How Do We Address Cyberbullying?

I spent the holiday sick in bed, and I was sicker still when I recovered enough strength to check my social media. What an absolutely shameful cesspool of nonsense was going on, and I’m not just talking about the Lions and Wolverines games.

As is the case with any flame war, it is impossible to know exactly what went down and why. Posts get deleted and all of the information is spun one way or the other. One of the biggest crises of our age is the unreliability of the information we encounter on a daily basis. It’s warped and manipulated to propagate a biased agenda. Posts are deleted and their very existence denied. It’s impossible to get the full story.

One of my favorite novels of all time is called Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin. It’s an early 19th century gothic horror story that brilliantly deconstructs the concepts of narrative and the retention of information. Much of the backstory is revealed through encounters with various old letters and texts. As is the case with old letters and texts, many of these items are badly damaged, smudged, or even burned in places (perhaps, even damaged intentionally). The reader, like the characters in the novel, encounter texts where critical pieces of information are physically illegible, and the gaps must be filled in by the reader. You have a picture of what happened, but some of the details remain obscured.

It’s funny how a 200-year-old book can so perfectly nail what wading through a reddit thread looking for answers is like.

The truth isn’t always as straightforward as we’d like it to be. We live in an age where information is given as much credence or lip-service as misinformation. It’s often on the reader to make the distinction between news, fake news, information, and outright lies. In a sense, the truth becomes subjective and is replaced by what you choose to believe based on the best information available.

The long and short of it is that a well-known Magic cosplayer publicly announced that she was quitting because of repeated, targeted harassment from online Magic personalities on social media.

Wizards of the Coast released the following statement:

I’m glad that Wizards acknowledged there was a problem and is looking into solutions.

Personally, I believe that Wizards of the Coast should implement a policy where repeat cyberbullying offenders should be banned. I’m not sure if that’s practical, but I think it would be a good start toward curtailing poor behavior that is unfortunately associated with the Magic community.

On the one hand, it is kind of weird to think that a person could get banned from playing Magic because of the things they say on the internet. What’s to stop Wizards from banning someone for saying something they simply didn’t like? I only went there because I could sense those tedious rhetoric-driven minds of the naysayers churning out those sweet, sweet slippery slope arguments for the comment section. Slippery slope is so boring, cliche, and lazy. If a person lives their entire life under the assumption that nothing should ever happen because it could lead to an unlikely chain of events that ends with something unrealistically bad happening—well, not a lot is going to ever change, is it?

I choose to believe that the rules and structures of the world exist to protect individuals from predatory behaviors and not the other way around. When the rules are exploited to protect predatory behaviors, I see those structures as broken, or dysfunctional and in need of repair. I value an individual’s right to feel safe more than somebody else’s right to make them feel unsafe.

Our community should be open to everyone. The more the merrier. But I don’t believe the community ought to guarantee individuals a platform to demean or belittle others. It’s a basic social compact. Magic gives everyone a space to enjoy a game they love with other gamers. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. Don’t hurt others.

We have arrived at a moment in the history of information and culture, whether we realize it or not, as the internet and social media have become an experiment in free speech. It’s a beautiful thing, but it can also be ugly. If you were ever curious about why there has been a resurgence of Nazism, racism, and general intolerance and hatred on the heels of a decade of progression, the predominance of and mainstream accessibility to social mass media likely plays a role. It is deeply saddening to see how some people choose to use that kind of freedom in the basest way possible and for the worst possible ends.

We actually live in a time where the internet and social media is kind of like the wild west. The rules and laws haven’t caught up with the times yet.

At the end of the day it is clear that the community suffered a loss. I’ve never met Christine Sprankle before but I know that she’s a popular member of the community and contributes something unique and fun that made Magic a better place for her being a part of it. I can’t say the same about the habitual bullies out there who harass and intimidate others. I hope that after she has time to process what has happened, she’ll realize that the actions of a few are not shared by the community as a whole.

The saddest part is that she’s not the only one who has quit because of this kind of toxic harassment and bullying. There are countless others who have been treated with the same disrespect and also decided to leave the game behind. I’d love to see a policy designed to curtail or discourage the behavior in some way, shape or form. But I believe the best and most effective strategy is simply for the majority to be good to one another and support one another.

I don’t like writing these articles. In fact, I hate it. But like it or not, this is the biggest thing going on in Magic this week and I wouldn’t be doing my job as a writer if I didn’t bring it up. It’s a shame that cyberbullying is a bigger topic today than Iconic Masters. The topic resonates with people because everyone can relate to knowing somebody who was the victim of online bullying. It sucks to see it happen in our community.


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