The Horror of life Online

The internet is predicated on liberal, tolerant values; it’s very existence espouses them: the right of every individual to be valued equally, for their voice to be heard. It gives everyone equal access to the megaphone. 

It is the great demotic, egalitarian medium. It creates a space for excluded minorities, and nurtures them. They (we![1]) can build online, supportive communities to stand in for the geographic ones that have rejected us. We can recognise each other’s claims, issue our own certificates, sympathise with and support our sisters and brothers. It allows solitary minds, wandering across huge, empty steppes, to find each other, to come home. 

But the internet also offers us the security of un-traceability and of not having to confront each other in person, and this seems to create an almost irresistible temptation to cruelty and persecution, at least for some users. 

Some, the trolls, seem able to wholly embrace the dark side, to see the whole online world as their hunting ground and nothing more. Most of us, though, need to justify our nastiness, to square it with the principles of the Silicon Valley liberal ethos. 

So everyone is virtue-signalling like crazy. Everyone wishes to demonstrate their liberal credentials, their willingness to listen to others, which is what gives them the right to enter the debate in the first place. Because this is a universe built out of words, you are exactly as kind as you say you are.

All our victimisation, anger and hatred, our bullying, roasting, calling out, cancelling, all our exercise of power, of mob rule, needs to be framed as the indignation and outrage of the justly offended, rushing to the defence of some wounded victim. Then howls of grievance are gratifyingly powerful. You can rage, like the spirit of liberty, at the head of digital lynch mobs and still consider yourself the good guy. 

Once they’ve signed on, neophyte social media users are hurled into a vast pit of undifferentiated voices where all ideas, all words, are entertained, no matter how poisonous or false. It is a formless mass, churning with conflicting currents and tides, wash and back-wash, as different indignations, protest movements, outspoken grievances, spread, gather momentum, attract trolls, generate push-back and subside, to be replaced by others. 

Crazy. 


[1] Communities should be inclusive

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