Quite apart from what’s going on on social media, the real reason why people on the internet are such assholes is that they’re all chasing after the same small pool of ad money, which means chasing clicks, which means that there’s every incentive to blow up every little infraction into a world-ending calamity because that’s what gets clicks. Why did we care about that poor woman who made an unfunny joke before flying to South Africa? I don’t know but it was all about clicks. And honestly, as heinous as Gamergate was, that was all about clicks too. Who really cares about some stranger’s dating habits? But it got clicks. I get that this is a pretty basic insight, but it’s something I need to remind myself of a lot to explain things. And honestly, thanks to the internet it’s become really, really easy to rile people up about things that don’t matter but just push buttons. Not that it’s all that, you occasionally see something positive go viral, and definitely there have been times where the internet aimed for the right targets and forced governments or businesses to make changes. And yet, the internet is what it is, and unless the entire economic model of it fails (which is certainly a possibility), it’s unlikely to change.

I do interact a lot with people in their early 20s and even though I’m only a decade older I do feel like an old fogy a lot of the time. Like when I tell them what the internet used to be like. It’s not like everything was better ten, fifteen years ago–when there was even less money but much less competition for it–but it really was a different place before “clickbait” became a thing. That was more a symptom than a cause, but then even the good people started writing just a little bit toward that format and then…

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  1. vjack says:

    I agree that chasing ads and clicks explains a lot of it. At the same time, many of the people I see being assholes online don’t even have websites to which they are trying to drive traffic. I can’t read their minds, but it looks like many are motivated by their enjoyment of pushing others’ buttons to provoke outrage. So while I do think that chasing clicks is a big part of the problem, it seems like trolling has become an enjoyable passtime for some.

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