This may sound weird for a journalist, but tuning individual people out on social media has vastly improved my life over the past year.
I used to be one of those people who refused to ever hit the block button for anyone but an obvious spambot. Knowledge is my business, after all, and you can't learn anything if you just listen to the same old opinions over and over again. You'll never change and your views will never evolve. Something something freedom something.
Then I stepped into the giant hornets' nest that was #GamerGate and I learned a very important thing: You will also never learn or evolve if you continue to read minor variations of John Birch Society propaganda that simply replace the word "communists" with "SJWs."
No really, that happened.
So I started blocking people. First on Twitter. I would tweet something about #GamerGate and one by one ban the people who called me a fag or a hack or the ones who just sent me bizarre and probably illegal hentai porn. Granted, doing so always resulted in being bugged from another account that person maintained for the specific purpose of annoying people who blocked them further. That left the bully one last chance to shout that you simply couldn't handle dissent from your views before being banished once again.
Side note: If you have multiple online personalities used specifically to scream at people, you're probably the problem being addressed.
I can handle a dissenting opinion just fine. I mean, you can say Jon Pertwee was the best Doctor Who and I'll spend as much time as necessary telling you why you're wrong, but it doesn't offend me on a personal level or anything. My wife likes beer, I don't, and our marriage turns happily on without me constantly screaming at her that beer tastes like a pureed wrestling mat.
What I can't handle is someone, say, insisting that the Holocaust didn't happen or that there is some perfectly acceptable, non-sexist reason women don't make up a majority of any significant public or private power structure anywhere in the world.
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No one thing defines what really caused #GamerGate, but there are a connected set of parameters that are important to note. One is that it was a product of chan culture, and you should really read Jay Allen's remarkable dissection of it. In essence, it breaks down to a cult of non-identity where the argument is king and people are expected to abandon their own anonymous identities to fit the evolving narrative. Any cry for personal recognition is seen as a childish need for attention and the target for every horrific slur you've ever heard. Supposedly this creates an atmosphere of objective reason, but all it really does is allow the loudest voices to prevail and reinforce the idea that everyone's opinion is of equal value since you're never supposed to attach who you really are to it.
Combined with the anonymity of the Internet and the levels of childish entitlement we all indulge for some reason in online interactions, we ended up with an explosion of people demanding to be heard but without anything really important to say. All the messages were recycled, poorly reasoned, badly sourced, barely comprehended and detrimental to the actual issues being addressed regarding the sexist attitudes in the tech world.
It diluted the discussion like some kind of reverse intellectual homeopathy. So I blocked people because frankly I don't need to see a 50th link to a Thunderf00t video from someone determined to communicate in a way no regular human does.
After several months of doing this on Twitter and then on Facebook, I started to notice something: You could have a conversation. More than that, a place like the Feminist Frequency Facebook page changed from a hotbed of empty recriminations and gendered insults into a place where, at least from my perspective, gamers could quietly celebrate the march of feminism in gaming and even have nuanced discussions on the deeper points of the work being done.
It's invigorating. It's like the Internet suddenly became the utopia of worldwide intercommunication we were all told it could be. I'm sure that to page moderators and people holding off from blocking random strangers, it still has that wasteland feel, but I can tell you from personal experience that if you want social media to be fun, it is perfectly okay to stop listening to people who make it the opposite of fun.
But what if I miss some important revelation by blocking these people? I mean, it's possible, I suppose.
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Last month I decided to unblock more than 300 people on Twitter and Facebook, just to see what all the potential free speech was I might be missing through my actions.
Fag. SJWs. Shill. Con. Gamers are the most oppressed of all social groups. Hack. Scam. Racist caricature. Bitches. Cunts. Die in a fire. Kill yourself. I'm actually really concerned about how you just kidding fag die fag.
It's one thing to open yourself to new information, but it's another to let hate speech and idiocy pretend to legitimacy. Trust me, block. You're not missing anything but a bad day.