It’s an appealing idea, that we’ve hit peak hate on the internet. Appealing because peak hate means the hate has at worst plateaued, and more likely is on the decline. Take that, hate.
Such is the thesis proffered in Esquire magazine by Stephen Marche.
The internet has reached peak hate. It had to. At every other moment in history when there has been an explosion of text — whether through social change, like the birth of a religious movement, or technological change, like the advent of print — a period of nasty struggle ensued before the forces of civility reined it in. In the past few months alone, we’ve seen the catfishing of Manti Te’o, a professional tennis player quit because of trolling, and a rash of teenage suicides from cyberbullying alongside the by-now-standard Twitter hatestorms of various strengths and durations.
The sheer bulk of the rage at the moment can seem overwhelming. But the fact that we recognise it and have acknowledged its unacceptability is a sign of the ancient process reasserting itself yet again. The internet is in the process of being civilized.
Marche continues in much that vein for the next 800 words, with scant evidence, apart from a couple of studies that simply illustrate how much hate there is out there, which must means it’s on the wane, because we can see it, or something. He also hails trend away from anonymity, which he reckons should make things a little less ugly.
And then the conclusion:
Wildness is always followed by civilization, the root of civilization is civility, and the rules of civility have not meaningfully changed in two thousand years.
I’m afraid I tend towards the critique of Salon’s Andrew Leonard, who has this to say about just the opening sentence:
How could anyone possibly have the chutzpah to publish such a sentence after the week we just lived through [following the Boston bombings], in which hate swirled and roared across the internet in every possible direction? People have been nasty on the internet since they first started igniting flame wars in Usenet newsgroups in the 1980s. People will continue to be nasty on the internet. I hate stories that begin with blanket generalisations that are not supported by any data.
That’s just one of Andrew Leonard’s “Ten reasons to hate that internet haters story”. Read the other nine here.