Bad bagels and internet-scale feedback
issue no. 0012
Imagine you’re sitting at a bar with your friends.1 You say something the table thinks is wrong (e.g., “West Coast bagels are better than New York’s”2). You will get (potentially vigorous) feedback from some people, maybe reconsider your opinion, and move on.
If you say something similar on the Internet, you risk a tidal wave of complete strangers throwing FEEDBACK at you for days (and intermittently for years!)3.
There’s a few reasons why this can range from disorienting-to-horrible:
Engagement lacks nuance; they don’t know you, you don’t know them, and nobody is giving each other the benefit of the doubt.
Sheer volume. A few friends agreeing that you’re wrong is not threatening. Dozens and hundreds of strangers telling you you’re wrong overloads brain processes designed to handle a universe of 150.
Friendly fire. These strangers usually aren’t actually yelling at you. They feel unheard and are yelling at someone way behind you. You just happened to catch the bullet because you’re nearby.
Spend enough time in the war zone and most reasonable people will exit. The survivors develop an immunity. Numb from criticism for mundane bagel opinions, it’s easy to conclude that all feedback is equal, and become unmoored, pushing away even the well-intentioned.
You might even harden your opinions. You’ve been voted and catapulted off the island, never to return to the fold. Might as well start your own.
In the worst case, you might even get addicted to the fight. Gladiatorial combat is a rush, and on the internet, you can always find an audience to back you up.
People who are immune to criticism and are addicted to combat start to behave like narcissistic warlords and/or cult leaders, which is part of why the Discourse is the way it is today.
There’s a couple ways you can make the internet a kinder place4:
Avoid carpet-bombing. Tweeting “all men are trash” or “women only want your money” is not going to get bad men and women to improve. It will get sensitive people to numb themselves, or conclude they might as well engage in whatever crime they’ve been convicted of.
Don’t feed the trolls. There are many people who have decided to pollute the commons for their own benefit. It’s bad on purpose to make you click / QT. Just keep scrolling.
Avoid piling on for your own satisfaction.
Try to write kindly. Remember that you’re often not talking to a friend who knows and trusts you, but writing to a stranger whose mailbox you just barged into.
Accept you’re not responsible for everything, including educating random strangers about bagels.
If you’ve gotten this far, realize you’re probably in the upper quartile of well-behaving online people already.5
Source: XKCD #386
Watch as even this gets me in trouble.
In extreme cases they’ll call your employer to get you fired, and send a SWAT team to your house.
I’m trying to practice these with varying degrees of success. If you have more, would love to heart hem.
There’s a bit of an anti-carpet-bombing situation here where I’m preaching to a partially-converted choir.