On-line bullying and harassment are are serious problem. It can make being on-line a difficult experience for some people, and this has been the case recently for women involved in gaming. The same goes for threats via e-mail: shocking and totally unacceptable.
I'm not questioning at all how awful these attacks are, but what I am questioning is what these attacks mean.
Let's consider someone who has made what turns out to be a controversial statement, a statement which, in a better world, would not be controversial. They then get some frightening threats by e-mail. Do these threats mean that this person is being attacked by some community? That depends. It depends if these threats are a significant proportion of that community.
Let's say there are ten threats. They are terrible threats, perhaps even threats that require that the police get involved. If those ten threats come from members of a group of a few hundred members, then it's safe to say that those threats are a significant part of that group, and it's certainly something that group needs to deal with.
But what if the group consists of a thousand members? Ten thousand? A hundred thousand?
There has to be a number at which the responsibility of the whole group for the actions of ten of its members is insignificant. At that number it makes no sense to describe the actions of those ten as being truly representative of that group.
Let's give a name to the group - how about 'flamers?'
Someone makes a statement, and gets disgusting and frightening attacks from 10 flamers. Surveys shown that there are 200,000 flamers.
How should we respond to that someone saying "I am being attacked by the flamer community?", or "the flamer community needs to deal with their hateful members?", "there is a serious problem with on-line flamers?"
Let me be clear. I am certainly not saying we should in any way dismiss the frightening experience of being attacked on-line, and I am not in any way excusing the attackers. What I am saying is that it's simply a mistake to use the existence of those attackers to come to conclusions about a whole community. It's factually incorrect.
Just because someone has been the victim of harassment, we should not accept incorrect conclusions from them about tens or hundreds of thousands of people. For one thing, we could end up dealing with problems that don't really exist as against dealing with real and serious problems of abuse and bullying.
The Internet is a Superconductor of Stupidity. The mad and the bad get instant and easy access to those they want to attack on-line. That access can make their voices seem loud, but we should also listen to the peaceful silence of the majority, and that means we need to realise how big that silence is, how many are peaceful.