Digital Splinters

The ongoing problems in politics and social media surrounding the current president, the alt-right, and other emerging counter-cultures raise a fundamental question for society: what should society do when a large segment decides to ditch the mores that were previously universal?

The answer to that question is not going to be the same every time, because it depends on how vital the particular departure is. If it’s forgoing capitalization, maybe we can live with that. If it’s targeting a race or religion, that’s not abidable.

With any movement, there will be the shades of fervency, and it takes time for things to shake out. Are they productive, or destructive, and what ideas or behaviors can society gain and lose? The civil rights movement, for example, brought tactics like sit-ins, which were productive, giving clarity of cause to their struggle. The fire hoses turned on marchers were destructive, which set the southern establishment as alien to the larger society.

All of this comes against the backdrop of the internet, with its varied mores and boundaries. We have communities comprised of sub-communities, often fleeting, arising with a hashtag and then blowing away with the next moment’s news. We have anonymity, masking who (and sometimes what) people are. But we also have the broken constants of bots who tirelessly draft netizens into the fracas of the day.

There is need for the hosts of the internet to allow for better tools to allow individuals to communicate, to remove the frictions that develop, but to also retreat and erect barriers when needed. Unfortunately, the business mindset is likely not adjusted to that role. It may take collective bargaining on behalf of users to force these corporations to devote the resources needed to prevent the repetitive destruction of bad actors.