Is it me or is the internet getting nicer?

Credit: Lesly B Juarez

I am a waster of time. Netflix, Imgur, Facebook, Instagram: I don’t discriminate where I waste my time. Mindless though this time wasted is, I have been noticing something lately. The internet is getting nicer. Have you noticed it?

My favourite place to waste time is Imgur. If you’ve never been on it, that’s probably because you’ve been writing a book, or running a business, or learning an instrument; the types of things I daydream about, usually while wasting time. I discovered Imgur perhaps 4 months ago. It is essentially an image sharing site. Mostly memes, but also puppies and kittens, inspirational posts, political posts, everything really. But while I came for the memes, it’s the comments and community that made me stay and keep coming back. Let me explain.

On Imgur, I very rarely see negativity or trolling. But they are there. They just get downvoted. One type of post you see on Imgur is the ‘weight-loss-progress post’. It is a perfect opportunity for people to be mean, considering many people who post are still overweight. But, picking one at random, here are the top comments (upvoted by users):

Conversely, here is the sort of thing that gets downvoted, where you have to scroll and scroll to find it:

The 2nd one is someone coming to the aid of the poster after someone insulted them.

Imgur is a particularly interesting example. The system is gamified. Upvotes — on comments or posts — get points. One upvote = one point. One downvote = minus one point. It earns you trophies and ‘fame’. For some reason people care about this. But regardless of the reason, this is almost certainly a factor into why the community is ‘nicer’. People value positivity and humour — puns especially. And the system self-polices. It creates a virtuous circle.

What’s more is that Imgur isn’t just nice. It is, dare I say, civil. Rational, even. Check out this comment to a political post with someone quoting a source to back up their statement (from a Pulitzer Prize winning fact-checking publication no less).

But it wasn’t until recently, as this started occurring to me, that I was noticing it everywhere to varying degrees. Comments on YouTube videos are getting friendlier and more civil for instance. There is still vitriol and hate, sure, but perhaps they are just behind the curve a bit. Now this concept has moved from my subconscious to my conscious thought, I’m noticing it everywhere. (Everywhere except Twitter that is. That’s a whole other blog/book).

It is not new that there has been a problem with hate, vitriol and general negativity on the internet. Companies like Google and Facebook have devoted a lot of energy into solving such issues. However, these issues have primarily centred around censorship of harmful material, like child porn or beheadings, and more recently fake news, rather than intrinsically ‘making their platform a more friendly environment’.

It’s hard for companies to address these problems once they have started. People, psychologically speaking, take their cue from others. So if negativity and hate are left unchecked, people notice it as acceptable and it multiplies. Conversely, if good behaviour is rewarded, people notice that too and follow suit. A virtuous echo chamber. Perhaps that is why Imgur seems to have beaten the problem. It is the new kid on the block and doesn’t have the baggage that platforms like Twitter and YouTube do.

Either way, I’m just pleased the internet is getting nicer. Maybe there is hope for humankind yet and we’re not all destined to die an excruciating, fiery death as a result of a hate-fuelled tweet by a world leader.