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What would life be like without the internet? We’d have a lot more free time, millions of people wouldn’t have spent millions of dollars on virtual corn, keyboard cat would be a figment of our imagination, and Michael Jordan crying would have been nothing more than than just that: Michael Jordan crying.
The internet is great. Sure, it has its problems, but it isn’t all bad. It is well-documented that if it has done nothing else, the internet has equipped bullies for virtual warfare.
No matter your faith system or the foundation for your moral standards, the chances are high that if you’ve ever used the internet, you’ve been a jerk to someone on the internet.
With Web 2.0 came the weaponization of the internet. If, in the 1990s, you remained unconvinced of the depravity of mankind, the dawn of the social version of the internet should have flamed that right out of you.
Sometimes, the internet is used for good. Whether it be using it to fund important causes on GoFundMe, keep in touch with long-distance friends on Facebook, or simply doing work more effectively, the internet has its place in the all-time inventions hall of fame.
But, like any helpful tool, people find a way to get violent with it. Here are three instances in which we unapologetically weaponize the internet:
For many, the internet is free game to slam whatever celebrity has lost favor with a particular people group. After a celebrity advocates for a political or ideological view that doesn’t go over well among “the internet” populous, or when one more popular celebrity has a feud with a less popular celebrity, things get nasty.
Take, for instance, the release of Beyoncé’s new visual album Lemonade. Through much of the album, Beyoncé hints at themes of infidelity. This, coupled with the 2014 incident in the elevator, have led fans to believe Jay-Z has cheated on Beyoncé. Naturally, the internet began serving one of its most common functions—gossip mobilizer—and it was soon circulating that Rachel Roy, a celebrity fashion designer, is the woman referenced as “Becky” in Beyoncé’s new album.
In a matter of milliseconds, the internet transitioned from “gossip mobilizer” to “weaponized hate machine.” The problem is, the Beyhive—Beyoncé’s militia of fans—directed their hatred toward TV chef Rachael Ray instead of Jay-Z’s rumored mistress, Rachel Roy.
Then, as if this story couldn’t get any weirder, a NASCAR driver pontificated on the Beyoncé-Rachel-Roy/Ray mishap, because that somehow makes sense in the bizarro world of the internet. Brad Keselowski tweeted on Monday:
1). We have in our hands the most sophisticated piece of technology ever made & we use it to spread hatred to those we don't even know…
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) April 26, 2016
2). Worse yet in this case, we spread hatred to those we don't even know we don't know.
What a time to be alive.
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) April 26, 2016
What did it take to have a mic drop in the Beyoncé/Rachel Roy/Rachael Ray debacle? A NASCAR driver. Yes. A NASCAR driver.
Side note, following all of that: The group of people I least want to anger on the internet is the Beyhive.
Other side note: The Beyhive now believes “Rita Ora” could be the “Becky” Beyoncé refers to in the album. Prayers for anyone with a similar name. The eye of Sauron is upon thee.
But, celebrity gossip isn’t the only occasion for which we weaponize the internet. There are at least two other common ones.
I’m an evangelical Christian, which you probably know if you’re reading this blog post. In my observations, evangelicals are as bad about bashing others’ faiths, or lack of faith, as anyone. It’s unnerving to me that those who claim to follow Jesus feel a moral imperative to use the internet as a sort of bully pulpit, hoping to persuade their Muslim or atheist friends to Christianity via offensive memes or snarky tweets.
I have a few non-Christian friends with whom I discuss/debate theology and matters of morality on the internet. But we hold these discussions privately, and most importantly, we give each other the benefit of the doubt. People run into trouble by weaponizing the internet for violent proselytizing when they bash people with the truth via memes and videos that falsely represent others.
Christians, especially, if you claim to follow Jesus, you’re called to a higher standard—a standard that doesn’t approve of unnecessary internet hatred.
Finally, there is at least one more area in which we frequently weaponize the internet.
Ah, election season: that time of year in which we forsake all values to waste time pounding out angry comments to show how not-awful our choice candidate is. What better way to make a case for our preeminent wisdom than to waste hours telling people how wrong they are?
Too many of us see discussing matters of politics as an arena in which the rules are made up and maintaining basic human civility doesn’t matter. Take, for instance, a recent Facebook post from a news station in my hometown. Ted Cruz will be visiting Fort Wayne, which is a big deal because Indiana’s presidential primary almost never matters because the candidate is already chosen. Because this is a pretty big deal, it’s making headlines on the local news stations. It’s a completely non-partisan article explaining the visit, and the comment section is a nightmare:
I’m not a Cruz fan, so don’t read this as me being upset or anything; I just think it’s terrifying and fascinating. Before Facebook, people left nasty comments about political figures on message boards anonymously. Some thought the lack of anonymity on Facebook would temper our outspoken hatred of others. That hasn’t been the case. We have simply grown more audacious and owned our hateful rhetoric.
To those who continue to sing the children’s self-esteem jingle, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” I say:
“Really? Let me introduce you to the internet.”