Objects in the Virtual World Are More Real Than They Appear

Slavoj Zizek speaking in an excerpt from The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema

“It’s just a game” or “It’s just the internet” is the standby excuse for allowing reprehensible behavior towards other people when interactions with them are mediated by a computer. Zizek argues that it’s precisely when the constraints of society are removed that we get an insight into the real character of a person, which is normally suppressed. It’s an argument that goes a bit beyond the usual admonition to be nice because those are real people on the other side of the internet.

The people being horrible are real, too. They aren’t just trolling, despite what they might claim themselves. We know that there is a reality behind online threats, no matter how much we might pretend that it doesn’t matter because it happened on the internet. Even if the person making them doesn’t have the means to carry them out, it’s a reminder that people hate you and want you to be afraid. Sometimes no threat needs to be made directly. Simply knowing that others who have spoken about the things you speak about, or been a person like you have been threatened is enough to have a chilling effect.