From an article on internet comments sections over at The Guardian:
Recently, however, a colleague penned a piece that defended a woman – it doesn’t even matter which woman or what context. Every week brings a new reminder women are not welcome – especially on the internet.
The site published it proudly – however, and inevitably, the comment section ended up a fat sack of misogyny hanging like an unwanted testicle below it. This wasn’t a special case; it seems to happen every time a woman writes something that somehow defends some aspect of women’s autonomy.
A lot of times when people express their hatred for people’s behaviour online, wizards emerge to inform us, “That’s just the internet. Learn to deal with it.”
This assertion gives no humanity to victims: everyone is a blank, emotionless internet user, with no history of being targeted for her sex, race, sexuality. As much as we should be treated equally, in reality, we come from backgrounds where we’re not – and we continue not to be treated fairly. Second, in this assertion, the internet, too, becomes an amoral wasteland where only the “fittest” survive – and by “fittest” we usually mean individuals who rarely face prejudice or hostility premised on their gender, race, etc.
This last point reminds me of the importance of having a grasp of the concept of indirect discrimination. (See here for an explanation of indirect discrimination in the UK context.) Certain ways of treating everyone the same, when that treatment has differential consequences for particular groups, can constitute discrimination. This can be unethical, and under some circumstances illegal. It can also have other have negative consequences, such as intellectual or epistemic ones: for example, if some ways of treating everyone the same in an online comment section (or for that matter an academic discipline) turn out to be an effective method of excluding certain groups, that comment section (or discipline) may be expected to suffer intellectually and epistemically for lack of the expertise, perspectives, and ideas that those being excluded could have contributed.