Internet Fame + Backlash (The Online YOU)

“Going viral.” It’s a perfect term, really, to describe the particularly modern Internet phenomenon of how quickly a piece of content can spread – everyone liking that tweet, or watching that video, or reading that blog post. But along with Internet fame often comes Internet backlash, where virality turns ugly, and regular people suddenly become the target of hate and disgust.

In this episode of YOU, a podcast about the intersection of technology, humanity, and identity, host Claire Evans dives into how nowadays online fame and shame have pretty much become inseparable from offline fame and shame. Even for something as innocuous as one mom's amazing dance moves at a basketball game, with virality often comes backlash and that backlash is rarely contained within a computer or a phone screen.

“Whose Mom Is This?”
Claire opens the episode talking with Dance-Cam Mom, also known as Robin Schreiber, a retired teacher and devoted NBA Warriors fan whose carefree dance moves at a game captured attention when Bleacher Report tweeted a video with the caption “Whose mom is this?” that quickly went viral.

News outlets wanted to feature Dance-Cam Mom, and Robin started being asked by people of all ages for selfies on the street. She started an Instagram account with more videos of her dancing, amassing more than 45,000 followers. Robin assessed her viral appeal, saying, “I think because I really don't care what anybody thinks. I just get up there and just have fun. So, I think it's kind of that image of just not caring. I'm doing what I wanna do and if you don't like it, that's too bad.”

And yet, for every example of a silly, fun path to virality, there are cases where virality means backlash, with threats that spill from the online world of screens to the offline world that real people have to live in. Claire muses, “maybe that's a consequence of the fact that online life and offline life have kind of coalesced into one indistinguishable mass. Everyone is online, so all the good and all the bad of public life is consolidated into one thing.”

Gamergate Creates a Playbook of Hate
Claire shares an in-depth, moving conversation with Brianna Wu, founder of Giant SpaceKat video game development studio, and one of the major targets of Gamergate.

What exactly was Gamergate? Brianna is blunt, saying, “GamerGate was an organized hate group that targeted women in the game industry, arguing for more inclusion. It started with a jilted ex-boyfriend of a woman in our industry named Zoe Quinn that wrote a blog in an attempt to destroy her professionally… You had Reddit and you had 4chan and you had the darkest parts of our {video gaming} industry that took that mission seriously and they decided to destroy Zoe Quinn and it wasn't just her. They found a playbook about how to go after women in our field and to shut them up.”

As the organized Gamergate harassment started to take shape, Brianna opposed it publicly on social media, rather than ignoring it and hoping it would go away. Almost immediately, she says, “I got threats that were so serious the FBI would eventually find themselves involved and that was the moment that I left my home... I was shaken to my core, but I knew that no one else was going to tell the world what was happening to women in my field.”

“A Blessing and a Curse” of Offline Effects
The harassment, threats and doxxing that Brianna faced took their toll, especially as harassers sought to punish Brianna offline as well. Brianna says, “This is a hard story, but it's also a story of empowerment. In standing up to GamerGate, they gave me such a microphone that I found myself in a very credible run for United States Congress… it was a blessing, but it was also a curse.”

Claire adds that Gamergate was “one of the earliest moments where the mainstream public began to understand that Internet harassment was something that was not separate from real world harassment, that Internet harassment in and of itself, even if it never leaves the screen, is something that has serious traumatic effects.”

Listen now to episode seven, “Internet Fame + Shame: The Online YOU." You can get this episode here.

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