You’ve officially become old the second you start complaining about the internet, which is fitting, because 2016 aged me at least 15 years. This year has been defined by the deaths of some of our greatest and most gifted creators and the utter unmasking of the hate that courses through America in a last-ditch effort to maintain white supremacy, all topped off by the election of the face of that effort, Donald Trump, to President of the United States. (If you want to know what I was really disappointed by in 2016, the answer is everything.) In retrospect, we should’ve seen Trump’s win coming—or at least taken his chances more seriously—because all throughout the year, every day, one could witness the blind anger, hatred, and post-factual thinking Trump rode to the White House on Twitter or Facebook. The internet has long been self-cannibalizing, but 2016 was the year it swallowed itself whole.
At their most ideal, social media networks like Twitter and Facebook see themselves as communities in which an exchange of ideas and viewpoints can take place. But where Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg think of their communities as utopias, they moreso function like a high school cafeteria. Everyone finds their like-minded peers and talks amongst themselves, until a food fight breaks out, which does happen a lot. Without any supervision, checking or balancing—Twitter and Facebook have taken a comfortably privileged laissez-faire approach—these internet cliques see their irrationality confirmed, backed up by what appears to be hard information, and are emboldened enough to act. [Ed. note: This was written before white nationalists began boycotting Star Wars based on no actual evidence whatsoever.]
In July of this year, comedian Leslie Jones committed the crime of appearing in a female revival of Ghostbusters. The negative reaction to the existence of this slight retinkering of an ‘80s movie that could only maybe be argued is a classic was initially benign, if horribly misogynist and stupid. It was also directed at the remake as a whole, unfocused on anyone responsible for its creation. But after Ghostbusters’ release, this sect’s disappointment morphed into a targeted attack on Jones. At the behest of infamous troll Milo Yiannopoulos, then-technology editor at Breitbart (hey, isn’t that site’s former chief a senior advisor to the president-elect?), Twitter users hurled a monsoon of racist remarks at Jones; many doctored her tweets to make her look like the villain. Jones was left flabbergasted—meanwhile, Dorsey offered an apology on behalf of Twitter, but not much else—and pushed to her brink, one of the most good-natured, outgoing comedians in the world was forced into hiding.
I leave Twitter tonight with tears and a very sad heart.All this cause I did a movie.You can hate the movie but the shit I got today...wrong— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) July 19, 2016
A month later, after Jones had returned to Twitter and increased her amount of admirers with undeniably endearing coverage of the Rio Olympics, hackers took over her website, posting photos of her driver’s license and passport, a video of Harambe, and naked pictures of Jones. Yiannopoulos, who had finally been banned from Twitter, openly celebrated the hack on Snapchat.
The attack of Jones—which she handled with more grace and dignity than was ever expected—was just a microcosm of what 2016 was like online. She wasn’t the only victim—actually, our president-elect is currently leading a cyber bullying attack on an Indiana union leader. We live in a time where most people using the internet didn’t grow up with it. Its mere existence seemed like a fantasy, and so they still treat it as such, like a world where actions have no consequence and words have no meaning (or too much meaning, depending on the need). To them, the power of a share on Facebook or 140 characters on Twitter are inconceivable but all too attainable. As for those who did grow up in a digital world, and should have the literacy to navigate it, there’s no excuse. But the podium and ability to connect that social media creates, as well as its cloak of relative anonymity, makes it easy to give in to baser instincts while simultaneously ignoring whoever else’s rights.
I’m tired. And I know this blog post will reverberate around the echo chamber I’m a part of, or that someone who disagrees will read it and tell me I should go die. The internet is a miracle, but 2016 proved we don’t deserve it.