Friday, October 22, 2021

The Internet is Full of Bad People

The problem with the internet is that it's full of bad people.

Let me explain.

The internet is also full of good people. And average people, and weird people. The internet has a lot of people on it. And so, ipso facto, it will also have a lot of bad people.

Last year I wrote a post hypothesizing that the social media revolution doesn't mesh with our lizard brains regarding how to assess how "common" a given opinion is. Our primordial brain imagines that easily-found opinions are common opinions, and hard-to-find opinions are rare opinions. But on Twitter, every opinion is easy to find. For any major social calamity, no matter how obvious it may seem that one side or another is just clearly behaving wrongly or abusively, you can find dozens upon dozens of twitter accounts -- and not just bots -- falling over themselves to talk about how wonderful it is. Tankies, fascists, smarmy centrists -- all your "favorite" players seem to be everywhere and omnipresent. In our off-line time, we'd have trouble finding them (I'm an academic in Portland by way of Berkeley, and I doubt I know a true tankie in person). No wonder time on the internet makes us all despair. Our brains cannot help but interpret our time on the internet as confirming that monsters are everywhere, nowhere is safe, and the world is going to hell.

And maybe the world is going to hell. But the internet, at the very least, is misleading evidence for the case. When I spend too much time on Twitter, I have to remind myself that the perception that bad people are everywhere is a trick -- a matter of the lizard brain not being able to account for the sheer vastness of the "community".

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