Remembrance and vitriol: Amy Winehouse and the ugly face of social networking
Amy Winehouse has been dead for just three days, but already the vitriolic outpouring on social media networks has surpassed the expressions of remembrance by fans.
Winehouse was a talented woman. She was also extremely troubled and her untimely death is a personal tragedy. But this public display of hatred transcends the woman and speaks of a far more troubling culture.
RIP Amy Winehouse (pick any one of the half dozen or so pages on FaceBook) has a wealth of comment. Take your pick.
The comments now number in the hundreds of thousands and when I just checked, top of the list on the largest site with 52k followers was a comment that is so offensive and hate-filled that I won’t repeat it here.
Like many of the comments it refers to Winehouse’s drug use, her sexuality, it also expresses delight that she is dead and uses many of the pejoratives reserved for women. You can guess the kind of things I mean.
The ‘fans’ response to these comments is equally brutal.
The exchange has reached the point where people are sending each other online death threats and asking to meet up in Camden Square (Winehouse’s home) to sort each other out. Will they go this far? I’m not sure, perhaps they’ll just carry on as they are, like two dogs barking across a fence.
The language they use is disturbing.
I’m not usually squeamish about language. I swear quite a bit (too much for many folk) and I’m not averse to using the odd expletive in my writing so please don’t think that I’m wimping out by not quoting the Facebook posts verbatim.
Instead, my reticence is due to the very personal nature of these attacks.
The comments fall roughly into two categories: firstly comments that relate to Winehouse’s gender and sexuality, and secondly those that relate to her addictions.
Sometimes the two are combined – ineloquently without recourse to grammar or spelling – in a kind of text speak.
The comments, not directed at me, never to be heard or read by Winehouse make me flinch and feel nauseous.
That is why, if you are really interested, you can go look them up for yourself..
Why is it though that some people feel it is acceptable to behave like this and write such terrible things about someone they’ve probably never even met.
An interesting feature in this week’s Observer attributes this type of behaviour to deindividuation, the process whereby people slip free of the norms of our society by becoming anonymous.
You can see the effect of this on almost any website that allows anonymous posts where people hide behind pseudonyms and evade personal consequences for their invective.
This seems a likely explanation except that most of the – shall we call them detractors – on the Winehouse memorial pages appear to be using their own names.
If you visit their own Facebook pages they appear to be everyday folk.
If it is not anonymity that shields them, what is it that makes them act in this way?
Another explanation lies with their affiliation to a group identity. Those on the Winehouse pages are pretty much split down the middle between pro and anti Amy with no centre ground in evidence.
Perhaps then, instead of denying their identity with anonymity they seek to enhance it by identifying with a particular group – a ’pack’ identity with safety in numbers.
In this case the Winehouse detractors who have generally attempted to occupy the high-ground by asserting their discernment, capacity for intellectualism and general superiority, have pitted themselves against the Winehouse appreciators whom they portray as mindless sheep.
In the midst of this Winehouse is lost in their spurious dispute and that is why I won’t repeat their comments, they are not really about Winehouse they are ammunition in a competition to see who can piss the highest.