In­ter­net will be death of us

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - PERSPECTIVE - By Frank Bruni

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

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