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2008-05-20 14:00
This is also one of the worst things about the internet, because freedom of expression is one of the most undeserved human rights there is. As a godless, queer-loving socialist, I would never question anyone’s right to electricity, education, pornography or even rugby, if you want to be a weirdo. But expressing an opinion in a public forum? Much like becoming a parent, this is something that should require a license.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the world is full of morons with nothing to say, and now, thanks to the internet, they have a place to say it. And boy, do they ever. Websites filled with hatred, stupidity and illiteracy are mere mouse clicks away. As an aside, have you ever noticed that the more right wing a website is, the worse its design? Check out the multitudinous anti-South African sites filled to the rim with “gatvol” fascists who are so stupid even Australia won’t allow them to immigrate, and you’ll see what I mean. These people have absolutely no sense of aesthetics. But that’s what happens when you don’t have any homosexual friends.

Even worse though, are hate-fuelled anonymous comments dumped onto well-populated websites, much like this one. All the writers here are constantly subjected to a barrage of verbal assaults from online bullies who take themselves way too seriously. My personal favorite is the individual who wrote that they wished I would contract HIV and die. Why? Because I wrote a negative review of the movie Borat. If you’re an optimist who believes that people are intrinsically good, it’s comments like these that could change your world view forever. Or at least make you think that, if you’re a fan of Sasha Baron Cohen, you might be in bad company. But I’m sure that if I had to meet these abusers in real life, they’d be perfectly decent people, who wouldn’t dream of saying things like that to someone in the same room as them. If I had to actually confront one of the many faceless users who have told me variously to get a life, curl up and die, or that I’m probably a virgin writing “bad journalism” from my mother’s basement (I love that one!), I’m sure they’d be embarrassed, or at least apologetic. This is because most individuals, although stupid, aren’t really horrible. We’re a gregarious lot, and despite our differences, on the whole, we treat our species with respect. We see each other as actual human beings, with families, friends and feelings, and we recognise our own humanity in their eyes.

But on the internet, everything changes. This is partly because of the anonymity, but mostly because of a misplaced sense of entitlement. My theory is that people subconsciously think they own the internet – that everything on their screen is somehow theirs. So naturally, when they read my communist agitprop, they feel invaded, as if an unwelcome stranger has invaded their private space, insulted their spouse and slapped their mother. They don’t realise that although they may be sitting behind their desks, in their personal space, they’re actually in a public, densely populated world, talking to real people. So they act as if the world is their own, as if everyone else is just an icon or a prop – and behave badly.

It’s exactly this dynamic that causes road rage. Because drivers are in their own cars, which they paid for with their hard earned money, they feel that anyone who cuts in front of them, or causes them to apply the breaks ever so slightly, has intruded on their property. In a sense, all drivers feel like they own the road, and everyone else is trespassing, and if they get in our faces they’re just asking to be beaten to death with whatever sports equipment we happen to have lying on the back seat.

We don’t act like this when we realise we’re in public – which is a shame, because we often let people get away with murder. Like the people who stand in front of banking machines, staring at their receipt, working out their budget for the rest of the year in their evil, cruel little brains, while the growing queue behind them stands waiting, silently fuming. Or jerks who answer their cellphones in cinemas. Or how about the anally retentive fools who waste valuable minutes of your life counting small change when paying for groceries? These people are far more offensive than anyone on the road who makes you slow down for a fraction of a second, or has a different world view on the internet.

Perhaps we’re too lenient. The next time someone wastes your time in a queue, perhaps you could apply what you’ve learnt through road or cyber rage. Stand really close behind them and flash a torch in their ear until they get a message. Or you could just write them a note telling them that they should get a life and move out of their mother’s basement. Because we all know how effective that can be.

- Chris McEvoy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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