To paint the internet with such a broad brush is laughable, even when talking about it for such tragic reasons. Yes, social media has been used as a means of recruitment by ISIS, but it’s also deprogrammed members of hate groups, as recently detailed in Adrian Chen’s powerful New Yorker piece. In it, he tells the story of Megan-Phelps Roper who left the Westboro Baptist Church after meeting people who challenged her views via Twitter and Words With Friends. Not only is isolating extreme groups or removing them from the internet entirely impossible, it’s not clear it would be an effective strategy for disempowering them. The “would-be terrorist” who is banned from the internet—however that infeasible act is accomplished—may well become an actual terrorist because he is cut off from seeing how complex the world actually is.
The concept of an echo chamber is a big deal, here. It’s something I strive to avoid – it’s why I continue to follow some really conservative people on most of my social media accounts, even though I disagree with a lot of what they say – because if all you hear is your own opinion, reflected back at you, you can’t grow as a person.
Donald Trump’s comments about contacting Bill Gates to ‘shut down the internet’ while, in their own right, laughable,1 made me think of this xkcd. The internet has done far more good than evil.
- For a variety of reasons – first off, Bill Gates isn’t at all relevant to the structure of the internet, and secondly, the internet was specifically designed to survive people trying to shut it down. Plus, asking Bill Gates to help you shut down the internet would probably just get you a long, strongly-worded speech about how critical the internet is to the development of the world and the betterment of humanity as a whole. ↩