The week of December 28, 2014

The year of the troll

By Austin Powell

No matter your vantage point, it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad whole f*$%ing year online.

From Celebgate to Gamergate, 2014 was the year of the troll, with an ugly, misogynistic minority hurling a near-constant barrage of disturbing threats and sexual harassment in highly targeted directions. Such attacks once felt limited to toxic comment sections and 4chan forums, areas of the Internet you could hope to avoid or at least grow immune to with time. But over the last 12 months, things got painfully personal: doxing, bomb threats, bricks through the windows of parents’ houses.

If you spent a considerable amount of time online this year—and given how deeply embedded the Internet is into our daily lives, we all did—chances are you experienced significant harassment in some capacity in 2014 or lent support to someone close to you who did. No one was safe, and it wasn’t as simple as mere trolling. The divide between the Internet famous and and the fans who catapulted them there grew sharper this year, and YouTube in particular suffered from a string of sexual abuse scandals (some disguised as “prank” videos), with A-list vloggers allegedly taking advantage of the platform and the teens it attracts.

Meanwhile, as Taylor Hatmaker recounts in this issue, the tech companies we entrust with our most personal information and communication routinely betrayed us—telling us that our cloud data was safe, that our messages were anonymous, that we weren’t all living in a financial or racial bubble. Even the Internet as we know it was under constant attack, as the Federal Communications Commission tackled and ultimately punted the issue of net neutrality.

It was enough to make you want to quit the Internet—or at least Twitter—on a daily basis.

In this double issue of the Kernel—we’ll be adding more to it next week—we’re reviewing all of the relative highs and extreme lows of our year online. More importantly, we’re celebrating those who stood up and fought back, those who made the Internet a better, safer, and more exciting place to live—be it through hilarious Vine videos, surreal Tumblr blogs, or expertly curated newsletters, which not coincidentally, as Aaron Sankin argues here, experienced something of a renaissance in 2014.

If there’s a silver lining to 2014, it’s that for every terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing that happened online, there was something equally inspiring taking root to not only cancel it out but move the conversation forward. I’m thinking specifically of Laci Green’s message of sex positivity on YouTube, of the protesters rallying in Ferguson and around the world, the unsung heroes on the frontlines for Internet freedom, and Tumblr’s Planned Parenthood crusaders Saturday Chores, but there are countless other examples.  That’s why, in our cover story, Selena Larson makes a passionate case for 2014 actually being a positive year for women in tech, despite the daunting evidence to the contrary.

“At first glance, it’s just another year full of a number of very high-profile events highlighting how toxic the tech industry can be towards women,” Larson writes. “But look again: 2014 was actually a great year. Not because of the things that happened, but rather because women are finally talking about their experiences, and perhaps more importantly, people are listening.”

She concludes: “That conversation, that commitment to exposing and revitalizing tech culture in a way that not only supports equality but improves the development of products and software by listening to and implementing diverse perspectives, is what made 2014 a promising year for women in technology and the future of the industry itself.”

Here’s hoping for an even better 2015.

Photo via Elvert Barnes/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed