“[Dealing with toxicity] is draining. Some days it’s straight-up exhausting,” a community manager who wishes to remain anonymous tells me, “It’s an everyday thing.”
Sony has decided to reverse its decision to close the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita stores due to public outcry, and it’s a testament to what people can do as a collective. This sudden inaccessibility to so many digital exclusives would have been a huge loss for video game preservation. This was voiced en masse. And for once, this backlash didn’t quite cross into the threshold of outright toxicity and harassment – at least, for the most part. That’s the key difference. There’s challenging a corporation, and then there’s tormenting the people managing those brand accounts.
These businesses are faceless entities that don’t want their brands to be tarnished because it means potential harm to their bottom line. Challenging in droves as it happened with the PS store debacle showed that the decision was wholly unpopular even though the shops were underperforming due to being two gens old. That loss of video game preservation struck a chord with so many. But, there’s a difference between voicing criticism – collectively showing that a decision is unpopular and explaining why it is a bad move to show others as well – and bombarding accounts with hatred, toxicity, vitriol, death threats, bigotry, and harassment. What so many seem to forget is that these corporations are not hive minds. There is an employee who sits behind the desk, managing these social media accounts, and dealing with all of that can leave a mark.
“It’s straight-up exhausting, especially during times where something goes wrong beyond control,” a social media manager tells me, “It’s nice to have a team you can commiserate with and thereby mitigate some of the feelings, but not every company is like that. Some people carry the burden all by themselves. The best thing you can do is scream about it privately to a friend or peer. Airing these sentiments on social media will ultimately invite more of them.”
There’s a human element that so many forget when they decide to jump onto a tweet or a Facebook post, a person who has to deal with all of this pent-up hatred and anger. It does little to get your point across, let alone bring about meaningful change like with the PlayStation stores staying open, and so all that’s really being achieved is ruining somebody’s day and leaving them miserable when they likely have very little say in any actual decisions at that kind of level.
The PlayStation store’s closing down was shown to be unpopular through a majority of people calmly saying as much without that bitter hatred. That is far more effective. Pushing back against decisions like this can be done without being at the expense of the mental wellbeing of the social media managers. They, unfortunately, have to deal with enough toxicity on a good day, let alone when a giant digital fire is erupting through the echelons of the internet.
All of this is to say that brands can be held to account for questionable decisions such as erasing so many video games, cutting off a wealth of developers from potential earnings, and pushing gamers into piracy. You don’t have to spam the comments with directed hatred that the managers ultimately have to clean up and sift through – nobody wants to do that. In fact, you don’t want to, because that doesn’t work.
How long has the Star Wars fanbase attacked Kathleen Kennedy and bombarded comment sections with their hatred of The Last Jedi, Rey Palpatine, and all the other sequel creations, slewing around their sexist ideology, hurling death threats, pushing actors off social media? It’s never worked. That doesn’t get your point across, it just shows your lack of character, and if a person or a company ever caves into that vicious pack of hyenas, then they’ll only legitimize that behavior, making any future unpopular decisions a guaranteed call for that same toxicity. It never goes away, regardless, and it’d be naive to ever think it would, but at least, not legitimizing it leaves them as a loud minority – the toxic few rather than the many – and it shows that it’s unacceptable behavior.
That’s why it’s better to get your point across calmly – why is closing the storefronts bad? Are you one of the many who disagrees with the decision? Voice that, but don’t do so in a way that completely undermines your argument since it’s hard to take anyone seriously when their message or comment reads like they’re frothing at the mouth with their fist clenched in the air. Still, while there are those who no doubt do forget the human element of a brand account – that there’s really somebody behind the tweet, dealing with a sewer of sludge-ridden bullshit on the daily – there’s still those who go for the throat.
Of course, there are people who know full-well that they are harassing a person, those who send death threats to those with their names out there, like Neil Druckmann or Ed Boon just for a story decision in a game or a not yet adding a character. What it boils down to is the internet allows for a level of anonymity and protection – people likely wouldn’t say what they do in real life, but with that barrier, their confidence skyrockets, but those are lost causes. For everyone else: remember, when you’re angry at a company, there’s someone managing that account, somebody who has to deal with more than just your comment – someone who is sifting through an ocean of bitter hatred and abusive slurs being hurled their way.
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James Troughton is a writer at TheGamer. He’s worked at the Nintendo-based site Switchaboo and newspaper TheCourierOnline and can be found on Twitter @JDTroughton.
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