Week 8 Response

The rise of bullying on Reddit threads like r/cringe as well as the growth of fascist politics from trolling on 4chan demonstrates that the growth and development on the internet is wildly unpredictable. The same tools that allow Ijeoma Olou and others to defend the rights of women, and other marginalized and harassed groups provide fascists and bullies with a place to organize and spread their propaganda. Even those who intend to do good can be corrupted by internet culture and harm innocents. Much like those Miss Olou writes about, drumcowski, the creator of r/cringe, also sought to bring positive change to the internet by creating a place for people to empathize with those caught in compromising situations. Users took his idea and adapted it to their own uses, mainly mocking and harassing those unfortunate enough to end up on the feed.

The fascists of 4chan grew up from a different kind of intent, but one just as opposed to its final incarnation as the r/cringe thread. Attempting to use the weird mock humor of the internet, early trolls used shock tactics like obscene and offensive jokes for cheap laughs. The permanent nature of their work however, left little context to future readers who took what they said and ran with it, spreading fascist messages on threads and establishing a community around “anti-social justice warriors” as they attempted to spread their message through the works of others. These same trolls also gave birth to more liberal groups like Anonymous which has targeted everything from the Church of Scientology to Sony. Neither of these active organization were the intent of passive online trolls, but their work online has led to significant real world consequences.

The manipulation of things beyond the intent of their original creators on the internet is not exclusive to social media, though it does provide an approachable and constantly adapting example. There are many similarities between the rise of bullying and fascism and the rise of advertising on the internet. What began as an effort by creators to share information developed into a network that collected information on everybody, advertised to them through pop-ups and banners, tracked and retargeted them, and now faces a natural, almost evolutionary, retaliation in the growing use of ad-blockers. As advertisers begin discussions with the creators of ad-blockers, some of whom have already pulled their creation as they had their own unintended consequences once put onto the web, it is apparent that social growth on the internet is still young, people like advertisers and 4chan users will push the boundaries until they hit resistance, or create something even they oppose.