Internet will be death of us
Nora Ephron once wrote a brilliant essay about the trajectory of her and many other people’s infatuations with email, from the thrill of discovering this speedy new way of keeping in touch to the hell of not being able to turn it off.
I’ve come to feel that way about the whole of the internet.
What a glittering dream of expanded knowledge and enhanced connection it was at the start. What a nightmare of manipulated biases and metastasized hate it has turned into.
Before he allegedly began mailing pipe bombs to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and others, Cesar Sayoc found encouragement online — maybe not in the form of explosives instructions, but in the sense that he could scream his resentments in a theater that did the opposite of repudiating them. It echoed them back. It validated and cultivated them. It took something dark and colored it darker still.
“By the time he was arrested in Florida,” The New York Times reported, “Sayoc appeared to fit the all-too-familiar profile of a modern extremist, radicalized online and sucked into a vortex of partisan furor.”
Robert Bowers, accused of murdering 11 Jewish Americans in Pittsburgh the morning after Sayoc’s arrest, stoked his madness and nurtured his bloody fantasies in that same online vortex. While Sayoc carved out ugly niches on Facebook and Twitter, Bowers found even safer harbor for his racist, xenophobic and anti-semitic passions on Gab, a 2-year-old social network that has served as a nursery for white nationalists. There they congregated, commiserated and riled up one another with an unfiltered efficiency that simply doesn’t exist offline.
It was on the internet, with its privacy and anonymity, that Dylann Roof researched white supremacy and formulated his evil conviction that violence was necessary. He then went into a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina, and fatally shot nine African-american parishioners in June 2015.
It was on the internet — on Facebook, to be exact — that Alek Minassian posted a pledge of allegiance to the “incel rebellion,” which refers to the resentments of “involuntarily celibate” men who can’t interest the women around them in sex. He then used a van to mow down and kill 10 people in Toronto in April.
Enclaves of the internet warped the worldviews of all of these men, convincing them of the primacy and purity of their