Week 14: Are We Still Doing That?

At one of the many goodbye parties I attended this weekend, a woman said to me, “Oh, you must workout, I’m so jealous of your arms.”

And I almost said, “Fitness hack: Exercise 20-30 hours/week.” Which is actually a @DarkMark joke from Twitter, but it cracks me up. Only, then, I remembered this wasn’t the internet and I shouldn’t be a snide bitch to some random woman I just met.

Continue reading “Week 14: Are We Still Doing That?”

The Olympics in the Age of Internet Outrage

On Thursday, the USOC picked Boston as the American contender to host the Olympics in 2024. Somehow they were able to do this despite the alleged massive, huge, giant outcry on the social medias.

Now there are lots of weird questions about why the USOC picked Boston over Los Angeles or San Francisco (OK, really over Los Angeles, because even though I was massively hoping for San Francisco or for a joint L.A.-S.F. California bid, that was never going to happen — the internet was even more certain of that). And, I personally am of the opinion that Boston is not going to win the games. They clearly could not beat Rome or Paris or Istanbul or Berlin in a fair fight. Of course, the Olympics bidding process isn’t a fair fight and the U.S. will definitely get an Olympics before NBC’s TV contract comes up for renewal. So, who knows.

But, what really fascinated me was that as everyone started (or kept) speculating, one of the things story after story repeated was that Boston would have to overcome all this opposition from the public. I mean, there was a Twitter account against Boston2024, for Chrissakes, a Twitter account!!

So widespread was the certainty that public opinion was being reflected online and that the internet public opinion could stop the Olympics from coming to the U.S., that I heard it cited in conversation as a reason Boston won’t get the games. I saw this argument in papers and on other social media accounts commenting on the opposition’s social media accounts. (To a degree, it did manage to stymie the San Francisco bid in the sense that everyone knows anything is a hassle in San Francisco.)

And, yet, when I went to the NoBostonOlympics twitter Friday afternoon (after the selection announcement and after all this press, when presumably it would have had an influx of supporters), it had 560 followers. You know who has more Twitter followers than that? Me. Maybe my opinions should single-handedly shape public events.

The account now has about 1,800 followers after more coverage of its opposition efforts. And, you don’t need to convince me that how many followers something has is not the best indicator of anything. But, the fact remains that there was barely an internet movement against these games — until we gave them a platform to become one. (For comparison, the NoSF2024 twitter has about 100 followers and the organization is made up of about four people who know how to work the media, and still they got significant coverage in Bay Area news. Despite actual polls suggesting public opinion was very different.)

There’s been a lot of talk about how the Olympics is going to move forward if no one wants to host it. There’s been quite a bit of discussion about if the cost and burden of hosting the Olympics is simply not viable in a democracy. But, I don’t know if that’s the right question.

People having a voice isn’t a problem. Some people’s voices being artificially inflated until a few sound like a mob is a problem.

The internet has been wearing me out lately. (Like, really, really wearing me out. And, boring me with its over-the-top predictability.) And, I love the internet. When people ask what I do for work, sometimes I just say, “The Internet.” But, I will be the first to tell you that the internet is home to as many problems as solutions. It tends to magnify our worst tendencies and make it easy to rush to judgement. It works in favor of those who do not deal in nuance. It often misreads tone and fails to grant the benefit of the doubt. And, it creates mobs where there have not always been mobs. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I’ve been forced to, because over and over again the internet mob creates just one version of the truth. And, perhaps, I often agree with the mob right now, perhaps I’m ideologically aligned with strident liberalism, but what happens when the mob is wrong? What happens when they’re not wrong, but just don’t deserve to be the only voice? What happens when I don’t agree with them anymore, when the mob turns on itself?

I love the Olympics too. I do. Despite all clear-headed skepticism about how it is packaged and sold, I love it. I think there are lies within the games, but that the competition at its heart is one of those capital T Truths. I believe that the Olympics can cost a city money, but I think it can also bring a city a lot in return. I know that there are changes that need to and must be made to how the Olympics run (like athletes being paid better), but I hope those things don’t fundamentally change the Olympics.

And, I really hope the internet doesn’t ruin the Olympics.

From xkcd of course.
From xkcd of course.

This Is Not a Post About Sports

I have recently been the subject of more trolling than usual on the internet. Trolling, itself, isn’t new. Pretty much since I started reporting, there have been trolls online. That’s fine. Or, rather, it’s not fine, but it’s a fact of life. That trolling has gotten more intense as I’ve written bigger stories with wider audiences, or maybe just as more people have gotten into the anonymous hate game on the internet. The essay I wrote on the Billfold (which I had actually titled “Lessons from My Parents: Don’t Have Kids”), prompted strangers to give me unwarranted life advice and speculate about my attractiveness, sexual history, and dubious life choices. Some of the craziest comments I ever got were actually in response to a very small local news story that I wrote as straight news about a councilman arguing with another councilman and who voted what. This evidently made it clear that I hated the Constitution, was an un-American communist, and most likely a radical unattractive hack.

