James Hong penned a thoughtful essay on an important topic: “Why there are so many assholes on the Internet.”
“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.”
The shock jock metaphor is apt, but I actually think the truth is even worse. The Internet is a rage virus.
The other day, I read a Facebook post that was a poorly researched takedown of one of my personal heroes. As I read this witch’s brew of half-truths and innuendo, I found myself filling with outrage, breathing hard, and leaning into the keyboard, ready to vent.
That’s when I realized the danger we all face. The rage virus is even worse than the shock jock for two reasons:
1) It’s infectious. The rage virus turns the people it touches into fellow zombies, seething with anger.
2) It’s mindless. Bad enough that folks turn into shock jocks to get attention; at least those folks have a motivation. But Internet outrage isn’t even conscious. We read, and like the old Human Torch, we flame on.
There’s no secret cabal to blame, no villain to defeat. The virus is in us. And the only cure is to do what I did–step back from the keyboard and go for a walk until I could calm down.