2018 was the year that “gossip” became serious news.
The film producer rumored for decades to be lecherous was finally reported to be a serial rapist. The comedian everyone was sure was masturbating in front of other women behind closed doors turned out to be just that guy.
When I watch these men one by one confirm themselves to be abusers, I think about the women who helped spread knowledge of their abuses, once written off as rumors by those too naïve or distrustful to investigate them legitimately. Finally, all those whispered anecdotes and hushed allegations could be out in the open, validated by investigative journalism that was long overdue. Now, perhaps, the world can be primed to believe women rather than assume they are simply hysterical liars.
And yet 2018 was the year I didn’t know where to put my gossip; my inklings of the shitty behavior of men, my frustrations with the sexism and stupidity of my peers, my general screams. Or, rather, I had come to understand exactly where I did and didn’t want it to be shared.
The wider world has realized they’d be smart to finally trust the information passed along a whisper network, once reserved for scrawling lists on bathroom walls to warn others of bad men. But when the Shitty Media Men list was sent around last year, many women journalists understood its purpose and did not make its presence known to men, but not every woman was on the same page. When it was reported on by Buzzfeed, they pointed out its apparent newsworthiness as a reason to uncover it to the masses. And fast forward to a year later, and one of the men on the list sued its creator Moira Donegan, while simultaneously seeking to identify the anonymous women who contributed to the Google spreadsheet in the first place.
I was angry when the Shitty Media Men list was made public, but I was devastated this year when I learned Stephen Elliot might try to out the women who contributed, even if his efforts are ridiculous. I genuinely feared for Donegan and the safety of my friends who contributed. I wondered if the men I used to know on the list shared Elliot’s aggressive beliefs.
Women had tried to elevate the whisper network to something anonymous yet tangible and it crumbled at the hands of men and women who saw it as a digital burn book rather than a legitimate tool for protection. I had been reminded of a disappointing reality: some whisper networks should remain quiet with vital information exchanged in hushed tones.
And maybe the things you don’t even need to whisper should be whispered. I’ve been slowly trying, as much as one can who works on the internet at all time, to detach myself from sharing online. And suddenly my group chats with friends, through Slack or iMessage or email threads, which were reserved for jokes or petty conversations about people we all mutually hated, had become an underground bunker from the rest of the internet this year. As Katie McDonough wrote, text don’t tweet.
This move comes with the increasing feeling that the internet is suffocating. The seemingly small internet of my teen years, a time when Twitter was in infancy, your racist grandparents didn’t use Facebook, and having Wifi in your back pocket was not yet the norm, has given way to something consuming and infinitely more hostile. Why should we expect to bare ourselves on platforms that let white supremacists run wild? Platforms that do little to ensure your safety? When you’re subjected to the infinite scroll of misogyny, where not even a group of women can get themselves together for a list like Donegan’s, it makes sense to retreat into a tiny, private oasis.
It feels obvious to point this out, that perhaps chats between friends and people you trust could be more fulfilling and protective than, say, tweeting about how exhausted you are all the time. But the catharsis women are expected to feel in sharing those secrets with the public is hard to find on an internet that feels more surveilled than ever and ready to turn that catharsis into content.