THE INTERNET HAS BEEN HIJACKED BY TROLLS: I WANT IT BACK.
I want to start out by saying I don’t have answers. I don’t think anybody does. But there’s something off in the world. It’s like a movie when somebody opens the wrong box, and a great evil is let loose. Except it’s real. And I don’t think we can pretend anymore it’s not.
We invented this amazing thing called the Internet. It arrived with great promise. It became almost a religion instantly. The mantra was either join or be left behind. They waved Freedom of Speech banners over the thing. They sang its praises. A new generation didn’t bother picking up guitars or brushes but ran to the store to buy laptops and write code.
It was a rush, a stampede, but it had its iron-clad rules. A fiercely defended openness. Anonymity. Dense. Not transparent. It had it’s own language, its own culture and its own borderless world. It was everywhere. Giants led us toward its embrace: Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg. There dreams were spun out of numbers and engulfed us all.
And then it tilted to something very dark.
It became almost a cancer to us. It ate our jobs. It dismantled our economy. It gutted what had once seemed timeless — music, art, film, creativity. They used the word disruption, but disruption is too polite a word for what it did. It destroyed. It displaced. It dismantled and dismissed. And the more the dream grew, the more it became a destructive force beyond our control.
We’re humans, and humans will always take something new, an ax, a gun, a bomb or an Internet and turn it into a weapon. 2016. The year we weaponized our latest dream. We warped our beautiful new thing and used it to control, to manipulate and to take power. Isn’t that all of human history? To control others, to squeeze them, to dominate them, and make yourself rich, make yourself a god?
We suckered in millions. Fake news, conspiracies, we hacked, and we lied. Oh yes, we disrupted the world, we struck blows to Europe and America, to our precious concepts like truth and honor and respect. We trashed all of it in a wild algorithmic-fueled orgy of trolls. And here we are.
Yesterday somebody attacked a pizza parlor. It was a made-up thing, an Internet thing, but a man with a gun walked into a family restaurant. He was on a mission. He was convinced. Only nothing in his head was real.
We have to ask: who put those things in his head?
The idea of falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater arose from the Supreme Court’s 1919 decision in the case Schenck v. the United States. The Court ruled unanimously that the First Amendment, though it protects freedom of expression, does not protect dangerous speech.
I think that’s important. In fact, I think it has become critical to our survival, this idea that speech that leads someone to walk into a pizza parlor with a gun is not free speech. The Internet does not have a right to sit above the law. No matter how much Google spends on lobbying Congress. No matter how many Freedom of Speech banners the Electronic Freedom Foundation wave. There needs to be an accounting here, responsibility.
And let’s be real. Please. This dangerous thread that led to violence has been sitting on the Internet for months. It’s been fed. It’s been nurtured. It’s been distributed.
It’s hardly the only one. I’ve been threatened myself. I’ve been told I’ll hang. I’ll be set on fire. My children will be harmed. It happens thousands of times a day to millions of people worldwide, and there’s no consequence. There’s been a blizzard of lies spewed across the world, and there’s been no reaction, a stunned helplessness as everything decent falls.
I think part of the problem is so few people understand this grand thing we’ve built. There’s a mystery to it, and we rely on the high priests to guide us. Only it’s beginning to feel like they’ve betrayed us. And maybe there’s no controlling this beast we’ve unleashed.
I don’t have answers. But I know right and wrong. And I know what feels good, what feels like love, and what feels like hate and fear. And I know nothing good comes from a world of fear.
So the question is what do we do?
I can only say one thing. We have to do something. We cannot just let this beast run wild. We cannot. It’s just not worth it. There’s no future the way we’re going. Nothing. These digital priests better step forward with answers. We need protection. We need ethics. We need truth. And yes, unfortunately, we’re going to need regulation, laws, restrictions, and consequence. The great dream was this new Internet would unleash a Utopian dream. That dream is dead. Time for another dream. What will it be?