I’m stepping out of my comfort zone as a blogger to discuss a very controversial topic. But it’s also a very important one for the online anime community.
Recently, I’ve been noticing some unpleasant behaviour by commenters on Random Curiosity – one of the biggest English-language anime blogging websites. I know, I know – “People being shitty on the internet? Whould’ve thunk it?” – but the actions I was seeing reminded me distinctly of the Gamergate controversy, and that’s not a good thing to be reminded of in any shape or form. Namely, I was seeing repeated personal attacks and excessive downvoting against a blogger, simply because she addressed the issue of emotional abuse in her reviews of Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso.
I suppose for many of you reading this, Gamergate needs no introduction, and I’m not particularly interested in covering the convoluted history of the movement on an anime blog anyway. Gamergate has been condemned by most reputable media outlets (including a pretty hilarious takedown on the Colbert Report), and it’s also fair to say that the movement has lost most of its momentum anyway at the time of this writing. But the issues spurring Gamergate? Our toxic internet culture? That’s all here to stay. And unfortunately, the online anime fandom is not exempt from any of these things.
Some context before we begin.
Random Curiosity was not originally a reviewing website in the sense of featuring opinions about anime. It began as an episode recap blog. Although the site’s approach has largely shifted to analysis and personal impressions, even today it still retains something of a reputation for “objective reviewing”.
This, combined with the self-selecting process of what shows get covered on RC (writers basically just cover whatever shows they’re most interested in), means that you don’t often see negative criticisms about anime on that website. And that’s absolutely fine, for the most part. Since the writers aren’t paid, it’s best if they stick to writing about what they enjoy. No one is obliged to write about anime in a particular way. (Of course, that’s not to say that RC writers aren’t capable of delivering some great critique.)
But the downside to RC’s “by the fan, for the fans” approach is that the community stifles negativity. Comments that express negative criticism are usually downvoted unless the anime is a particularly poor one, while witty one liners and memes are generally upvoted. In other words, the community is a whole lot like r/anime. There’s probably a great deal of crossover in the demographics too.
It’s in this context that the current controversy fits in, wherein a writer is attacked for daring to voice a negative opinion.
More specifically, she is attacked for criticising subtext, for linking the underlying messages to her own personal experiences, and for using the language of “Social Justice Warriors”.
I know that everyone gets different interpretations and impressions from narratives, and there is no real right or wrong way to look at it. You are not a bad person for enjoying the show or for disliking it. You just see the world differently. However, it’s important to realize that other people do, in fact, have different interpretations, and that those may be intensely problematic for these individuals. It is a very real problem for me, and I wish I could say it wasn’t a big deal but it is, and it’s unfair to those who do enjoy it that I can’t see past this problem, so I will be stepping down as the blogger for this show.
That’s fair and reasonable, right? However…
Now, a lot of the angrier comments on the Kimiuso thread are getting downvoted into oblivion, but the attacks against Kairi appear to be continuing, even on posts that have nothing at all to do with Kimiuso. A couple of days ago on her post about Episode 7 of Akatsuki no Yona, we see this obvious example of internet bullying at play (I omitted some of comments in the chain for brevity):
Of note here is the upvote/downvote system RC has in place and how the trolls have upvoted any comment that criticises Kairi. They have also downvoted Kairi’s comments, as well as the comments of those who defend her.
That’s right, one of the commenters explicitly admits to not even watching the anime discussed in the post and is only interested in trolling Kairi.
Not to mention some of the downvoting seems to indicate a more general resentment against women:
As for the meat of their arguments, you’ll forgive me if a lot of these comments remind me a lot of what Gamergaters have said and the kinds of arguments they have used to derail critics. They’re not exactly uncommon viewpoints on the internet. I won’t bother rebutting their points specifically, but the main problem is that their stance lacks empathy, a fact which should hopefully be obvious even to the most casual of observers.
I’ve spoken to Kairi about the comments she’s received and she’s told me she’s not too bothered by them. She’s mentioned that she’s glad some people have gained a new perspective through her writing, and for her this positive net result outweighs the bad. She’s also done a fine job defending herself against the more groundless criticism.
That doesn’t justify the harassment or trolling at all, of course. The reality is that if you’re going to have a public presence on the internet, you have to develop a thick skin – and it shouldn’t be this way. Kairi’s case is linked to a larger problem with internet culture, one that unfortunately can’t be fixed easily.
If anyone from RC is reading this, I suggest that you issue a formal anti-harassment statement that can be seen or accessed from the site’s front page. I’m not entirely sure how the commenting policy works on Random Curiosity because I couldn’t find any official statement. I think it’s better to have a site policy than to not have one, especially considering how many comments RC gets. If the harassment continues, you might even want to consider addressing the issue up front in a post.
To everyone else reading this post, I’ve chosen to write about this particular situation because it’s really a perfect articulation of the sort of anti-feminist, anti-“SJW” nonsense arguments that media critics frequently have to put up with. It may not reach the heights (er, lows) of Gamergate, but the reactionary attitude and petulant behaviour are still present.
RC isn’t the only anime reviewing site where this sort of stuff happens. I mean, who can forget all the rape apologists in the ANN Cross Ange thread? Instead of railing against these so called “SJW” critics, it’s better to actually consider their argument. Ultimately, a big part of art – and art criticism – is how it sheds light on different parts of the human experience, so you’re always better off being receptive to criticism. You may even learn something valuable about the world.
So the takeaway message from this post is this: people can be dicks to critics for stupid reasons. Please don’t be a dick yourself and, if you can, call out dickish behaviour when you do see it. It’s perfectly possible to disagree with a critic in a respectful way. See this post for a great example of that.
I guess now is also a good time to mention that my blog now has an anti-harassment policy too. It’s right there in the sidebar, but I’ll copypaste it just so we’re on the same page here:
This blog is full of college kid humour, so I’m pretty lenient about cursing and sex jokes, but please don’t post comments that attack others, especially on the basis of their gender/ethnicity/etc. I will be moderating those comments and I will block anyone who repeatedly comes off as an asshole. Thanks.
As it turns out, owners of private websites and blogs have a right to moderate and delete comments they deem offensive. As an agent of THE EVIL FEMINIST CONSPIRACY, I have moderated comments before (namely dumb rape jokes). And I won’t hesitate to do so in the future. I’m totally not sorry for OPPRESSING YOUR HUMAN RIGHTS.
But seriously, observing social etiquette works in real life, so it should work on the internet too. The right to be an asshole is not a cause worth rallying for. If there’s one thing I learned from Gamergate, it’s that.
Edit: In response to the feedback I’ve gotten on this post, I feel I should clarify what sort of comments I deem offensive:
I am honestly fine with comments from people who don’t agree with liberal values. I permit any comment expressing respectful disagreement. I will even permit comments expressing values I perceive as sexist/racist/etc. as long as I feel they are not written with the intent to harm or slander another person. Of course, I will probably respond expressing my disagreement, but I will only resort to censoring when I think it contributes to an atmosphere of hostility.
If you are a private owner of a website or blog and you are interested in implementing a commenting policy, I suggest you check out John Samuel’s blog for a good example of one.
So far in my time as a blogger, the vast, vast majority of comments I have received have been respectful and constructive. I thank all of you for contributing to this positive environment. I hope that my blog will continue to be a safe place where you can express your views without feeling attacked.