Civil Internet – The Problem



Today’s internet egregiously underrepresents the best of human values and behaviors. For all daily circumstances that haunt us, the world is equally if not more beautiful, and full of people who quietly recognize this. As a global community, we can do a better job appreciating this.

Predominant internet platforms are engineered to keep people engaged for profit, rather than materially improving quality of life for as many people as possible. Predominant internet platforms are designed to be an end – a place to compulsively and perpetually ogle – rather than a means – a place for people to enrich their minds, foster connection, and flourish off-screen. Predominant internet platforms bait the human mind with outrage and deliberately accentuate that which repulses or entertains us. They purport neutrality, showing what “trends”, rather than carefully accounting for WHY things trend, namely: the human tendency to overestimate that which worries and overlook good fortune. Or, the human tendency for mindless distraction. Or, the human tendency to seek novelty over unadorned stillness and reflection- the essential ballast in humanity’s ship. Predominant internet platforms foster continuous and collective overreaction, fanning flames to bolster engagement, rather than facilitating slow, calm, cooperative response to extinguish them. Predominant internet platforms encourage hair-trigger, highly-emotional reaction, with no discernable foundation in truth or critical analysis, rather than meticulously honest, respectful, considered reflections, tethered to established facts. Predominant platforms select content with black-box algorithms, aiming to decompose our minds and show what maximally captures them, rather than human curated content from individuals and institutions whose trust has been carefully earned and preserved.

Problem Summary

  • Platforms thrive on amplifying content that disgusts or mindlessly amuses, versus content that constructs or enriches. Trending content compels, but is often unhelpful.
  • Rapid and baseless discourse (comment sections) ignite two chain reactions: 1) highly-emotional words invite more highly-emotional words and 2) the discourse itself becomes yet more repulsive entertainment, further reinforcing engagement, yet also often unhelpful.
  • No ethical standards for content and behavior. Lack of civility is conflated with rights to free speech, or, intentionally tolerated because it boosts engagement, or both. Free speech with no civility is often unhelpful.
  • Back-box algorithms choose what we see. Limited ability to wander or curate – hard to notice echo chambers or search bubbles. Rather than exploring for ideas (wandering, pulling), they are spoon-fed to us (pushed), based on criteria we do not see. The delight of volition might be felt, but is misleading.
  • All of the above feels normal. In popular culture, we take the internet to mean distrust and chaos, sweetened with jokes and cute memes, as opposed to recognizing it as a neutral capability, whose potential serve alternatives has yet to be harvested.

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