Ever since Gamergate broke back in 2014, white, straight, male nerds have constantly had to defend their dislike of any product with any degree of arguably-progressive themes. Any criticism of those products will result in the complainant being accused of being bigoted, racist, or sexist.
That’s not fair. You can dislike something without being any of those. But, whether that’s right or not is beside the point. I just want to make sure that everyone understands the context in which the following story takes place.
Imagine for a moment that major news outlets discovered a situation which might potentially support the Gamergate narrative. Are they going to do their due diligence, digging deep into the stories to make sure they have their facts straight, and make sure they clearly label any speculation or editorialization as such?
Let’s take a look at the following claims made by a number of news outlets:
“Kelly Marie Tran, the first woman of color to hold a major onscreen role in the Star Wars franchise, has deleted all of her Instagram posts after months of racist and sexist harassment from Star Wars fans.” — Vox
“Kelly Marie Tran, who portrayed the scrappy Resistance hero Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, silently left Instagram this week, following a shameful harassment campaign mounted against her by whiny neckbeards from the very vocal minority of Star Wars fans who do not agree with the progressive ideals set forth in the refreshingly inclusive, emotionally-nuanced film.” – Esquire
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi actress Kelly Marie Tran has wiped her Instagram account clean after enduring months of harassment on social media.” – People
Of the articles I surveyed, one in three did not contain the following very important tidbit of information: Kelly Marie Tran has not revealed why she deleted (or hid) her Instagram posts. Nor has her publicist or agent, nor anyone at Lucasfilm or Disney.
To be clear: no one knows exactly why she did what she did.
So, it’s pretty unethical to just flat-out say that harassment was the reason she did it without qualification.
Of the around two-thirds that included this very important information, most only had one sentence to this effect, and included titles that tied together the idea of “deleting Instagram” and “online harassment.”
If you’re one of the 59% of people that shares an article on social media without reading it, you’re likely to think that she definitively left social media because of harassment, which just isn’t true.
There are other plausible explanations.
For instance, in researching Ms. Tran, I’ve gotten the impression that’s she’s a fairly awkward and introverted person. I say that with a lot of love, as it’s close to how I would describe myself. And, celebrity often isn’t fun for these kinds of people. Deleting Instagram would be a way to lessen the emotional strain of newfound celebrity.
Likewise, it could be that Tran realized that, like a lot of people, she doesn’t like social media all that much, and deleting it makes her life better, whether she felt particularly harassed or not.
I have about as much evidence for these as the journalists quoted above have for their position. But, as a friend pointed out, some combination of the possible explanations is far more likely than just any one of them. Staking out a position on just one of them is defying the odds.
But, why does this matter?
The explanation that you choose affects the rest of the article. Without fail, these articles are about the dangers of online harassment, which also happens to fit a preexisting narrative.
If you chose one of the ones that I suggested, you might write about the tolls of celebrity or the decline in Social Media use.
However, the path that the media chose is shaping people’s behavior. Just take a look at this tweet from Mark Hamill:
This tweet might be totally unnecessary, and a bit insulting, if Tran didn’t leave because of harassment.
This interpretation of events also gave rise to the exceedingly weird Esquire article I quoted above.
People now want to talk about online harassment because of this, and its entirely possible that their frame of reference is horribly flawed because the reporting was also horribly flawed. It’s also way too late to do anything. All of these articles are trying to fix a problem that can’t be solved because Tran has already left.
But, there’s more.
If Tran did leave because of harassment, she may have made a mistake.
There are multiple ways to respond to online harassment.
The best, in my opinion, is to ignore. Most of it is asinine, ignorant drivel from people who don’t matter. Why should you pay any attention to it?
You shouldn’t, and by ignoring it, you strip it of much of its power, and people will eventually get bored and leave.
Another good option is to fight it. Block people, delete vile stuff, and use the fact that people have said false stuff about you as fuel. You can do great things, and you can use your doubters as a powerful incentive to be the best you can be. And then, because you’re strong, you can use your experiences to help other people who are going through the same thing.
But, it’s bad to just surrender.
Leaving Instagram suggests that Tran was taking at least some of what was being said to heart. That’s not good, for the reasons outlined above. And, it gives power to the trolls. It makes them think they can win, and now that Tran is gone, they’ll spread their invective to other people.
On top of that, the articles written by the media blame harassment and refuse to hold the victim accountable for her actions. I’m not saying she deserves harassment, rather, that if we only consider one side of the equation, we’ll never solve the problem.
This is one instance, among many, in which the media’s particular coverage of an event actually prevents the general public from finding solutions to a problem, because they’ve framed it in a way that both misses the truth of the situation and suggests a limited number of unrealistic solutions.
One of the big problems with modern media is that if they all end up saying pretty much the same thing over and over, it becomes the way people think about the situation. We need more disagreement, or at the very least, differing perspectives in order to get a good grasp on what’s going on the world.