If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been part of an online discussion or been in a chat room at least once in your life. Likely, you’ve sat there and got frustrated as someone else behaved poorly. Maybe you’ve used the “block” feature once or twice.
I hate the block feature, and here’s why.
Say I’m in a chat room. There’s me, a bunch of other people, there are a couple of moderators, and there’s Troll. So we’re chatting away merrily, and maybe Troll pops up in my Private Message box and says something inappropriate. Maybe, Troll says something flat out offensive.
So, I appeal to the moderators. “You wrote the rules for this chat room, and Troll is violating them,” I say.
“Block him,” is the inevitable response.
But why, when Troll is the one in the wrong, is it my responsibility to take action? Why do the moderators so often refuse to police the rules they wrote?
We live in a world where victim blaming is a constant problem. If a woman walks down the street at night and is assaulted, too many people will come out of the woodwork and say “well, what was she wearing? Why was she out that late at night? Why was she alone? Really, she could have prevented this.”
That’s what victim blaming is. It’s putting the responsibility for the incident onto the victim – when all the victim did, was be in the wrong place at the wrong time. You know where the responsibility actually lies? With the person who made the choice to (assault, harm, abduct) someone.
So that’s victim blaming in a large sense: It’s the worst case scenario of victim blaming. But that sort of behavior exists in large part because we as a society allow it to exist. The only way we can change that, is if we eliminate this type of thinking at every level – including the tiny, seemingly inconsequential level of chat room trolls and moderators who would rather tell the victim to protect themselves, instead of doing what they themselves signed up to do.
I’m not completely naive. I know that most, if not 99%, of chat room moderators and forum moderators and so on are volunteers and get paid nothing for their work. But to that I say, this was a choice you made, to moderate this site, this room, this discussion. You put your hand up and decided you wanted to do it. It is not unreasonable for people to expect you to then do the job you said you would do.
We as a society need to collectively decide that no, actually, it’s not my responsibility to “block” Troll. In the first instance, it should be on Troll not to have behaved badly and broken the social contract. In the second instance, if/when Troll proves that they have no intention of policing their own behavior, it should be on the moderators and the gatekeepers of the discussion to enforce consequences as appropriate.
When you are in power and a victim comes to you and says they have been wronged, it is not okay for you to lay out how the victim needs to take responsibility for what happened. It is on you to ensure that the person who wronged them faces consequences.
Some people are going to read this and think that I am genuinely ranting about chat rooms and how I should lighten up, turn off the computer, and go out and interact with real people. Let me make it clear that in ranting about what happens in chat rooms, I am actually pointing out a symptom of a much larger societal problem.
What we allow to happen at the micro level of interpersonal interactions, justifies and normalizes what we allow to happen at the macro level of interpersonal interactions.