Responsibility? Maybe get off the Internet, dickhead.

8 min read

Posted 3 weeks ago
by Téa Smith

I’ve dedicated my life to studying the Internet.

For over a quarter of a century now. Wow.

Truth is, in the early days I did it to get away from most of you. You didn’t get me. You teased me. You called me weird. You made me feel like I was a problem because I wouldn’t just take things on face value and had to be “difficult” (read: curious.). The Internet was my sanctuary. I existed in a space where I could be smart, imaginative and weird, with other smart, imaginative and weird people, who understood what it was like to be different, to want more, and to want to be free from the shackles and gravity of meat space, and just be… curious and see where our clicking took us.

Every day, I long for the space us weirdos held briefly for ourselves. Without the schoolyard bully, the teachers telling us to stop asking questions, and the corporate assholes with their boring doublespeak, and superficial, meaningless filler that says nothing and accomplishes even less.

But, eventually you moved in and took over our space, with no understanding or respect for what we had built before you arrived. Now, you are now bossing us around, trying to kick us out, conveniently ignoring that we built everything you stand on.

Well, you can get fucked, and I ain’t leaving.

In 2010, I was a panelist at a business networking event, talking about social media for business.

Ah, the olden days.

A lifetime ago.

As someone who has lived on the Internet for 28 years (!), I’m often living in a constant state of time dilation, where the 90s was ten years ago, yet 2015 feels like fifty. Where a flame war from 1998 seemingly goes on forever, but my first marriage was a blip I can barely even remember. The Internet is funny like that. It is cyclical, it is predictable …and it is absolutely magnificent.

Anyway, in the before times, somewhere between five and fifty-thousand years ago, I was talking about Twitter and its possibilities for business. It was everything you would expect from that time: people not getting it, tactically-minded, too focused on tools, nobody wanting to pay for it, plus the inevitable questions about how to control negative feedback (haha), how to control employees (haha), every aspect of how to control the uncontrollable, put it in a box, constrain it, and either not let themselves get caught being human, or how to catch employees being human after hours.

How about you just stay off the Internet if you want control, dickhead, I often thought to myself.

By thought to myself, I of course meant I sub-tweeted later.

But, I’ve evolved. I’ve learned. I have the battle scars.

This was one of those events that mostly blends into the many others I would do that year, with the same faces, the same questions, the same banal not-getting-it nonsense from corporate types who were trying to invade my special place: the Internet, not just assuming they were welcome, but that they had the right to suddenly start bossing everyone around.

It wasn’t long before I fell into the role of contrarian, against what felt like a tsunami of corporate buzzwords and bullshit. But, as I tend to do, I made lemonade, and made it my mission to get them to understand that the power, beauty and chaos of the Internet was nothing to be afraid of, they would fall in love with it like I have, and we could do business differently and change the world.

The panel took questions. I can’t recall who asked, but hold a picture of her in your head, and you’ll be correct.

Why do you swear so much? Especially the C-word. Don’t you know that word is offensive and unprofessional? Aren’t you concerned you will lose business?”

That was the first time of many times I would turn red in front of 200 people. It was a few seconds, but felt both like a year and time standing still all at once.

Reminders that meat space people knew about my Internet and were reading my stuff had happened before, but only rarely. I’d had bad clients use “unprofessional” whenever I had the audacity to ask them to pay their bill, or said no to them, but this was the first time it had happened to me in public.

I wanted to crawl away and die in that moment, but somehow, managed to answer:

“I operate from the True Fans Theory online, and advise others to do the same. This means my focus is on finding people I want to work with, and leverage those who are not my fans to get mad and share my stuff. So, to answer your question, no, because my use of the word cunt [yes I did say the word] filters out the people who ask dumb questions about me using the word cunt, and their outrage attracts likeminded people who think you’re a bit uptight.”

I have evolved since. A little.

This week, the Bird App of Doom that I-used-to-love-and-desperately-want-to-love-again was acquired by Elon Musk. Fellow geek. Fellow Maverick. Except, admittedly, quite a bit richer. Most people rejoiced. Or laughed. Or didn’t care.

But hoo boy, the normies were salty. It was funny. It’s still funny.

The people who seized control over my Internet, and trying to dictate the rules and kick me out, had pretty much been told to go fuck themselves by the richest man on earth.

That 2010 panel was all I could think of. That moment where I was gaslit by a room full of people who didn’t seem to understand that I didn’t need or want their approval. I didn’t need for them to think I am “professional” or “responsible” or “authoritative”. I wanted them to leave me (and people like me) the fuck alone.

That worked, for a little while. I carved myself out a nice little career. But the signs were there, early on, that corporates weren’t happy with not controlling the Internet, and especially not having control over people like me who told them to fuck off. They were the ones who decided who got to speak, who could progress up the ladder, and who got to control the record.

There was a brief window where “content” was organic. We had fun, and could even occasionally go viral. But over time, the agencies and “brand partnerships” seized control of all of it, replaced the unpredictable spontaneous creativity of the Internet with a Deep Faked version of Being Caught Being Human™️, cut us out of it, and replaced us all with perky young things who are offended by the word cunt and journalists who have no training in, or understanding of, the art of rhetoric.

