The internet is a wonderful place. It holds all of human wisdom and knowledge. It’s a place where you can go and voice your opinion knowing that someone out there will see it. Over the years it’s gotten to be a place where the people who would normally simply sound off to a few friends in the pub now have a platform of thousands, if not millions to listen to them.
One thing I find interesting about steampunk is the close parallel it has with the punk culture. After all, when the term was coined back in 1987 it was really just as a tongue in cheek play on cyberpunk. In turn, the word cyberpunk was originally created in the early 1980s in a book of the same name by Bruce Bethke. He blended the “cyber” from cybernetics with “punk” as a snappy title that indicated exactly what was going on. His “punk” moniker was linked to the criminal activities of the main characters. When the book was released, Punk music was at its most popular and punk anarchists were causing trouble around the world. Putting the two together described a group of vandals in the virtual world of computers and the internet.
However, Punk as a culture isn’t just right-wing skinheads fighting people from other countries; something that the media only ever covered. It’s rich and diverse with multiple political leanings. That’s what I find interesting in all this. Steampunk has essentially mirrored the wider Punk culture and attracts people from all over. It’s well-known for being a welcoming, diverse and tolerant community so it’s not surprising. The downside to that is that it also attracts those that want to impose their own opinions and beliefs on others. We’ve seen it with high-profile episodes such as Falksengate and Abneygate, but it also happens on a more local level.
Taking a turn for the worse
A few days ago I watched a simple thread on a popular steampunk page go from the OP (Original Poster) asking if steampunks were going to visit a non steampunk event to people arguing over various events in that area. It inevitably escalated to conflicts and it started to get out of hand before a few managed to handle and bring it off boil, so to speak.
I think what many people forget is that going on an online forum such as Facebook is a bit like driving a car:
- You’re in control of your own destination.
- Other people will get in your way and you have to go round them.
- You also have to remember that they have their own destination and you’re getting in their way.
- The idea of driving is to get where you need to be without hitting anyone else. That way nobody gets hurt.
- However, when behind the controls of a powerful machine (the car being an analogy for the internet in this case) it’s easy to believe that you’re the ruler of the road. Over time this has exacerbated on the internet as a whole to the point where people are called “Keyboard Warriors” if they’re being aggressive behind the keyboard because they feel safe behind the distance and anonymity of the internet. There are also “Trolls” who purposefully say things controversial in order to get a reaction and trigger an argument. Trolls generally say one thing and then don’t comment after as they prefer to watch the fallout. Keyboard Warriors will persevere their argument until people simply give up, in order to press home their opinion.
Solving a problem
The above thread is one of many that I’ve seen all over social media. People have an opinion and they most definitely have the right to voice it. However, as a digression, it’s important to remember that you don’t have freedom of speech on social media. You can’t use “I have free speech” or “I’ll say what I want it’s a free country” as a defence against being an arse. After all, you’re on a privately owned website. So freedom of speech is most certainly something you don’t have. That’s where keyboard warriors fall because the place where they DO have free speech is on the public streets. But that’s not somewhere they’d be happy to speak out.
Because of this acceleration of people saying what they want we’re in an interesting situation. Throughout the years steampunks have gained a splendid reputation for being polite and friendly, tolerant, warm and accepting. Should a newcomer to the scene see these arguments unfolding on a page they’ve just joined, they would be right to think it’s full of the same keyboard warriors and trolls as the rest of the internet. Because of that we’re at risk of losing our reputation of being marvellous ladies and gentlemen.
This article isn’t meant to make everyone get offended, but maybe to think and consider the implications before posting a comment on the internet. Not just because of the possibility of offending people, but also the wider implications of how it could affect the community. The last thing we want is for people outside steampunk thinking we’re elitist stuck up snobs. I worry that if we continue the way we are, that could happen in the future.
There’s more information in Steampunk Journal’s Guidelines to Steampunk here.