Louise O'Neill: Maybe our outrage is the attention trolls so desperately crave

I was recently asked by The Economist to be part of their Generation Prophet and write about the future of feminism. 
Louise O'Neill: Maybe our outrage is the attention trolls so desperately crave

“We invited a select few,” the publication said, “all born since 1985, to give their predictions for 2017 and beyond.”

My father laughed when he read that.

“You just about made it,” he told me.

In the same way, I just about made it into the Millennial Generation, or Generation Me as it has been re-named.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard this but we are, to use language that my fellow Millennials will understand, The Worst.

We are narcissistic and entitled. We are lazy and defensive. We are Special Snowflakes who can’t take a joke. We are too sensitive; we take offense at every harmless comment. We are the very epitome of political correctness gone mad.

(On behalf of Millennials everywhere, I would like to apologise for the fact that you don’t feel able to continue to make racist, sexist remarks. Life is hard. We all have to make sacrifices.)

What is interesting to me is that the behaviour that Millennials are so frequently criticised for has its roots in a sense of empathy and kindness.

For example, the concept of ‘safe spaces’ is often ridiculed, and these environments are seen as the refuge of those who are unable to cope with the rigours of the real world or those who refuse to acknowledge dissenting opinions to their own.

Writing for The New York Times, the journalist Judith Shulevitz said that “once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe. It follows that they should be safer,” as if the hope of creating a safer world was utterly absurd, another idiotic pipe dream of those damn Millennials.

The lack of compassion that it takes to dismiss a person who has been so traumatised that they require a space in which they feel protected is astounding to me.

And, because of our desire to create a world that is fair to all of its inhabitants, regardless of their biological sex, race, sexual orientation, religion, or gender identity, Millennials often criticise those who continue to uphold the status quo which benefits white, straight, cis-gender, able-bodied men at the cost of everyone else.

In doing so, we have been called ‘dangerously repressive’. The irony of calling the people who are fighting against the oppression of minorities the repressive ones!

Imagine for a moment being a young, transgender woman and someone who is notoriously trans-phobic has been invited to speak at your university campus.

This speaker will address your peers and your lecturers, people whom you see on a daily basis, people you believe to be your friends, and this speaker will describe your very existence as an abomination against nature.

Does anyone really believe that it would be ‘repressive’ for that woman to stand up for herself and protest?

“But what about free speech,” I hear you muttering down the back of the classroom.

“Free speech must be protected at all costs!”

There is a huge difference between free speech and hate speech and those who have decided to use the mantle of Free Speech as their catch all response appear to fundamentally misunderstand the concept of censorship.

Millennials are not asking that people who propagate this kind of hateful rhetoric be thrown in jail, or be reprimanded by the government, or be sentenced to death for treason.

Instead, we are respectfully asking that they not be given a public platform from which to spew their bile.

When we do so, when members of the ‘alt-right’ are invited to speak on radio or TV, or to write newspaper columns comparing refugees to cockroaches, we are legitimising those views.

Worse, we are emboldening others to follow suit, giving the ‘secret’ racists among us tacit permission to use discriminatory language about minorities and to treat them as if they are subhuman.

I would very much like the media to stop attempting to pass off their decision to give these ‘pundits’ airtime as a desire to facilitate balanced debate.

Simon & Schuster’s giving Milo Yiannopoulos, the notorious peddler of hate-speech, a $250,000 publishing deal, The Late Late Show’s invitation of Katie Hopkins on stage to discuss the American election, the Irish Times’ publication of an article entitled ‘The Alt-Right movement: everything you need to know’; none of these were decisions made in the public’s best interest.

Let’s be honest here — they were all cynical ploys to increase ratings and online clicks.

We have seen the damage that this kind of irresponsible journalism has wreaked in the UK and the US, resulting in the victory of the Brexit campaign and the election of Donald Trump, and the devastating normalisation of casual racism and misogyny that has ensued.

The Irish media has a real opportunity to ensure that the same does not happen here and it seems to be Millennials that are fighting to remind them of the magnitude of that duty.

Of course, Millennials aren’t perfect. While we didn’t do anything like obliterate the economy through greed and overspending (don’t worry, we won’t blame the rest of you! It would be dreadfully unfair to dismiss an entire generation of people due to the actions of a few, wouldn’t you agree?) but perhaps we do create more publicity for professional trolls by protesting against their work.

Maybe our outrage is the attention they so desperately crave, the attention that is as essential as oxygen to their very survival. But I would rather be outraged than apathetic.

I would rather be the sort of person who is horrified by injustice and who is determined to challenge bigotry at all costs than simply shrug my shoulders and ignore it because it doesn’t directly impact me or my life.

Isn’t it funny that Generation Me, the very ones who are accused of constant naval-gazing and self obsession, seems to be the ones who are more concerned with helping those around them?

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