Web “Atrocity” Tourism

by Sebastian Benthall

Just learned from Joe Paul about a web site that used to exist called Portal of Evil. This site specialized in “web atrocity tourism”–linking to and commenting on the weirdest and scariest corners of the internet.

The most comprehensive account I can find of the site is on a Furry community wiki. It was apparently not primarily a troll community, but a hobby sport for tourists aware of their impact on the ecosystem:

Contrary to popular belief, the great majority of PoE members did not organize attacks on the websites listed on PoE. Rule #1 of the PoE forum rules, also known as the Prime Directive (or PD for short), stated: “Do not contact the site listed. Do not email the site owner. Do not post in their guestbooks. Do not post in their forums. If the site owners want to interact with visitors from PoE they can come to these forums.” PoE members were to keep their criticisms of the site to the PoE forums, even if the site owners posted to PoE of their own accord.

The site was taken down last year after five years of dormancy. One user laments that archives of the site have been actively discouraged, pointing out that that’s a shame, since it was a valuable trove of research and curation of the early web.

Which is totally right and totally frustrating. But apparently digital records of it still exist and there are spin-off communities. People can be tracked down and interviewed. So, all is not lost.

Fundamentally, it’s a really beautiful thing about the Internet that assists people who want to build communities around the ways that they are strange or perhaps crazy. Sure, a tiny percentage of it is morally objectionable, but most of it is just really funny.

And, think about it: today’s weirdos on the Internet are tomorrow’s identity groups asking for civil social treatment. While these groups will no doubt have plenty of their own records of their early history, contemporaneous ‘objective’ or critical perspectives will be important to them and maybe others as well. They are probably demanding civil treatment as I write this, only their struggle for social equality is so obscure that I have never had a reason to care.

Like a lot of white guys who were picked on sometimes as kids, I’ve got an abstract kind of solidarity with those folks that isn’t rooted in much personal experience of oppression. Call it compassion, if you want. I’m going to go ahead and let that be my dominant attitude on the matter until I hear about the specifics of some of those communities and maybe become revolted out of some taboo mentality or, more likely, bored. You should get on board with this if you aren’t already. It costs you nothing and can give you something to talk about, like Great Ape Personhood.

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