An Advocate survey of the “homophobosphere” mentions a valuable theory for understanding the haters lighting up comments fields with antigay bile. It's called the John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, explains journalist and NYU adjunct professor Clay Shirky, and it breaks down like this:
Normal Person + Audience + Anonymity = Fuckwad.
Those deserving of the moniker are spread far and wide beyond homophobes: “Fuckwad” can justly be applied to anyone from the patriots on patrol for lapses in allegiance to Old Glory to the sad souls who vehemently blast intellectual troglodytes for not fully grasping the nuance of Marx’s later works. But the scope and volume of the wretchedness spilled in the blogosphere against homosexuals is uniquely alarming. The Advocate reports that tens of thousands of people felt compelled to register their rage against performance artist Chris Crocker for his “Leave Britney Alone!” video (the YouTube phenomenon has garnered more than 19 million views and almost 275,000 comments—one of which is pictured above). And bloggers, from Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish to Xeni Jardin at boingboing.net, report clogs of antigay backlash.
The quandary is what to do about it. Sullivan and others make a convincing case for a First Amendment free-for-all: You have take the good with the bad. Besides, other commentators often end up dampening antigay flamers. “Call it free-market tolerance,” says the Advocate.
At boingboing.net, Jardin and her colleagues have another approach: disemvowelment. When their comment moderator spots a nasty comment, she hits a button that removes all the vowels (and much of the bluster). So “Xeni is a transgender Lebanese terrorist, and her butt is big” becomes “Xn’s trnsgndr Lbns trrrst nd hr btt s bg.” What once was irrational animosity becomes a slightly amusing puzzle.
“It’s like they’re flinging poo at you,” Jardin says. “You still let them fling it, but the poo doesn’t stick anymore.”