We Have Met The Internet’s Enemy, and It is Us

This is my conclusion after reading the “apology” from some of the founders of internet platforms. As an early blogger and social media fan, I too felt like these new tools would be a tremendous way to share information, learning, and connect with people to continue that learning. I still believe it is that, on a good day. I was not as “hippie” and humanistic as the founders of Silicon Valley, but I assumed that while there would certainly be connections that would be made by people for mischief, trolling, spreading conspiracy theories etc. that the rest of us could merrily ignore those things and go about connecting and listening to just the people we wanted to engage with.

I still think that is possible, but I underestimated how much human beings are committed to our baser instincts. As Roger McNamee states in the article:

The dopamine you get from outrage is just so addictive.

We can blame algorithms, social networks, Facebook, advertisers, cookies, and technology all we want, and yes there’s plenty of blame to be shared there too, but in the end, the reason social media has become such a hot bed of hatred, and outrage, is our own actions. Our inability to ignore.

I recently saw something in another article that I think might just qualify as the tweet of the year, by Anna Shinoda, wife of Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda.

We can bitch about click-bait, fake news, hate speech, trolls, invasions of privacy, and every other awful thing that people do to one another online, but too many of us also keep right on clicking, telling these tools that this is exactly what we want more of, to keep our dopamine high going. To find something to be angry and self-righteous about. To find someone we can judge and look down on, to prove that we are the enlightened ones by gathering up our mobs to attack people who say something different.

Instead of increased access to information, cultures, people, art, and every good thing the internet could bring us, turning us into more educated people, we have shown ourselves to be weak-willed, shallow minded people. We’ve spent more time dissecting the details of a celebrity’s tweets than examining our own biases or sending out encouragement to the world.

We’ve taken a tool that allows us to connect to the whole world, and used it to show the world how petty, vindictive and shallow we are. We have an opportunity to provide access to stories and information the likes of which has never existed, and we use it to tear each other down. We’ve never been more connected to other human beings at any time in our existence, yet we spend all of our time trying to dehumanize other people online.

We are the problem. There is no technology that can fix that. We can change the advertising model, give people back some privacy by not tracking, we can tweak the algorithms, we can hire millions upon millions of fact-checkers and censors, and none of it will ever change the heart of a single person. If you’re not willing to use the tools for good, to BE BETTER, then this is our Internet. I suggest you learn to live with it, neither the government or Zuckerberg is going to save us from ourselves.

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