On hosting events part 2 or why everyone on the internet hates you

It’s coming up to our one year anniversary at Soho Skeptics and what a year it’s been. I’m still none the wiser as to whether putting on relatively cheap events in London is ever worth the hassle but for some reason we keep on doing so. Ho hum.

We’ve done everything from skeptical bread and butter with Dr. Paul Offit talking about US regulation of alternative medicines to talking about North Korea to having a debate on Leveson and finally to this week’s event - talking about the battle over gender.

My previous blogpost (originally posted on Posterous) came about because of a small but vocal group of people criticising us over something that was completely beyond our control. It was immensely frustrating and it seems like the frustration will continue.

Re-reading that blog it seems that it is still the same problem. I think the problem is the definition of activist. What is an activist? I assumed activism meant trying to educate people about topics. I thought it was meant to try and improve things? I thought it was about convincing people that you have a good point not demanding that they agree with it. Perhaps I need a new dictionary.

Anyway. Watching Twitter this week after the event has been a sobering experience. Sobering in the sense that no matter what you do, people on the internet will hate you. People on the internet will demand that you read all the books possible (but only the right books, mind) on a topic that you barely know about. They will demand that you know the ins and outs and minutia of a deeply varied and rich community of people that in your own small way, you want to understand and support. It doesn’t matter what your intent was, it was wrong because someone on the internet has chosen to interpret that way.

But it’s not just this. It’s everything. Everyone on the internet will hate you, if you do anything. If you blog, if you tweet, if you make Youtube videos, if you are a girl geek or if you are a guy who likes ponies. It doesn’t matter how nice you are, how supportive you think you are, how much you think you have to offer or introduce people to something you don’t know much about but want to understand. The internet will hate you for it. Or think you are evil.

I’m still sort of a loss to say why. I wish I had some deep sociological insight but I don’t. The nearest thing I can come up with is: on the internet, you are never given the benefit of the doubt.

No one is ever going to mistake you doing something stupid and mean as being nice but almost everyone will interpret you doing something with a good intention as malicious.

And why not. I don’t know you, internet people (except for the ones I do) and you don’t know me (unless you do). So that is where we stand. We’ll be sniped at from the safety of 140 characters and we’ll sit at home, wondering why we bother. Wondering how people can be so offended or hurt or threatened. Because, benefit of the doubt or not, we don’t know. We honestly don’t. And no one wants to help us that isn’t in a shouty ALL CAPS YOU ARE HORRIBLE PEOPLE kind of way.

Oh well. Goodnight internet. Maybe next time, when you’re not quite sure about something, think of these three things:

  • not everyone knows everything you do
  • most people aren’t assholes
  • not everything is personally directed at you

Because we don’t, we aren’t and it wasn’t.