Now, I generally just don’t read comments, especially on controversial things I write, like about sexual assault, smoking bans, or oyster farms.

Recently, though, the trolls have left the news sites and are forcing themselves into my life. They’re sending me (lots of) Twitter messages and long personal emails. And they’re doing it in a way that is very clear that they wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t a woman — or, to a small degree, if I wasn’t a woman who looked young and small and intimidate-able.

Yes, I expected the hate for a story I wrote for the campus site on the ‘yes means yes’ law, especially since I expressed an opinion! About sexual assault! But, the long email cajoling me to grow a pair and start smiling more in my profile photos was in response to a fun piece on the best places to tailgate. Tailgating: always a hotbed of outrage. And, the funny recap of “How to Get Away with Murder” prompted both crazy sexist AND racist comments. Because, you know, that’s a totally rational appropriate response.

There’s been more written recently about how the internet is becoming a dark alley for women. It’s not just uninviting, it’s dangerous. People say ignore them. Yeah, no kidding. People say don’t feed the trolls. Just super great advice. And, after my initial reaction of “Fuck them!,” I also didn’t want to give any of it any weight. I didn’t want to respond — because that never goes well — or say anything or mention it to anyone. As if by ignoring abuse it’ll go away. When a friend asked what the Twitter handle was of someone who deliberately followed me just so he doesn’t miss an opportunity to tell me what “shitty feminist propaganda” I write, I didn’t initially want to tell her. I didn’t want to egg him on or let him know I thought about him at all or that this was even a question in my mind. But, then, I thought, “If you want to invade my personal space, I don’t see why you deserve any either.”

Now, I sort of hope she is sharing her thoughts with him online, though I doubt anyone has the same level of commitment and lack of anything else going on that so many of these people seem to have. Mostly, though, I hope we just start saying, “See that person over there, that person is a real person in real life, and it’s not ok what he says when he thinks no one is watching.” We’re watching.

Speed Jealousy

This past weekend when we were at the wedding, I was wondering what job the bride had had in Sacramento and then I remembered: she’d been in this fellowship I’d been rejected from. I’d totally forgotten about being rejected from that. Thanks for bringing it up.

The other day I realized/found out this guy who was in my thesis class in college, who I knew acquaintance-level well, had been nominated for and won all these big journalism awards. I read his story. It was good, but was it something I couldn’t have done? I don’t know.

I know, logically, that someone else doing well does not stop me from doing well — except in races, when only one person can win. If anything, it’s better to have important, powerful friends, right? I know that we’re supposed to be happy for other people. And, most of the time I am. I am happy for them getting cool jobs and earning fellowships and winning races and setting PRs. But, man, I’m also usually annoyed it isn’t me. Even when it’s not something I wanted in the first place.

While I can get sucked down the internet rabbit-hole of Googling people whose lives I wish I had pretty easily, it’s particularly transactional in sports. There’s only so many spots at the top. That’s just a fact. It may not be a fact we want to acknowledge, but that doesn’t make it untrue. It also can make for an interesting mental game: this is my friend, I’m going to try and beat my friend, and then we’ll be friends again. If you’re honest with yourself, it’s not a game most people play 100% well.

In a race, I’ll help people having crap days if I can and I’ll feel bad when a friend’s race goes to shit, but I’m not the only person who sizes up the competition based on how they look or sees someone with a flat and thinks, somewhere in the back of my mind, ‘well, at least that’s one less person to worry about.’ (To be clear, I don’t usually carry stuff to fix flats in races, so there’s not anything I could do to help.)

The hardest to deal with for me (and I’m guessing for lots of people who prefer not to acknowledge it) are the people who were the same speed as you, but are now way faster. How did they get faster? Why didn’t you get faster? Does that mean you should have gotten faster, but you screwed something up? Or, does it mean they were never really your speed anyway? Is there only so much speed to go around? What am I doing wrong? What’s wrong with me?

You can spend hours playing this version of the game.

I bet you think I’m going somewhere with this, somewhere that ends on a positive, uplifting note. Nope. Sometimes there’s nothing to do but say ‘yeah, that can be rough’ and laugh about how many hours you spent being reading the blogs of some girl with a crazy number of followers when she’s not even that much prettier or faster than you. Oh well. I’m sure someone who’s a better writer than I am would have had more insight, more to say. I bet they would have inspired people and lit a candle in the dark and been a beacon of hope that I could never be. Thanks for bringing that up.


Alistair Brownlee Runs a 10K and Internet Commenters Offer Free Advice

I wrote a quick story about Olympic triathlon gold medalist Alistair Brownlee running the 10K on the track at Stanford this weekend. And, to get a sense of what people thought about his chances, I browsed internet discussion boards this week — which is never a fun thing to do. On the ever-popular Slowtwitch, people were actually complaining that the 10K leg of the triathlon in the Olympics was probably not accurate because the athletes went too fast. These internet people had no basis for assuming the OLYMPIC COURSE was short, other than that the athletes had run it quickly.

Here’s a thought: Maybe they ran it fast because it was the Olympics and they’re Olympic-fucking-caliber athletes.