd probably be flattered. But if some dumpy loser did it, she'd immediately tell all of her friends about how creepy he was. How is that fair at all? Yes, the latter guy is responsible for his actions, but the former person is, too. However, only the latter guy catches flak for it.

I mean, attention whores are everywhere, and it's especially prevalent in places, i.e. the Internet, where insecurities run rampant. You see this a lot in forum picture threads where you'll have a girl who posts pictures of herself, then fishes endlessly for attention. And once again, all's good when a cute guy compliments her, but when a less handsome guy does it, suddenly it's “creepy.” But that's not much different from how it is in real life.

But what would fix it? Is there anything anyone could do about this? Goodness knows people have tried. Aside from just your everyday bullying, electronic terrorism is alive and well, with hordes of people crashing servers or purpose, or blocking Internet traffic on purpose. What could the lone anime fans hope to accomplish?

Casey: Anime Fans Save the Internet! Whoa, that definitely came from left field. Seriously though, I do think context is terribly important when deciding how to behave online. As far as I'm concerned, people are welcome to take potshots at me on the ANN forum—I was given the soapbox and they were not, after all—but I think it would unforgivable, an abuse of power, as it were, for me to start attacking them back in kind one at a time every time I happened to feel wronged. (Granted, it can be awfully tempting, and I'm only human. But I know better.) In cases like that, it's up to editorial, not me, to set the desired tone. For example, I think both The New York Times and The Guardian strike a brilliant compromise on their online sites between allowing readers to have their say in comment sections and filtering out those things beforehand which do not contribute to the public discourse. Still, you'd be amazed what sorts of very strong language they allow through.

On the other hand, I've had a blog for the past five years now and a now-defunct mailing list for years before that, and in those cases I do police the gates myself. There is no filter between me and the readers; everyone is assumed to be equal and will be expected to behave as such. A lot of my philosophy on this has been trial and error. Nowadays, I work very hard to set the tone and level of discourse that I want, and that seems to work most of the time. At one point a few years ago, I had to install an IP tracker to identify trolls, and I find that simply making it clear to everyone that I am paying attention seems to help also. I prefer to be proactive rather than just reactive; it's when there doesn't appear to be any accountability that you see the worst offenses. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet that solves every problem.

Bamboo: I don't think I was exactly telling anime fans to “save the Internet.” I was referring more to cases like the one I mentioned about harassment. Maybe we should make more of an effort to make sure these trolls don't get to go to anime cons and harass people in real life, or something. Or maybe communities (like cosplay communities or certain fandoms and what not) should band together and make it so that one person can get banned from all of the major sites. Just something to filter out more terrible people.
Sara: I don't know that they can do anything to counter electronic terrorism (in my mind I picture anime fans more on the execution side of this battle than the victim side, to be honest), but obviously you don't want to make yourself a target. I mean, no matter how you act online there is always going to be some douche who will disagree with everything you say and be deliberately confrontational. But learning to act with civility instead of losing your head and starting flame wars and insult contests is bound to make less people hate you.

It almost seems like people need an incentive nowadays to be civil to each other when it should be common sense to be respectful of others. Have you ever read YouTube comments? They're 95% trash talk, with colorful shades of bigotry mixed in. It's like people naturally want to default to assholery instead while they have to be trained to play nice.

Bamboo: Even I can't pretend to play the saint, here. I've defeinitely said some douchey things in the past—I think I just knocked on some guy a couple hours before this conversation, actually. But maybe at least in the case of battling e-creeps, maybe if girls banded together and confronted these guys, maybe they'd stop. Or maybe they'd just get resentful, I don't know. But we shouldn't have to just deal with it.
Casey: When all else fails, I think the best policy is to disengage and ignore misbehavior. I've heard some call it “shunning.” Provided that they are just behaving badly and not posing a genuine threat to anyone, I say let them pass their gas and go. Trying to engage with them just gives them power over you, makes them think you're taking them seriously, and encourages them to amplify their offensive message; they would not otherwise have any standing if no one was even willing to even have a conversation with them in the first place. It's like, hmm, the difference between averting your eyes and walking determinedly past some crazy person ranting and raving on a street corner yelling, “God is dead!” versus engaging your philosophy teacher in a spirited debate about Nietzsche. One you are taking seriously, the other you aren't—by dint of the way you respond or not. If you don't respond, they're just that crazy person ranting away on that proverbial street corner, and eventually they'll give up…or if they don't, well, it's an inevitable, if unpleasant, part of life on the Internet.
Sara: I think it would take the Godly organizational skills of Barack Obama's grassroots team to get them to all work together like that—but it would be nice to see happen. (Inauguration reference, I win.)

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