August 23, 2017

MEGAN MCARDLE: We Live in Fear of the Online Mobs: Internet shaming spreads everywhere and lives forever. We need a way to fight it.

This kind of private coercion is not entirely new, of course. Community outrage cost plenty of people their jobs or their businesses in the old days. But those were local scandals. Rarely would someone’s notoriety follow them if they moved to another city.

Over time more and more people have suffered national stigma that outlasts their 15 minutes of fame. Cable news accelerated this: Think of Monica Lewinsky in 1998. The internet transformed the degree of scrutiny, the extent of its reach, and the shelf life of the scandal, so much as to make it different not just in degree, but in kind.

Whenever a new form of power arises, we need to think about how to safeguard individual liberty against it.

In the early days of Twitter, I used to say that it was a bit like I imagined living in a forager band to be: You were immersed in a constant stream of conversation from the people you knew.

Ten years later, I still think that’s the right metaphor, but not in the way that I meant it then. Back then I saw Twitter as a tool for building social bonds. These days, I see it as a tool for social coercion.

Shut down Twitter. It’s the only way to be sure. For the children!

Related: Cloudflare CEO says his Daily Stormer takedown was “arbitrary” and “dangerous.” “I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet.”

So maybe if people wouldn’t react this way to Internet shame-storms, we wouldn’t see so many Internet shame-storms? Just spitballing here.