Last week, 2011 breakout star Frank Ocean posted a grainy screengrab of the liner notes to his new album, Channel Orange, on Tumblr. In the “thank you’s” section, he described falling in love with a man, and the heart-wrenching experience of being rejected. His story wasn’t really about sexuality so much as love–falling into it, accepting it, and requiting it. Those subtleties didn’t seem to matter on Twitter, where the 24-year-old was barraged with homophobic slurs and hateful messages–despite statements of support from Beyonce, Russell Simmons, and even Ocean’s (arguably homophobic) Odd Future bandmate Tyler the Creator. Weirdly, the media portrayed Ocean’s story as a triumph for an industry where homosexuality is taboo. But a cursory look at Twitter told another, uglier story.
But what is the Internet, if not a vehicle for vigilante justice? After seeing the outpouring of hate on Twitter, five young Swedish designers decided to build a website that would leverage the power of the Interweb to defend Ocean. “We noticed that a lot of people sent just awful replies to Frank Ocean on Twitter, becoming sort of a dark Twitter-based undercurrent that only reached Mr. Ocean himself, unless you actively sought these people out,” explain the group’s leaders, Martin Löfqvist and Jacob Åström, over email. “And very few people did. We wanted to lift this rock and expose these people and their hateful messages to the world.”
It took the team less than a day to develop and launch Hate Tweets of Frank Ocean, which went live yesterday. The site collects dozens of homophobic Tweets, framing them above a pink heart-shaped button that generates an @reply to each individual message. The auto response? “It’s not who you love – it’s *that* you love that truly matters.” The group hopes they’ll show online bigots that “this kind of behavior just isn’t acceptable,” explains Åström, who says the response has been “inspiring.” Yep–the livestream of responses is pretty wonderful.
We habitually think of the Internet as humanity at its worst. But that’s reductive. Sure, the web has made cyberbullying easier, but it’s also enabled some pretty amazing ways to troll cyberbullies (here’s another example from this week). “I used to love the Internet,” Åström writes on his personal Tumblr. “But right now our relationship is in a constant state of crisis.” Chalk this one up as a win.