5 years ago, I agreed to video chat with my penpal. We've been sending emails back and forth for 2 years, and I guess they thought they knew me enough to talk. I didn't expect the proposal; I expected this interaction to stay anonymous forever, sending emails across the world without knowing who the other person was. I liked the anonymity of it, prevented any judgement or assumptions. However, I didn't want to go against the wishes of my penpal, who I considered one of my few true friends.
So I launched Skype, sent a request to their username, and waited nervously. I generally don't talk much, but young Vijay was shy. I've talked about the most personal things with this penpal and talking to someone who knew all that just felt weird. I felt vulnerable and scared. I watched as the request was accepted and their name appeared on the list. "That's odd" I thought. Maybe it was their mom's account. So feeling proud that I had my own skype account, I lifted the call as soon as I received it, planning to boast about my independence.
As soon as I received a response to my "Hey!" I was confused. Was this the right account? Maybe I...
I know you didn't expect this haha
My penpal was a girl, and I had no idea. I didn't even consider the possibility of that happening for 2 years. We had talked about the deepest (well, deep for a 14 year old) and the most mundane of things, and I didn't get a single clue? People have called me a bit naive before, but was I this bad?
After a pause that was probably a bit longer than normal, I expressed my surprise and I probably sounded utterly baffled. Her email address had no trace of her name in it. She never talked about fashion, makeup, and whatever stereotypical topics I imagined girls talked about. She said she did not reveal her gender on purpose. The internet was not a welcoming place for girls, and she had a much better experience but just not talking about it.
I remember not seeing any girls (in usernames, interests, or pictures) on the internet. I didn't necessarily think that was a problem at the time, but reflecting upon this experience I think it was entirely possible that they were just not vocal. I have to admit, I did not have the most sophisticated opinion of them before I had this experience. Even today, look at /r/creepypms. Just admitting that you're female gets you disgusting messages and psychopathic threats. I think the representation for women online is approximately the same as men nowadays, I can only imagine how horrible it would have been for women 5 years ago.
I think there lacked an opposing voice in the internet when it came to discussions about women. I remember reading pages on pages about how "women's brains work" but at the same time how men were all unique and different from each other. The amounts of such comments were insane, I can see why women would just not respond and try to ignore or leave. I'm thankful I didn't take those poisonous points seriously, and I have no idea how the internet has gotten to the point it has today, where women are able to respond and fight back against being generalized. Maybe it was a small group of women who got tired of this shit. If that happened, thank you for your efforts.
The reason I mention this is because I think a similar thing in happening online with political discussions now. There is so much toxic discourse in any article talking about refugees, human rights, feminism, etc. Hate against almost every group. The mass volumes of comments make me think that even commenting and arguing for the other side is even more worthless. Looking at Youtube is especially depressing.
Take this video for example. Ignoring the annoying strawmen and the "are you getting our shitty message yet?" approach, the high like to dislike ratio and the comments are quiet depressing. Take a look. Cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias run rampant. The quantity is comments is so high that it's essentially worthless to post dissident messages. They will get buried, and will not be taken seriously if seen anyway. This is something the real world has to fix, because you can't just say such things to someone's face. Racists, sexists, and in general 'edgy' commenters spend so much more time online and seem to do nothing else with their lives, making it hard for people with jobs and real things to do to even out the discourse. The average person does not have time to deal with this.
"Stop violating me with your different opinions" This isn't even satire anymore Youtube Comment
For example, I could easily come up with rational explanations and retorts to all the comments discussing "how true" this video is. But there's no way I am spending the time to reply to all of these. Most of these comments are even repetitions of the same thing, just people saying that this is very true and that it's an accurate representation of real life. I assume other people have made decisions like me, and just gave up on commenting. Hate seems to be a better motivator to comment than logic or empathy, and it clearly shows. However, I don't think it is anybody's responsibility to reply, there are clearly more important things to do in life.
I don't know where we are heading. I don't even know how to fix this situation. I don't think AI guided bots is the answer. Censorship will not fix this situation. It has to be an initiative of the people. People atleast have to reply to their friends, acquaintances, and family. I do realize a lot of people don't express their opinions unless they are in a spot they won't be questioned or will be supported. We just need them to get out of their damn safe spaces.