Why there’s so much internet nonsense
What does deer hunting have to do with the persistence of internet idiocy?
I’m not a deer hunter.
I have no qualms about the practice and have helped others dress and cook deer; like woodworking or stamp collecting it was simply never an activity I took up (as for golf, oh good Lord, I wish I hadn’t).
But, unlike golf, deer hunting is pretty necessary now that the populations of historical predator species – cougars (or mountain lions or pumas, depending upon where you live) and wolves and such are in many areas too small to maintain local herds at healthy levels.
Wolves eating a deer
This dearth of predators leads to problematic herds. Until relatively recently, this was not as big an issue as human hunters stepped into the role of predator. But as hunting declined, problems increased as without a limiting predatory force, deer populations became both much larger and much less healthy, especially in isolated groups where in-breeding – deer with question mark shaped antlers and giant white spaces on flanks (really bad if you are trying to blend into the woods) and increased susceptibility to viruses became so common that government-organized herd cullings had/have to occur.
We now have the same problem with ideas and the internet -- that without a natural limiting force even the weakest and most non-sensical notions can thrive
Obviously, the past has seen its share of equivalent information expansion events and trends, but the speed at which “facts” and thoughts and ideas move on the internet destroys the usual “predators” of bad ideas – nuance, history, research, reason, time to reflect, reliable sourcing, and proper context were the cougars, wolves and deer hunters of rank stupidity.
Just as the natural obstacles to strong – rather than willy-nilly -- growth are removed, the internet removes -- in large part intentionally through algorithmic suggestion – those analogous inhibitors, leaving society practically defenseless against the devasting impacts of unsupportable silliness masquerading as factual outrage.
The process is not limited to the internet, but it is far more noticeable and destructive there. Take the issue of time for reflection, for example – everyone has, while driving back from the restaurant, had the same moment of “oh, now I know what I should have said when Bill said…” Just those few minutes of re-visiting, re-thinking about the idea allow a person to better grasp and/or debate the issue properly. But on the internet, those extra few minutes simply do not exist
Like doubling checking with a source you find reliable, looking to find any historical precedent (or not), probing a bit deeper into a statement, or even – God forbid – picking up a book to confirm basic facts, these until quite recently quite ordinary responses to new information and ideas that are now utterly out-of-place in the Twitterverse.
The strength of a good idea is not necessarily in its inception, but its ability to stand the test of time: if concepts – good or bad - are not challenged they will simply float eternally in the ether. The ones that are reasonable– no matter one’s personal opinion – will survive the predators while the ones that are not will die the quick deaths they are meant to. Either way, creating a space/process in which they all can be made to succeed or fail on their merits is crucial, and that space/process is exactly antithetical to success in the online world.
Certain social media services have tried to step in and become the predator by acting as censors by “culling” the internet. However, those efforts are not only ineffective but in fact harmful since it is the service itself that decides, for lack of a better phrase, what is a deer and what is not a deer, what should be targeted and what should not. And woe betide anything caught in the crossfire, especially when the definition of deer changes…and changes again…and changes back…
The organic process of the “marketplace of ideas” has been replaced by choices made by companies that have a vested financial interest in ensuring that most problematic, most infectious, most “viral,” if you will, concepts flourish – web surfers tend not to click on “Everything is Fine” and “Stock Market Has Good, Steady, Predictable Day” and “Overwhelming Majority Say Live and Let Live is a Good Idea” headlines.
What survives to the point of profitability is largely facile and purposefully irksome – or triggering (shudder), if you will – meant to encourage immediate continued interaction with whatever service/page/site/app you happen to be using.
Another class of “idea survivors” is equally important – those ideas which have been deemed necessary by the service itself. Note that the words true or accurate or likely or honest or appropriate were not used – just the word necessary, as in to reach a pre-defined goal no matter what that may be.
From electing Joe Biden to being able to monetize the “influencer” economy, only creating an end result that directly benefits those involved matters – and that is the most predatory of situations imaginable.
Photo credit: Zipster969
Thomas Buckley is the former mayor of Lake Elsinore and a former newspaper reporter. He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at email@example.com. You can read more of his work at: https://thomas699.substack.com