It is commonly regarded that the internet went ‘public’ in 1991. I was born in 1994 meaning I have never lived in a world where an online presence was inactive.
When we speak, as we often do, of the pre-online age, we really are discussing an entirely different historical era. Shameful as it may seem to some, I struggle (at best) to imagine pursuing a university degree without the wonders of Google at my disposal. Today, the ways in which we learn, consume, understand, investigate, develop, entertain and stimulate are all facilitated by the internet.
This week, Lauren Laverne questioned the complications of the dying breed of technological immigrants who continue to diminish our contact with the pre-digital age. Indeed, it is sad to ponder the loss we will feel in the decades to come, when there are few to authentically articulate the workings of a world void of on-screen communication. We live on a public planet where privacy is an ever dwindling relic from a bygone age and, of this, our contempt for our own, solitary company is an increasingly frequent symptom.
Yet, let’s not dwell (for now) upon the, admittedly worrying, loss of seclusion which dominates our perception of the future. Let’s instead look at the ways in which the digital revolution has manifested the progress of social justice.
Recent years have seen an influx in the documentation of so-called ‘lad culture’. From casual objectification to the puzzling triviality of rape jokes, the presence of the toxic environment which ‘lad culture’ infuses has been felt throughout our media, in the workplace, on our public transport and within our university campuses right through the last decade. It has, in this time, gone widely undeterred. The occasional Guardian article and the emergence of the grassroots campaign Object in 2003 were signs of the small resistance to the, otherwise, granted norm. Women who have previously spoken out in derision have been labelled ‘prudes’, ‘feminazis’ and ‘buzz-kills’ (and many other names I’d rather leave unwritten). It’s amusing to realise, therefore, that the very decade which brought us this insidious culture also provided us with the weapon to destroy it.
The internet has been invaluable to activism in recent history. The rise of what is now termed ‘clicktivism’ is all too often a practise people like to mock. However our interconnected, multifaceted world requires the promotion of online campaigning and, more importantly, it has proven exceedingly effective. This year alone has seen the ‘lad’ label shift to one of folk devil mockery. Women, and men, once isolated by their experiences of misogyny can now voice their injustices on the Everyday Sexism Project. Or, those who once felt they were alone in their discomfort with soft porn in a “family newspaper” can show their support for the No More Page Three campaign.
These movements aim to dismantle imbedded cultural norms and established corporations, they therefore require patience – taking on The Sun, and by default the Murdoch empire is by no means a one-day endeavour. Yet, some acts of cohesive online anger have proven to result in speedy consequences.
Take Dapper Laughs. An obnoxious idiot at best, a bigoted rape apologist at worst, the character created by ‘comedian’ Daniel O’Reilly suffered (and I use the word loosely) the wrath of the internet’s backlash last week when his charity album was reported to have included an array of offensive language. Within the space of a few days, over 68,220 people had signed a Change.org petition and spread the hashtag #CancelDapper on twitter. As a result, the “ultimate lad” has found his ITV dating show denied re-commission and his upcoming tour cancelled.
A similar example can be found in the recent, international case of Julien Blanc who, just this week, made a painstakingly awkward ‘apology’ on CNN following the backlash which surrounded his ‘pick up artist’ seminars. His YouTube channel offers predatory advice for insecure men including ways to coerce women into sex through harassment and assault. A recent video shows him lecturing his American ‘students’ on ways to assault Japanese women (because, you know, when misogyny ain’t enough, you can always throw racism into the mix for good measure). However, following the #TakeDownJulienBlanc campaign he has been deported from Australia and a petition calling for the UK to follow the example Brazil and South Korea in denying him a visa has been proven successful.
I doubt the actions of either O’Reilly or Blanc would have earned such vigorous scorn in the earlier years of the millennium; at a point when people had yet to unite their digital pitchforks in unison against the persistence of their derogatory antics.
I am far from insinuating that the online world is a welcoming haven for those fighting social injustice (a depressingly extensive list of examples proves this sentiment wrong). Nor do I wish to ignore the short comings of clicktivism in a world where unimaginable terror can occur – the #BringBackOurGirls campaign to save kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls has had stiflingly little success against the extremism of Boko Haram and government corruption. Sometimes a hashtag is simply not enough. But does this mean that we should stay silent? The only platform most of us will ever have is the one we gain access to with a keyboard and, as the events of the past few weeks exemplify, the collective rage of the masses makes those who once felt untouchable answer to the condemnation of their actions.
2014 has generally been a bad year for bigots. Without the internet, I’m doubtful this would have been the case.
This article was originally published in Qmunicate magazine