Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Internet Society

The other day I was at work and one of my co-workers sent me a link about the recent mass killing in Canada regarding self-proclaimed “incel” Alek Minassian, who praised the killing of students at UCSB by another “incel” named Elliott Rodger. I use the terminology in quotes because it’s a nonsense category of humanity, one that was created by malignant sociopaths and absorbed egomaniacs.
On Reddit, there was a forum dedicated to these kind of people. These who are faceless and plain, and take out their anger on the women who won’t sleep with them by writing depressing, bemoaning tracts of prose better suited to the stylings of a melancholy junior high on Deviant Art than a twenty-something still living at home with their parents. (My dig at Deviant Art comes from personal experiences, so there.) Fortunately this forum was removed from Reddit some months ago.
                This is a trend ongoing. There are many online forums that are steeped in this type of incestuous talk. What’s impressive is that I was introduced to this kind of thing long ago when I was a kid. I grew up with the internet, with 56K dialup, 4.5KB per second download rates, and simple HTML websites that took two minutes to load in Netscape Navigator. But there I was on forums, in AOL Instant Messenger, and observing first-hand the capricious and devilish stylings of some of the most despicable people I had ever encountered.
                Even I was the victim of online bullying.
                But that’s a story for another day.
                What I still try to understand is the phenomenon of “flame wars” and other types of vilification on the internet. We say a lot of things that we don’t mean, or we have the courage to do things that we otherwise wouldn’t attempt in the company of others. I think vloggers and youtube broadcasters are a great example of the latter: a group of people emboldened by the lack of social repercussions received from face to face conversation. In the right context, these people have become influencers and speakers in a larger conversation. (At the same time the lack of credentialing has led to a conflagration of unsubstantiated observations that bring the layman / laywoman to bad conclusions. This is also a conversation for another day.)
                Internet bullying is like a network loop. It’s recursive. Ego exits the speaker and enters the Other. The Other responds with ego and enters the Other. And on and on it goes. The internet is puzzling like that. There is so much good that the internet brings us. Open and constant information. Limitless education and tutorials in dozens of practices. Extending communication to those halfway across the world in seconds. And even exposing virtuosity for the least of our number to elevate them to incredible heights. But these are not really highlighted upon in the current climate. Right now the internet is a cesspool of thieves, blackmailers, bigots, terrorists, and sexual predators. Information is suspect and, in many cases, counterfeit, spread by people without qualifications. Unprecedented movements in communities lead to the deaths of others or, at the very least, their defamation.
                I mentioned the network loop before… People often say that charity is the best remedy for those needing a better reference. This is because, instead of thinking about ourselves and being trapped in a constant loop of self-preservation, we begin to see others as ourselves and the gap between “Us” and “Them” closes. This whole blog entry really has been about extremes, two sides with an immeasurable distance between them. Breaking the loop, in the context of the sociopath and the internet, is really bringing down the artificial wall of anonymity. When we are confronted with people that are different at a distance, it’s much easier to discredit them than if we are up close.
                So maybe the cure is to see eye to eye, face to face?

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