There's an old saying, "Nowt as queer as folk!" And if you hang around the internet for long enough you'll find it's no exaggeration.
This week I was tipped off on a writers' forum about a blog post where a self-published author had voiced some opinions on reviewing. The forum post was clearly a call to arms because when I followed the link I found a dozen or more posts haranguing the poor woman for nothing worse than having an opinion. How dare you, they cried as one, tell us how to voice our opinions. Shame it never occurred to the nitwits they were doing the exact same thing.
Because we all have opinions and we all think we're right. Maybe we are, maybe we aren't. But unless we're putting a gun to someone's head and forcing them to do our will, where's the harm in it? If you don't like a book or a blog or the colour of someone's hair, so what? You're entitled to your opinion just as I'm entitled to ignore it.
The internet community is a funny place. It is an unreal world peopled largely by creatures of our own imagining. We put faces to these strangers based on the things they post - we begin to feel a connection or a revulsion depending on how well they match up to our own values, and it can feel oddly intimate considering it is nothing more than words over the ethernet. For some individuals the internet should come with a health warning because that very anonymity brings out the worst in them. I've blogged before about the groupthink effect on forums, but there are also trolls who no doubt see themselves as crusaders, ridding the internet of injustice, persecuting anyone whose ideas they dislike, stalking and spying in a way only previously found in Le Carre novels. It's bizarre to the point of insane. Isn't it enough for these people that they be allowed to voice their opinions? Apparently not.
I recently saw a discussion about whether Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler's infamous magnum opus, should be republished in Germany. I hadn't realised it was banned there until now, but it doesn't surprise me. We have come to think of Nazism and fascism as synonymous, thanks to several decades of hefty propaganda. But the fact is fascism is all around us and always has been. It's in you and me. Yes it is. Whenever you want to delete a comment or ban a poster who has said something you don't like, that's fascism in action. It's a human disease - intolerance. But really, there is no need to ban or edit or delete anyone.
Because they're just opinions, people. They can't hurt you.