Although Lindsay admittedly knew most of these things already, especially #4.
1. The Internet can be a powerful protest tool. As we’ve already alluded to here and as I hope you are in some capacity aware, Sady Doyle is, at presstime, still leading an epic and hugely important Internet protest against Michael Moore and the misinformation swirling around about the rape allegations against Julian Assange. “Internet protest?” you guffaw. To which I say, “Yeah dude. Internet protest. Just read some of the tweets under the #MooreandMe hashtag , recognize the passion and intensity these people are able to squeeze into a measly 140 characters, and imagine all the other ways they’re expounding upon that passion elsewhere on the Internet (writing about it on their blogs, commenting on articles about Assange, and very likely even having real life conversations about it). Somebody call Malcolm Gladwell, because I think this is even a bigger deal than that time Twitter helped some dude get back his stolen Sidekick.
2. …But it can also proliferate false and potentially harmful information. Still, I don’t want to unequivocally praise the Internet, because it helped us get deeper into this mess into the first place. A lot of that swirling misinformation (such as the totally false assumption that Assange is being charged because his condom broke, or the totally false assumption that Assange has yet been charged with anything at all, or the fact that you have read the unfortunate term “sex by surprise” upwards of 100 times this week) has been proliferated through the Internet — through people with close to a million Twitter followers (cough, Michael Moore) retweeting false information as fact, and through the onslaught of people regurgitating that false information in comments sections of articles in nearly every mainstream media outlet I’ve read this week. And of course, Twitter has helped (cough, Bianca Jagger and Keith Olbermann and, the sad part is, way too many other people to single out — I haven’t enough coughs in me) disseminate information about the identities of the accusers, potentially putting them in huge personal danger and very likely making them subject to the kind of gut-wrenchingly terrible “they were just asking for it”-style ridicule that a depressingly large number of sexual assault victims experience when they are courageous enough to speak out.
3. The Internet can create safe, communal spaces. Again, the #MooreandMe protest has seen a groundswell of support from feminist activists, and the massive rally around the issue have helped connect protesters through their support for each other. I’d urge you not just to read Sady Doyle’s startlingly honest and personal accounts of the emotional/physical toll that the protest is taking on her, but also the passionate words of encouragement that hundreds of readers are providing in the comments section. Dozens of people admit to crying while reading her posts! Hell, I teared up when I read the second one, and I was at work! People who have been inactive in anti-rape activism are talking about how they want to get involved with it again! And I’m sure that even more will get involved for the first time because of this. It’s amazing to see feminist conviction rallying en masse around this issue.
4. …But a lot of people still view online “comment” functions as open invitations to miss the larger point/be assholes. Well, yeah. Going from reading the comments section of Tiger Beatdown to the comments section of, well, basically any other media outlet that’s covering this protest is a bit of a shock. From a commenter at the Washington Post blog: “Women get away with this all too often, crying ‘wolf’ after they enjoyed being attacked.” From an article that Sady Doyle wrote for Salon about her experience with #MooreandMe: “If Sady Doyle is against rape…then I’m for it! Grandstanding, self-aggrandizing dopes like you are the reason so many people hate feminism and feminists today.” There are worse ones, if you care to dig them up, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I stop right there. The thing that many people seem to be missing in the midst of all the Assange-mania and personal namecalling is that Doyle is not protesting because she’s sure that Assange is a rapist or because she’s against Wikileaks. She’s protesting because this entire controversy (as exemplified by Moore’s comments that were dismissive of the women’s charges as though they inherently shouldn’t be taken seriously, as though the big manly problem of Freedom was obviously a much more serious matter than the little lady problem of sexual assault) has revealed so many fucked up things in the way we as a nation talk and think about rape victims. We’re insensitive to the scope of the problem, unclear on the definition, and irresponsible about protecting the identities of victims. And all of this matters not just to the two women accusing Assange, but to all women. Because when powerful people trivialize high profile rape accusations, they make it that much more difficult for other victims to feel that they’ll be taken seriously when they report a rape. It’s just that simple.
5. Many of the most interesting and vital conversations about feminism are taking place on the Internet. This whole thing has alternated so rapidly between hugely heartening and hugely disheartening that frankly I’m getting chest pains. But I think even in the midst of wading through all the misinformed, hateful bullshit (which, as hard as it is, I think is a necessary dose of reality) I still believe that this whole incident has proven that the Internet is an effective tool for talking about feminism. Thanks to one simple, inspiring blog post last week, it’s now become resoundingly clear that anyone who calls themselves a progressive should be pushing a feminist, anti-rape agenda. And it’s also revealed how opting out of the conversation or acting like it’s beneath you (Michael Moore; won’t even give you the benefit of the cough this time) speaks volumes too.