Monday, June 29, 2020
The answer will not surprise you, but it should scare you. Somewhere along the way, we digitized the mob. The few dozen people surrounding a statue are not the problem. The few hundred people confronting police are not the problem. The few thousand people looting stores and throwing rocks are not the problem. The mob on the street is not the problem. The mob on the street is the symptom.
The millions of people acting without moral restraint, without reason and without fear of consequences on the Internet are the problem. Indeed, the digital mob is the unintended consequence of the Internet itself. Connecting the world via technology was supposed to encourage communication, understanding and a breaking down of barriers. Instead it has resulted in a world divided into silos, special interests, identity groups. We tend to seek out those we have the most in common with and to block, ban or troll those who are unlike us. We feel safety in numbers, and from that safety is often bred outright contempt for those who think differently. Though we must live side by side with people in our families, our workplaces and our schools who have diverse points of view, we are under no such obligation online, where unfriending is much easier than “un-neighboring.”
That has emboldened people to be the loudest, harshest, most vulgar voice in their group. Such uncivil behavior can bring fame and money. And yes, praise. Target and shame those who violate your group’s ideological dogma, and you will be echoed, retweeted, and revered. But if you dare to defend the person or institution under attack, if you ask for forbearance or forgiveness, you will be the next target. The phenomenon was well-described by a former Internet mobster in an anonymous confession published by Quillette in 2018 titled “I Was the Mob Until the Mob Came for Me”: