Being insulted is just par for the course when it comes to participating in online culture.
It's happens to all of us: Like when Lesley's piece about sexism in video gaming made it to the front page of Digg and inspired a flood of comments on the relative fatness of her hands, when I write about rape, or when Cat writes about pretty much anything. I suspect that a barrage of direct, immediate and viscious criticism will in the future just be part of the deal when it comes to being a writer.
But it's not just writers who are affected. Anyone who has ever posted a photo, video or comment anywhere online has probably had the experience of having their appearance, life choices and perceived character flaws announced, dissected and harshly judged.
And look, it's OK to disagree with one another. xoJane in particular is devoted to a diversity of opinions. But I find it hard to believe that all this knee-jerk nastiness contributes in any way to public debate. In fact, I think it's designed to scare people, especially women, away from voicing their opinions. That's why I've been called a "whore" and threatened with rape for writing openly about female sexuality.
At times, xoJane has felt like a strange enclave away from all that Internet mudslinging -- a place where women feel protected enough to tell their most delicate stories. Already that tenor has begun to shift as we grow. Yesterday's influx of comments on Melissa Petro's piece made me feel almost certain we will not be able to preserve it.
Not only do these kinds of comments attempt to silence women, they also pit us against one another. When Jane was doing press before the launch of this site, I witnessed journalists again and again try to bait her into saying something nasty about other women's sites, particularly Jezebel. They wanted so badly to start a catfight that they seemed disappointed when she refused to give them one.
Right in the mission statement that Jane has used to explain this site from day one, it states: "Don't put down other women's sites or blogs (women's sites pitting themselves against each other is the new version of women tearing other women and their work down)."
We're not suggesting that everyone be nice all the time, no matter what. After all, the admonition "Be nice" has been used throughout history to keep women quiet, polite and compliant. But so many of the nasty comments leveraged online relate directly to tearing down women -- our appearances, our sexuality, our choices. And while we advocate criticism and debate and the calling out of wrongness wherever you may find it, deliberately tearing people down through personal attacks and cruelty? Is not making anything better.
There's surely a lot deserving of hatred online, but there's also plenty that deserves a ceasefire. So we're announcing the creation of a day to appreciate the stuff we actually like. On February 29th, we'll be celebrating Say Something Nice on the Internet Day. (It's Leap Day; surely the Internet can handle ONE day of niceness every FOUR years.)
We're not naive enough to think we can turn the tide on the negativity trend, but for just one day, let's attempt to soothe the Internet beast with the sweet pan-flute of positivity.
If you want to say something nice on the Internet, just email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will post, tweet or Facebook your statement on the big day. We want to start a flood of positivity, at least in our own pages. It can be text, photo, or video, as long as it fits the definition of nice. Then go out into your personal sphere of Internet influence and spread the word. Say something nice (or say nothing at all) on YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr, CNN or wherever else you spend your time.
And if you're a writer, editor or otherwise involved with the publication of content on the Internet, we invite you to join us a week from today and say something nice on the Internet. Here are some ideas to get you started: