Hotel Cyberspace

There were four little girls dancing in the lounge room, we must have been eight or nine. We were all giggling, music turned up, making up our own signature dances “you do this and then I’ll go like this and then you clap your hands”. That sort of thing.

In the middle of all the fun, my mother arrived at the back door and said we had to head home, I tried negotiating an extended stay, it didn’t work, so I said goodbye. When we were outside, I thought I’d give it one last try, I began the usual begging “just five more minutes, can I just stay for five more….pleeeeeeeease”. Perhaps, the most surprising part of this story, is that my mother then said yes.

When I raced back in to the house I immediately felt the air had changed, something was different. They hadn’t heard me come in and I was halfway into the kitchen when I heard them. “How good does she think she is?” one girl said in a tone that dripped with venom, “Did you see her? God she loves herself?” She then started imitating me and every one laughed.

As I slowly and very quietly backed out of the kitchen, I could feel a weight in the pit of my stomach, it’s a feeling I now recognize with nerves or a stupid argument that didn’t need to happen.

Sometimes, the most hurtful words, are the ones people think you didn’t hear.

Little girls can be vicious. That’s what they say, don’t they? Mean girls. We’ve seen the movie, watched the stereotypes on television, every series has a super bitch. As a mother of both boys and girls I hear it often from the more experienced mothers. The boys, they tell me, are going to be relaxed and easy going teenagers (who love their mother) but the girls will give me trouble, cattiness, acerbic tongues. “Girls get nasty”.

I’m not so sure if it’s just the girls?

I’ve been sitting around with a broken foot and a Macbook pro for just over two weeks and I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve spent way to much time reading online newspapers and other social media sites. I’ve also found myself reading the “comments” from the readers, and then the comments on the comments. This is where the fight usually breaks out and things starts getting personal.

Sure, some are complimentary to the writer, some are not, but some are just nasty. Nastier than high school, nastier than adult chicken pox and nastier than you would ever hear in a spirited debate at the office water cooler.

Last year, Annabel Crabb (ABC Journalist, amongst lots of other things)  wrote and presented an article about modern day Journalism, in particular, online Journalism. She pointed out here just how much easier it is to make a comment online than it is in traditional media. I think most of us would agree.

I’ve never put together a letter to an Editor that required an envelope or a stamp, but on a daily basis I will look or possibly comment on either Facebook, Twitter, Mamamia, the Huffington Post, Punch, The Daily Beast….I’ll just stop there.

This past week in the Australian media, the debate over the 17 year old girl who slept with an AFL identity or two, remains in the press. Interestingly, the last two stories I have read about her have not been about her story, but more on how the two female journalist felt about interviewing and reporting on her. Both stories, (here and here) provided a different perspective and because of this, comments were made.

Comments came from both men and women, some were general observations, some were funny, some were sarcastic and some of them were just plain mean, not witty, just abusive. I found myself cringing and visibly wincing as I read words like “Skank”, “Slut”, “Whore’, “Ho” and “Moll”.  It felt more like a public lynching, than a discussion. In a discussion that involved AFL, people had forgotten the golden rule, play the ball and not the man.

It’s easy to bag someone anonymously, but lets pretend for a moment there was a Hotel called Cyberspace. In each room of the hotel stood the people you visit online each day. Imagine walking in to find Annabel Crabb reading an article out loud to a group, upon finishing a man yells out “you will never be taken seriously until you do something about your ridiculous hair”.

In the next room Kerri Sackville and Mia Freedman are having a discussion about the use of bluetooth devices while driving, a woman screams “you eastern suburbs princess, get a job!”, a fight immediately breaks out in the crowd. A moderator swiftly moves in and starts removing people, delete, delete, delete.

In the next room Dave Penberthy is counting page views while grinning at the 400 people screaming at each other. He hasn’t said anything yet as they’re all too busy fighting with one other to listen, one guy’s calling the Prime Minister a “cougar” and a “barren redheaded spinster”, everyone’s forgotten what the original topic was.

The rooms at Hotel Cyberspace differ greatly, the New York Times has the boardroom with the expensive cutlery and mammoth flower display, The Hufffington Post has the large multipurpose conference area.

If I could choose, I’d probably put my blog over at the swim up bar, and while drinking cocktails I’d keep my fingers crossed that no one was about to arrive and tell me I look fat in my bathers.

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