Sam Biddle, a man who has publicly endorsed bullying in a series of tweets, will be promoted to Senior Writer for Gawker at the end of the month. Despite the seeming indefensible nature of advocating for online bullying and harassment, it seems as though Biddle is being offered a “pass” on account of his target (one tweet used the hashtag #GamerGate) being unpopular in the eyes of his media clique.
While his supporters in the media are quick to excuse his offensive tweets as simple expressions of his humor, handling the situation in such a dismissive manner may not be the optimal course of action. Bullying people online and through social media has become an epidemic which many states have recently passed or taken up legislation to curb. Studies have shown that online bullying drastically increases the likelihood of suicidal ideation, and by extension suicide. The families of Megan Meier, Ryan Halligan, and Rebecca Ann Sedwick, each of whom took their own lives as a result of bullying, all deserve that figures in the media treat the subject with a degree of respect.
If Biddle chooses to ignore the gravity of the subject, so be it. There are few tools available to rectify his poor sense of humor, and being crass and insensitive is not a crime of itself. However, Gawker’s remedy of promoting Biddle is not likely to provide a substantial disincentive for his attitude towards the harassment of his ideological opposition, none of whom have the support of major media outlet behind them. In what Gawker apparently views as acceptable evidence of his contrition, Sam Biddle eloquently stated via email that he had “literally” not encountered anyone other than supporters of GamerGate who “did not get that I was very obviously joking.” That comes across as a poor excuse, considering that his tweet, which read “Bring Back Bullying,” was individually free of context and posted as a general and unspecific statement, and the difficult of construing his words as apologetic.
A serious concern presents itself regarding the dismissal of bullying by a well-known media organization such as Gawker. At the very least, it demonstrates the exercise of a policy that provides an implied justification for bullying, which is accomplished by means of judging whether the target “deserves” harassment or not. At the worst, Gawker’s inaction could be interpreted as sanctioning their employee’s extremely unprofessional behavior. The hypocrisy and hubris surrounding Biddle’s published stance toward online harassment, and his subsequent actions, do much to discredit his judgement.
As to the decision to promote Biddle to Senior Writer in light of his highly public gaffe, Gawker is ultimately responsible to their readers. In a capitalist society like America’s, dollars amount to votes in the interaction between content producers and their consumers. It is likely that if the public stops short of finding itself offended, Gawker will not suffer any ill effect. It bears repeating that there are no laws against being insensitive. However, it may be that it is the responsibility of the people to understand that when they support a behavior financially, they will invariably receive more in spades.
Opinion by Brian Whittemore
Photo by Francis Bourgouin – flickr License
Screenshots taken from Twitter account @samfbiddle 11/16/2014