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How the Internet Amplifies Hate

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They be hatin'


Ever noticed how the Internet amplifies hate? Look back far enough and you'll see that popular cultural memes – especially negative ones – can be traced back to just a couple of sources, more often than not innocuous ones.

Way back in 1999, just one comment on a website probably lost in time ('George Lucas raped my childhood') gave voice to all our disquieted reaction to the new Star Wars prequel. It was a handy and arresting soundbite, and it's rolled like a snowball down the media hill ever since until it's come to embody everything informed film fans think about Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.

A lot of us were just kind of disappointed, not enraged to the point of invoking colloquialisms about sexual assault. But as Hitler well knew long before the Internet was invented, the repetition of a strong message catches on quickly, and childhood rape by movies became an immobile part of the cultural lexicon.

We saw the same thing recently with self published millionaire paranormal romance author Amanda Hocking, who went into virtual isolation after she became the new poster girl for the new publishing business model. A few haters hated – no different than the critical reaction to Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series – but simply because of the volume of comment owing to Hocking's new fame, more negative comments were heard than would have been ordinarily.

Suddenly news stories were talking about volumes of online vitriol you'd think should be directed at child molesters for the hatred they described. All from a few blog posts that were probably offhand venting and came from people who'd never read paranormal romance. In fact, awareness of Hocking Hate has become so pervasive it's now cooler to say how you don't hate Amanda Hocking like everyone else and what a great thing she's done thumbing her nose at Big Publishing to do it her way.

Filmmaker Kevin Smith is so much a part of the global conversation about his work it was almost prophecy something he did would put noses out of joint. He pulled a now-notorious, attention-grabbing stunt at the 2011 Sundance film festival by saying he'd auction off the distribution rights to his horror film Red State, then went on stage with producer John Gordon and bought the rights to distribute it himself.

Smiths' point – which he's iterated all over the web time and time again since – was to prove that anybody could not only make a film (as he feels he proved with 1994's Clerks), but circumvent the bloated marketing and distribution costs by exhibiting it themselves.

A few people took umbrage to what they considered a publicity stunt – although at the time it's doubtful it was anything more than disgruntlement – but Smith is high profile in the film world and online, so his actions were going to generate a lot of comment.

Movie writer Drew McWeeny of Hitflix was one of the first high profile critics to go on record that Smith's stunt was something of a sneaky double cross of the distributors who were hoping to take part in the auction he promised, voicing his opinion on Twitter.

Deadline.com said in an early story that Smith 'lost some cred', but the key was in the headline of the story – 'Watch Kevin Smith implode'. Suddenly the blogosphere had their soundbite. Kevin Smith wasn't doing something silly, he hadn't let hopeful acquisition agents down, he hadn't even lied about his post-screening auction. He'd 'imploded'. It became the anchor for the story that traveled the web and picked up the vitriol we associate with the term at every stop.

It became the byword for the episode as assuredly as the George Lucas childhood-raping meme had, and now a casual observer would think film blogs and tweets from one end of the earth to the other were calling for Smith's death and dismemberment.

Like Chinese Whispers, the web wields a chaos effect of incremental change and in the case of bad news or negative views, incremental anger. Lucas, Hocking and Smith aren't the only ones on its receiving end, and the only question that remains is the perennial one about whether there's any such thing about bad publicity.

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