Recently, I “liked” the Facebook page of Vice Magazine because, you know, us journalists have to support each other in these trying times. For those who are unfamiliar, Vice is known for publishing content pertaining to controversial topics and a “hip” and “alternative” reporting style. Given Vice’s array of subject matter and the scope of their visibility, people are bound to have some type of reaction. Fine.
The problem with having some type of reaction to Vice (or any other publication for that matter) is that we are living in an internet-dominated world in which one can virtually say whatever they want to whoever they want at any time with some simple typing and the pressing of a key. As anybody who has spent time on the internet can attest, cyberspace is full of people with opinions…and they are not afraid to share them.
This brings me back to Vice.
Like many other online media outlets, Vice attracts trash-talkers like moths to a flame. Instead of reading an article, having thoughts about it, accepting that writing is a subjective medium, and moving on, they opt to spew negative and even hateful commentary. Their motives are often unclear. Some want to be top commenter, the first comment one sees under a link due to its popularity. Some are just trying to make a joke. Others appear to want to significantly hurt the writer/Vice itself, hoping that whoever their comment was meant for will see it and perhaps think less of themselves.
What many don’t realize about the writers of articles is that writing is their job. It requires work. The articles linked to a magazine’s Facebook page aren’t thrown together in seconds like an internet comment. Writing an article involves planning, research, conducting interviews, travel, revisions, and fact-checking, not to mention the technical skills required to post an article online to make it visually appealing and user-friendly. Even as I sit here stringing this humble piece together I am exhibiting effort and sacrificing my time, and will continue to do so until I am finished and final edits have been made.
Though my duties are nowhere near as strenuous or influential as those of a Vice writer, I feel that I am justified in sympathizing with what they have to go through to produce legitimate news content. This is why I am angry on their behalf when Facebook users appear in top comments immediately dismissing and criticizing the worth of Vice’s work. I’m not just talking about disagreeing with the beliefs embedded in the text or the author’s point of view. I’m talking about unabashedly judging the quality of an article and questioning somebody’s writing abilities. I’m talking about this:
To play devil’s advocate, I understand that we aren’t in elementary school anymore and shouldn’t be given a gold star for everything we create. I understand that everyone is entitled to their opinion, no matter how inflammatory it may be. Also there’s the whole “freedom of speech” thing. Fine. For all I know, Vice doesn’t even care about what trolls have to say. After all, “a tiger doesn’t lose sleep over the opinion of sheep.” In addition, words at their core are just words. Not everyone reads so much into them as I do.
When all is said and done (or typed and clicked), the power of those who make disparaging comments like the ones on Vice Magazine’s posts is debatable. But at a time when journalism is being constantly devalued and labeled as a worthless trade, they indeed contribute to the idea that writing isn’t a real job and can be done by anyone. I encourage all the cyber naysayers out there to try and research, write, edit, and produce something better themselves. Then maybe their commentary will be justified.
The best we can do is avoid feeding the trolls by refusing to acknowledge or respond to their incendiary statements. By doing so, they will not receive the attention and authority that they long for behind the screen. Though we may mentally react to their comments without being able to control it, we also have the power to dismiss their virtual relevance and shoo them back under the bridge where they belong.