On the internet, nobody knows you’re 13 years old
This morning, the first tweet I saw
was from a games journalist noting that 12 days after he accidentally published a mistake in an article (which was corrected within 30 minutes) he was still getting a torrent of abuse about it.
Kirk McKeand had mixed up two brothers in the Devil May Cry series, and a bunch of accounts with anime avatars had bombarded him with abuse about how terrible a journalist he was for making this awful faux-pas that led to the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Oh wait, it was entirely inconsequential and not worth worrying about for five minutes, let alone two weeks.
It reminded me of the time someone accused me of making the “greatest mistake in the history of tech journalism” by mixing up the names of IBM and Intel in an article – an error that was live for about two minutes. Take that and ramp it up by a billion percent and you’re somewhere near the level some people online can go these days.
One thing that strikes me in these disputes is you often can’t tell anything about the abusers. And when it comes to games, a lot of the abuse strikes me as the kind of thing 13-year-old me would have thought of vital importance if I’d had access to social media back then.
When you really love games, don’t have a lot going in your life except school, and have no real life experience or concept that the adults who write about the games you love are just ordinary people, it’s easy to get wrapped up in completely pointless battles. And because you don’t have a lot going on in your life, you have nothing to lose by hammering away at your inconsequential fighting for weeks on end.
It’s this youthful combination of passion, boredom, and immaturity that the people behind Gamergate weaponised. But it manifests itself every day in petty battles online.
The anonymity the internet affords means nobody knows if any individual troll is a mean-spirited adult or just one of these dumb kids.
Threats of violence aside, a lot of online abuse is at least a little easier to deal with if you imagine it’s coming from a bored 13-year-old with immature social skills, who really loves Devil May Cry.