Why there are so many Assholes on the Internet

james hong
Sep 14, 2013 · 3 min read

There was a controversy earlier this week when someone exposed the twitter account of Pax Dickinson, Business Insider’s CTO. A lot of his tweets were seemingly racist/misogynistic.

The guy who exposed it was my friend Anil Dash, who actually ended up meeting with Pax. Pax warned Anil upfront not to expect an asshole and“described his tweets as being the voice of a ‘persona’.”

In other words, Pax was giving Anil heads up that his tweets were just an image he was trying to project and that image was not actually representative of the real Pax.

So the question is.. why would a guy that is probably smart and possibly decent (i’m an optimist) end up writing some very stupid, offensive shit on the Internet when it isn’t even representative of his own thoughts?

Why is the Internet manufacturing assholes??

The Internet is awesome because it enables people to communicate with other people at an infinitesimal cost without requiring a centralized entity in the middle. The benefits of this have been profound and world changing.

There are downsides to the Internet though, and I have to admit that I even contributed to at least one of them.

When modems were first built, things started off slowly and innocently. People logged onto the internet (or BBS’s) to chat, join newsgroups, etc.. Suddenly they had a new community, people who listened to them talk, people to relate to and new friends to make. It was nice.

Then Homepages and Blogs emerged, and hit counters came out.. All of a sudden we started measuring our self worth in page views. Instead of focusing on the value of the sense of community we created, we shifted focus onto the measured value of our own voices. The hit counter was narcism’s strategic inflection point.

Then people made great tools to expand the ways people could communicate online. The digital camera was built so my friends and I built things like HOTorNOT and Yafro (an early mobile photo sharing sites). Cameras added video functionality so things like YouTube came out. More efficient ways to share content like FB and Twitter came out. All these new things always included one important element to rope people in and keep them addicted: the counter. Page views, HOTorNOT ratings, likes, retweets, they’re all the same thing: food for our vanity.

This has created (or at least elevated) a horrible value in our society. To many people hanging out on the Internet, one’s sense of self worth is now measured by how much attention one is being paid.

There are hard ways to get attention, and there are easy ways. The hard ways are more meaningful, but almost by definition they are more scarce and harder to generate.

The easy stuff on the other hand is just that.. easy. Just do something shocking/offensive/base. It is basically how one got attention in middle school. At some point when people’s desire to get the attention outweighed their need to express themselves in an authentic voice, they decide to become a shock jock.

How hot can my selfie be? How many people can I get yelling at my trollish comments? How many likes will I get if I post this picture or write that tweet?

This is what I think happened to Pax. His desire for attention was so great, it didn’t really matter if the means by which he got it were fake. Even now, after he has been fired from his job for it and has been called an asshole by countless people, he is embracing it (and loving the attention) and asking for more. Getting fired and any other negative repercussions are more than offset by all this awesome attention he is getting. He even tweeted today, begging reddit to let him do an AMA.

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But here’s the thing people: Brands, even “personal brands”, only have power in the long run if they are authentic. Faking it leads to you living a lie, and lies never last. If you really want sustainable and meaningful attention, the way to go about building a “personal brand” is to be honest and only accentuate your actual attributes.

Please stop faking it and just be yourself. Stop doing the easy things that get the low hanging fruit attention, and express yourself more meaningfully. People will probably like the real you more anyway.

I. M. H. O.

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