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Tarantula (photo: Wiki­media Commons)

Some people take every oppor­tunity they can to put others down, no matter the time and place. Schoolyard bullies, aggressive cus­tomers in restau­rants, and rage-filled com­muters all find time to let other people know how worthless they are. The strength of social con­vention makes sure that only the brash and socially deaf have an oppor­tunity to ridicule others in public places. The quiet, but equally insidious, among us worry too much about making a scene to scream obscen­ities in public over an under­cooked steak or the actions of an umpire in a little league baseball game. Luckily for those people, the internet exists.

Last year, when my schedule was lighter and my depression far less destructive, I asked myself a question I am sure many others have asked: “Do taran­tulas rec­ognize and have affection for their owners?”

My head was full of images of giant arachnids responding to com­mands, becoming visibly excited when called, and snug­gling with their beloved owners. How cool would it be if, after whistling, a fuzzy eight-legged mon­strosity would crawl around the corner, slow and deter­mined, and climb onto your shoulder? Maybe even giving your ear a little nibble? This unbreakable bond between man and arthropod kept me up at night, and I needed to know the truth.

Then I met Tom, author of the blog “Tom’s Big Spiders.”

His posts, and com­panion YouTube videos, intro­duced me to the world of the tarantula hobby.

As an arachno­phobe, I held strong reser­va­tions. To this day my blood runs com­pletely cold if I so much as see a spider in my house. After getting over this initial problem, though, I became fas­ci­nated with his world. He explained the intri­cacies of breed and tem­perament, of hus­bandry rituals, and of the subtle dis­tinc­tions between web pro­ducing and bur­rowing taran­tulas. Lis­tening to his sultry tones, I learned how members of the com­munity abbre­viate tarantula to “T” and call young taran­tulas “Slings.”

Sadly, taran­tulas have no interest in showing their masters affection. Most tarantula owners exist in a state of reverse Stockholm syn­drome, they view their pets as chal­lenges not as com­panions. These large, some­times incredibly dan­gerous, arachnids do every­thing they can to make their caretaker’s life dif­ficult. Taran­tulas shoot fiber­glass-like hairs from their back legs, cause muscle damage with their fangs, and their require­ments for habitat are so subtle that they give even the most hardened vets ulcers. And yet, these owners love their spiders. They relish in the chal­lenge and take extra time to make sure that their pets stay com­fortable. Owners like Tom even go as far as to organize net­works to “rescue” abused or aban­doned taran­tulas.

I never once even thought about pur­chasing a tarantula, but every­thing Tom did was so genuine and pas­sionate that I became com­pletely immersed. Over the course of two after­noons, I absorbed his easy to read prose and began forming my own opinions about how to properly raise a creature I had no intention of even standing in the same room with.

I soon dis­covered some­thing that shat­tered this hon­eymoon expe­rience: a post titled “The Impor­tance of Respect and Open-mind­edness In the Tarantula Hobby.”

In this post, Tom made ref­er­ences to numerous emails and YouTube com­ments he received over his years of writing about taran­tulas. Tom dis­cussed occa­sions when other keepers referred to him as an “idiot” or “com­pletely useless.” With his usual com­posure and pro­fes­sion­alism, Tom requested that other keepers should value input for the sake of keeping their pets alive and well.

This left me dejected. How could someone drive them­selves to ver­bally harass Tom? Tom, with grace accu­mu­lated from years of public school teaching, believed that these mes­sages merely came from pas­sionate hob­byist who cared deeply about raising taran­tulas.

However, after a little digging, I came to a dif­ferent con­clusion.

Tom opened a pre­vious post, titled “A Nasty Email”, with the line: “Well, it was bound to happen.”

This fatalism got me thinking:

Why was this bound to happen?

As people con­tinue to use the internet to per­sonally attack others behind a wall of anonymity, internet culture becomes increas­ingly receptive and expectant of ridiculous behavior.

Content cre­ators on the YouTube platform turn off their comment sec­tions or refuse to read them. Com­ments on news articles often resort to ad hominem attacks to make their point, with other com­menters responding in kind. Orga­ni­za­tions that use social media, including Hillsdale College, now employ spe­cialists who work full time deleting com­ments that could poten­tially reflect badly on their image.

All attempts to change the way people interact with others online usually come from mothers of young children, all des­per­ately attempting to fight the new bugbear “cyber­bul­lying.” With stu­dents rou­tinely exposed to media attempting to combat cyber­bul­lying, including the hor­ren­dously bad horror film “Unfriended,” most agree that the problem con­tinues to get worse.

Even though the slurs thrown at Tom seem tame to most people, espe­cially in com­parison to the com­ments many women content cre­ators receive online, they threw me into a special kind of indig­nation.

I simply cannot under­stand why someone so genuine and pas­sionate, so ded­i­cated to his craft, and so willing to take time out of his busy schedule to educate others should expect “nasty emails.” As this problem con­tinues to get worse, rolling over and simply accepting online harassment only exac­er­bates the issue.

When an angry cus­tomer in a restaurant loudly berates the waiter, most people sit in their booth and stare extra hard at their salad. By expecting this aggression on the internet and simply attempting to weather the storm, we sit in our booths and try not to make a scene.

Send people whose work you enjoy encour­aging emails. Share content with your friends and family. Do every­thing you can to support folks who entertain and inform you for com­pletely free.

Simply letting, and expecting, cowards to use the internet to harass people con­cedes to the under­lying issues driving people to use their anonymity as a weapon.

If Tom can raise taran­tulas, you can get out of your booth and make a scene.

Shadrach Strehle is a junior studying history.