Saturday, July 09, 2011

A Facebook Experiment

If you want to experience the WORST of the Internet that doesn't involve death or deviant sex, check out two pages that have popped up recently. There's the Boycott the Macsyna King Book page,and the Break the Kahui Code of Silence: Support the Book page. Obviously these pages are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their aim. But in terms of their execution, they are remarkably similar. And in terms of their success, they are both abject failures.

Ian Wishart has written a book. Apparently - we don't know yet because it isn't published and Wishart is keeping mum - the book is a tell-all of Macsyna King's life. And by all accounts it won't be pretty reading. There's no doubt she has had a horrific life of abuse and mistreatment.

But I guess that doesn't excuse her alleged neglect of her children - 3 month old twins Chris and Cru Kahui - and any role she may have had in their deaths. It has to be said that she has never been charged with a crime. But she remains (one of) the "most hated woman in New Zealand."

But if you want to really know what hate is, just check out either of these Facebook pages. O.M.G. I cannot believe how petty and childish and downright hateful some of the posts are on these pages. I cannot believe they are adults, and adults who claim to be rational, intelligent, and "passionate." That's a good one. "Passionate." Apparently being "passionate" excuses using some of the most demeaning, belittling, insulting name-calling you can think of. All in the name of the cause.

A little back and forth is perfectly fine between adults who are at two ends of a spectrum on a significant issue. Some repartee, a little thrust and parry, a few, good-hearted, even clever, humorous jibes here and there.

But these people are ruthless. 

They seem to have forgotten what the original argument was about. The "boycotters" as they have become known have hijacked the original issue, which was freedom of speech, with emotional pleas about child abuse. And the supporters of the book being published and sold are chasing their tails, spending more time quelling rumour and misinformation, responding to the bitter hateful comments, and defending their own reputations.

What I can't get over is how childish many of them are. Don't get me wrong. There are some clever people who are trying to be voices of reason in the wind on both pages. But by and large those voices are drowned in the waves of vitriol and deeply personal attack. 

The purpose of the page, especially the support the book page, has been completely forgotten. Nobody talks about freedom of speech anymore. It's now all about defending Ian Wishart and our right to read said book, or crowing about which page has more numbers or more committed members or less childish threads or more intelligent definitions of words we ALL know the meaning of.

The latest vein of comment has to do with who has been blocked and why, or who has blocked who and why. It seems to be a particular badge of honour to be blocked by the "other side". Indeed, it seems a fun game to go over to the other page and make comments obnoxious enough to GET blocked.

Check out this screenshot from the support the book page.

And lest you be deceived, be aware that one of those people, despite the attempt at civility in this post, is one of the worst offenders. Her self-righteousness is unprecedented.  And one other (above), although a relative new-comer to the drivel, is just plain nasty.

Strangely, the thread (screenshot above) seems to have disappeared. Which is another feature of these pages. Threads and comments disappear, which in itself is not that sinister, but it is a regular suggestion that people from the "other side" are hacking the site, there are faux-profiles designed to infiltrate the depths of the other page/s, and that identities are frequently "blown" only to require retractions which more often than not lead to more recrimination and ridicule. And a whole new round of abuse and childish name-calling.

Apparently, the originator of the Boycott page set it up as a bit of an experiment. So he seemed to be saying on RadioLive. He's the same guy who was in the middle of the KFC double-down debate. I think he was arguing that particular treat should not be banned. Hmmm...let's allow greasy heart-threatening food to be sold to minors, but let's not allow an informative book to be sold in bookshops to adults. Can't quite see that logic there, but who am I to judge?

In true Lord of the Flies fashion, both pages have descended into cesspools of bitterness and backbiting. Occasionally a rational comment pops up, and even some meaningful responses. But more often that not every post is hijacked by some bitter or smartarse comment or bite.

How pathetic. Somehow I thought adults could disagree, even on significant issues, issues one has the right to be "passionate" about, without resorting to name-calling, petty personal slurs, pedantic grammar critiques and puerile "I know you are, but what am I"s. 

It has to be said, and I'm employing one of my special talents here - objectivity - that the Supporters page members have overall been more well behaved. They started out with a genuine attempt to lay out the issues and what facts were available, and to search for more (facts). But the page was soon hijacked by people who thought the book should be boycotted, which turned into an effective ban. Sure, boycott the book, but threaten bookstore owners, publish their names, and threaten violence against them (okay, there have only been a few, non-distinct threats of violence) and you start to force what looks more like a ban.

But so much of the page space was dedicated to arguing about whether or not it was a boycott or a ban.

Now, all of this wouldn't amount to a hill o' beans if it wasn't such an insight into the human spirit. This self-confessed social network experiment has been a raging success in that from the first posts, both pages were like two trains heading towards each other on the same track. And when they collided, instead of a natural atrophying of the momentum, it seemed to gather steam, as if most of the members of both pages were just itching for the collision so the real chaos could start. Some people get off on that. Indeed, that's not a phenomenon unique to this particular rivalry, or to Facebook. 

I wonder if this was a precedent, of sorts. I don't remember two opposing groups facing off like this on separate Facebook pages.

I'm sure it's been done before, somehow. I wonder if those efforts were any more noble, or intelligent, or polite.

The back-biting and name-calling and childish back and forth continues. These are two very recent from each page.

Apparently one of the above is proving to be as obnoxious and bitter as any that have graced the pages so far. There are a few who are so obviously just out to make some sort of name for themselves, hence the spin-off pages and websites, and impending "events" (charity and awareness drives, etc.).

It's been a fascinating insight into mob mentality. The Boycott page grew to nearly 50000 LIKEs in a few days. Which, of course, in Facebook terms that's like the new version of a petition you sign in the street - sure it sounds like a really good idea to sign, the "cause" sounds vaguley worthwhile, but of the 50000 people signed up, only a very small number actually give a shit about, or even know what "the cause" actually was. The same could be said for the Support page, but with such lower numbers, the Boycott page looks MUCH more like some odd wagon a whole bunch of do-gooders jumped on for ten seconds and then jumped off again because they didn't really care about....what was "the cause" again?


tracey Edwardes said...

love the analogy to lord of the flies...the whole thing is certainly the millennium equivalent of. Well-grasped journalist approach to the whole festering palava. xx

Lisa said...

Wonderful wagon visuals here, thanks! A great summary of the whole mess. I had been wondering where you were.

Maggie said...

I did decide to boycott the book, I did try reason and logic when discussing with supporters of the book but people started getting blocked or banned from the Boycott page and that is censorship which was not what I signed up for. As an experiment it is a resounding success, as you so aptly explained, and that is sad. It is an emotive subject that will produce heated debate but it seems to have devolved into a catty clique on the one side and an indignant proselytising crowd on the other, shame.. It is a mess