Over the years, the corporate ninny ‘concern trolls’, the tattlers, the dibber dobbers, the bored and bitchy housewives, the cancellers and the BlueAnon, QAnon and MAGA hysterics would provide enough of a distraction to fast forward us into a technofascist hellscape and turn Big Tech into the redactors on behalf of the United States military-industrial complex. Now, instead of us all seeing where our clicking would take us, we were held captive, A/B tested and nudged with the primary goal of discouraging us from clicking anywhere else, and if we dared click on a no-no site like 4Chan (the site where LOLCats came from) or dare have in-jokes they didn’t get or couldn’t control, you’d better watch out, because congratulations… you are now a Nazi enabling school shooters.

And I thought I just liked ceiling cat and jokes, man.

There was a hostile takeover of my Internet.

Where the fuck is my poison pill?

My only crime was answering the question in the box that asked me what I was thinking, what was up, and asked us to trust them. I did that over 200,000 times. They asked how my day was, I answered them and I trusted them.

Didn’t know I was planning an insurrection of the US Government from Perth’s sunny beaches.

In response to Musk’s purchase, the corporate invaders are now flinging around words like “responsibility” (which sounds an awful lot to me like ”professionalism” – cough), yet never seem to define what exactly “responsibility” means. Nor do they explain how kicking people off a platform they used in good faith, removing their voice and reach for being “irresponsible” or “unprofessional”, with no recourse or avenue of appeal, is a) not open for abuse and b) any different from censorship.

As authoritarians, and like every other coloniser before them, they insist that these things are defined, and that this is settled, simply because they said so.

Sorry, but that’s not how any of this works.

Maybe get off the Internet, dickhead.

What do you mean “responsibility”?

To whom? You? Fuck off.

Individually or collectively?

Is social media considered a public space? There are some implications there, especially if it is the United States’ public space and we have to suffer though it.

What about the broader Internet?

Did you know it is illegal to swear in public in many places around the world, including Australia? Yep. lolz

Are you aware that women aren’t allowed in public in parts of the world, including in Saudi Arabia (one of the original major shareholders of Twitter, fun fact)?

Is the Internet a public space? Whose?

If it is a public space, then who is a citizen? Corporations? That’s gone well so far.

These things are not settled. They are legally and politically significant definitions.

But you know that, don’t you. When you refer to some fuzzy notion of “responsibility”, it’s not that you are uncomfortable and just want it to stop. No, you’ve definitely thought this through. For you are the authority, and I am the problem.

I mean, you have an iPhone and did it yourself with Wix, what more do you need?

So, if we do have responsibilities, what are they?

And who are we accountable to, exactly? What process is in place for when there’s a mistake?

How do we fix it or redeem ourselves from the invisible, untouchable, unaccountable Responsibility Police?

With responsibilities, aren’t there are also rights? Aren’t responsibilities a two-way street, such as not doing harm to users? Who is responsible when users are driven to suicide by tech companies deliberately making it so those in trouble can’t be seen?

Who did we sign this contract with? Is there a contract at all? Hang on a sec, weren’t we promised emancipation and freedom and moving fast and breaking things and innovation and not being corporate?

No, this shit is far from settled.

Or, are we talking about a social contract? Which definition of the social contract? Are we talking Rousseau or Mill? Probably Hermann/Chomsky. Cough.

Isn’t it the courts’ job and isn’t there due process, if we’re talking about public spaces and social contracts? And, if that is the case, why am I, as an Australian citizen, suddenly signing a contract with United States Corporate HR departments, the Evangelical Right, Coca Cola, Raytheon, Inexplicably Sexy M&Ms and the CIA?

Do you have my consent? What is the nature of that consent? Is it tacit or explicit?

I mean, you’d think I’d know, seeing as I am party to a contract and am free, it was transparent and not done under coercion.

The contract I thought I signed had a promise, which was that I was able to write what I was thinking, into a box, and others could read it, within the bounds of local laws. That I was in user experience and Human-Centred Design, not Big Fucking Tobacco.

I was promised that I would be free to interact, to explore and to create, and based on that contract I stopped writing those thoughts on my own website, and moved to theirs. Those words were sold to the highest bidder, again, without my consent.

What contract did we sign, and with whom?

The Terms of Service that users don’t read, and if we were to subpoena the analytics, would show that you also know this?

Or, have United States corporations just unilaterally assumed they have our tacit consent, because they believe they can back it with military force and a hegemonic empire, like they did with Julian Assange?

I definitely didn’t sign that contract, fuck you very much.


To whom?

Looks to me like a whole lot of stuff that hasn’t been settled, and if you can’t see that, or have a problem with it, then maybe you should just get off the Internet, dickhead. I am no longer a curious child that you can punish simply because you are ill equipped to deal with me. I will not be punished for asking legitimate questions. You are not my teacher, nor my boss and you don’t control me. And this time, I won’t hide away. This is not yours. This is everyone’s, and if you can’t respect that, then get off the Internet.


Sincerely, a “Responsible” Internet “Professional”.

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