Specters of extremism are starting to appear in our daily lives. Things we used to read about with a passing curiosity have begun to show up with uncomfortable closeness and frequency to real life. Oddities such as the Flat Earth movement and the anti vaccine movement. And more alarming trends such as leftist street mobs and white supremacist manifestos. All of these things have cropped up in our lives in ways we could never have guessed ten years ago. Some days it feels like the world is going mad, people on both sides say that some days. But why?
It is no secret that the internet has become a force to be reckoned with and can move with a stunning ferocity that scares average people. The frequently cited “internet mobs” can come for anyone at anytime if they are activated or motivated to do so. They gang up and swarm onto anyone that they have determined to be a bad person and anyone who has broken the sacred and fluid laws that govern the internet’s society. These faceless mobs quickly become judge, jury and executioner leading to social exile and abandonment and in some cases even loss of your career and family. There have been entire books written on this subject and we can all think of a few examples of this. Vengeance, retribution, justice and outrage are all present online in fatal doses. What is completely lacking however, is mercy and forgiveness.
Big or small, there seems to be a stark lack of any sort of forgiveness mechanism online today. If you post an insensitive comment on Facebook or a hasty photo on Instagram you can easily be unfriended, attacked or simply ignored. You get cut off. The internet has stopped seeing people as people, as living things with families and friends and desires, and has started seeing them as a collection of their actions on a balance sheet. As soon as your ledger becomes problematic a switch is flipped and you are seen no longer as a friend from high school or an old coworker but as someone who is deeply flawed and defined simply by what you post online. Worse, if the court is feeling particularly vengeful that day, they’ll go back twelve years to something offensive you posted when you were fifteen and use that as proof that your soul can never be saved.
This is a well documented cycle that plays out daily on our screens. People see it and many of us have participated in it at one point or another. What is sad and shocking is that this is happening to thousands, if not millions of people all over the world. People may feel good about calling out a racist or putting a bad mom on blast but this is damaging our social fabric in ways we are just now starting to see. Death by a thousand cuts. When people get attacked like this or cast out it makes them defensive. Few people see themselves as the monsters they are portrayed as online. They feel betrayed, hurt and angry and the lack of forgiveness and the savagery that these mobs exhibit in their initial assaults leads to an atmosphere of utter hopelessness for some. They are pushed out of the mainstream and into the dark. It makes people feel good to drive demons off of their twitter feeds but what they are actually doing is pushing normal people into the hands of not so normal people.
Humans are naturally social beings and driving out people that are perceived as bad is isolating them but it is not cutting them off. People will naturally seek other like minded people who can empathize with them. There are entire subcultures online that are being created and bolstered to record sizes by this culture of culling that takes place on social media. These people are not disappearing, they are finding solace in the arms of others who have been similarly treated. How many run of the mill bigots have been pushed into the arms of actual racists? How many people started off lonely and only became lonelier? Who joined social media looking for friends and only found adversaries?
There is no forgiveness and without forgiveness there is no hope for many. If someone says one thing wrong they are at risk of being destroyed. There needs to be a reconciliation process for social media. People need to reach out to others and treat them as the people they are. What happened to the golden rule? Water under the bridge? Water of the duck’s back?
This culture is dehumanizing on so many levels. The mobs are faceless, the person on the receiving end of the outrage is a stranger, everyone is a ledger – a list of posts and pictures but there is no real conversation happening. The dehumanization of online citizens is leading to the creation of the strangeness and the monsters that are coming out of the woodwork. There needs to be mercy, empathy and forgiveness – that will lead to real inclusiveness and real diversity when we can all talk to each other as people no matter what has been said or done in the past.