Long before there was Twitter or Facebook, Confucius touched on an idea that would become more true in the internet age than ever it was in the past when he wrote that “to see and listen to the wicked is already the beginning of wickedness.”
Evil happens on the internet. Or because of it, sometimes. This is often attributed to the decay of inhibition and reality that comes from anonymity and the solitude of a fake social world online, but I think there is more to it than that.
This weekend, on Easter Sunday, a man in Ohio began a Facebook Live broadcast using his smart phone, took a gun, and murdered a grandfather who was returning home from Easter dinner with his family. The same marketplace into which he brought his murderous display became then home to thousands of expressions of dismay and alarm, and of course conjecture about his motivation. Was it fame? That fabled 15 minutes we’re so often offered by media as motive for heinous acts? Maybe. Probably. Partly.
I think also a new addiction, only slightly different from fame (or perhaps more accurately a specific kind of fame) played a part: fake internet points. Upvotes, likes, hearts, favorites … people go to extraordinary lengths to rack them up. They covet them, treasure them. In earlier days the “lulz” were less specific, but the addiction is the same. It’s approval. Actually more than approval, it’s affirmation. Confirmation of one’s consequential existence, maybe. “I matter. I affect the world.”
But also only partly.
There’s another thing too, which I mentioned above. It’s emulation.
Take the 2016 election, for example. I repeat: for example. During the campaign, a few loud voices with large followings on Twitter made a game of being as nasty and snide as possible in their support of their candidate. It came from all political points of view, of course. As for the ones on the “right”, they are the guys who started the “cuck” trend, among others. They styled themselves warriors, striking back against the unfair power of the left and the media. If the left is going to be mean and nasty to us, we’ll be twice as mean and nasty to them. Send one of us to the hospital, we send one of them to the morgue.
Those loudmouth jerks had a knack for nastiness and their followings and influence grew. Their notoriety reached the mainstream. And you know what happened? Every idiot egg with “deplorable” in their name believed themselves to be exactly as notable and intimidating, and went about proving it by copying and pasting every insult they could find and repeating it endlessly. If you use Twitter, you see the word “snowflake” about every seven minutes. Right? That’s not just obnoxious, it’s part of the point here. Monkey see, monkey do.
But that copycat behavior extends far beyond buzz words and into legitimate wickedness. Need an example?
Despicable right? Deplorable, even. A supposed peacenik lefty who feels totally justified in being disgusting. But not alone. As Mary Katharine notes, she’s had many such tweets directed at her. Going for the most evil, awful, heinous comment possible is not just a pastime on the internet, it’s something that is copied and repeated endlessly by a thousand dimwitted nobodies trying to sound like badass somebodies. “Bob” surely saw someone else attack her tragic loss and joined in. All the easier knowing others do the same thing.
Or how about these people tweeting their wish for the murder of President Trump and his supporters? There are endless examples from all sides of politics and as many or more that have nothing to do with politics. Because this isn’t specific to a point of view or a demographic. The common denominator is access to the internet. That’s it.
The obvious question is why. Why? What do they think they are accomplishing attacking dead relatives or issuing death threats or the thousand other daily internet evils? Some have a thin idea that they are making a point, having convinced themselves that they are proving something about how “the other side” acts. I once thought that. I mocked someone’s pain. I made the calculation of having “earned” it, that I was proving something about the other side. You aren’t though. For most, you can tell by the urgency and viciousness that it’s just an excuse to be despicable and indulge one’s own anger.
For others, the copycats for example, there’s no rationale at all. No greater point. They simply enjoy being bad guys. They like being awful and they relish suffering and it makes them feel good to be evil because they are sick, evil people. Sick, evil people who can’t come up with their own insults.
And now we have a murder. Played out live on Facebook, watched by millions, spread over countless re-uploads and social media posts. Hosted on dozens of sites now. And the same sickness is in the comments and replies and reactions to this, too. The anonymous trolls trying to outdo one another in gross reactions where they cheer it, joke about it, make memes out of it. And soon enough, try to repeat it.
Oliver Willis said on Twitter yesterday (yes, oh irony, thou art blogging) that social media has been, for the most part, a net negative for mankind. On that point I see no room for argument. The bad far outweighs the good, and the trend has been a continuous downward slope. The good things come fewer and farther between, the bad faster and in larger numbers every day.
When you’re out there on Twitter today, or Facebook or Tumblr or Instagram or whatever new hot thing is making waves, think about what you’re looking at and chuckling about. The lame excuse of moving the Overton window or fighting against political correctness is dead. That’s not what’s happening. It’s just people enjoying being terrible people, enjoying evil.
This isn’t a way to blame the medium or the tools. Neither the internet nor the gun are responsible parties. This murderer who won’t get his name in print in this article made his own evil decision. He is responsible. Only a human decides what he or she does. And that’s the point: make a better decision. Start now. If you see someone cheering a personal tragedy, a dead spouse or child, a diagnosis, a failure or a loss, don’t follow them. Don’t like it or favorite it. Don’t be a part of it. Becoming a spectator is the beginning of wickedness. And we know now where that wickedness leads.
To a street in Ohio on Easter Sunday.
Recognize that you are being radicalized. And then stop it from happening.