MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

July 6, 2012

For one week, good triumphs over evil online

By Monica Hesse
The Washington Post

— Last week was a jubilant one for the Internet, the triumphant victory of good over evil, the temporary defeat of the trolls.

You heard of the first win, or saw it on the "Today" show when it sprang from computer screens to television. Karen Klein, a bus monitor taunted to tears by pubescent donkeys in a viral video, received several decades-worth of hazard pay in the form of a "vacation-of-a-lifetime fund" set up by horrified viewers. The fund has surpassed $650,000 — several vacations for several lifetimes.

You might be less familiar with a second — the righteous vindication of Anita Sarkeesian, a media critic who attempted to raise $6,000 on Kickstarter to conduct a study about the stereotyping of women in video games. Her request unplugged a sewer of misogyny online (Stereotypes: proved), but the sewer was met with a backlash to the backlash. Instead of her original modest goal, Sarkeesian's project raised more than $150,000.

For years, trolls have given the Internet an undue amount of bad press. They represent the worst of humanity; unfortunately handwringers assume they represent the status quo of the Web. So it's exhilarating to see the Internet also draw forth the best of humanity. In fact, I propose that an equal-and-opposite term is needed for the troll-battlers who uplift rather than denigrate. I propose we call them "sprites."

Everyone loved the exceedingly spritely nature of last week. Bloggers chronicled Klein and Sarkeesian's ballooning funds like they were hosting a PBS telethon (Can we get her to $500,000? For a tote bag?).

But there's something a tad uncomfortable about the sprite solution. However horrible the initial mistreatment of the two women, healing their wounds with dollar-bill Band-Aids seems misguided. The Cinderella narrative is one that American society likes a lot — cars from Oprah, "Extreme Home Makeovers" from ABC — but it's a cop-out to Bippity-Boppity away individual problems rather than to acknowledge that these problems are systemic, symbolic and ongoing.

Ensuring Klein never needs to step on a school bus again doesn't mean that the bus environment will get any better, just that she won't have to witness it, and that that her donors get to feel happy about their part in that. Mob-rule generosity is absolutely a better response than mob-rule justice, but both are versions of chaos. (A counter-faction responded to Klein's plight by suggesting her tormenters — minors — be tarred and beaten in the town square.)

A sprite solution from last week that I liked better involved no personal monetary gains, but did unleash a greater-good mentality. After weeks of an ongoing, increasingly absurd legal battle between humor sites TheOatmeal and FunnyJunk — it involved copyright and libel — the founder of TheOatmeal attempted to quelch the madness. He proposed that instead of paying the $20,000 that FunnyJunk had requested, he would raise $20,000 for the American Cancer Society and the National Wildlife Fund. Ultimately, TheOatmeal's readers helped him raise more than $200,000.

Does the money solve questions of copyright and libel online? No. But the money went to a truly good cause, instead of just causing people to feel good.