A Unified Theory of Everything Wrong with the Internet

Fake news, trolling, echo chambers, filter bubbles, cyberbullying, and tech addiction — what if it all came down to one thing?

Jesse Weaver

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Photo by Niklas Hamann on Unsplash

The veil of wonder that once gleamed around the internet has been lifted. Behind it, we’ve located the inconvenient truth about life online — it’s filled with fake news, trolling, cyberbullying, filter bubbles, echo chambers, and addictive technology. The honeymoon is over, as they say.

The ills of the web are the ills of society. They have existed, well, probably forever. Bullying, marginalization, violence, propaganda, misinformation — none of it is new. What is new is the scale and frequency enabled by the internet. The way the web works and, more importantly, the way we engage with it, has taken these issues and amplified them to 11.

Our public debate takes each issue separately, attempting to understand the root cause, mechanics, and solutions. We tweak algorithms in order to pop the filter bubble. We build features and ban accounts to curtail fake news. We ban instigators and require the use of real names to snuff out bullying. What is this approach missing? These problems are not actually separate. They are all symptoms of a deeper psychological phenomenon. One that lives at the core of human interaction with the web.

The Anonymity Paradox

The internet lives in a paradox of anonymity. It is at once the most public place we’ve ever created, but also one of our most private experiences.

We engage in the digital commons through glowing, personal portals, shut off from the physical world around us. When we engage with our devices, our brain creates a psychological gap between the online world and the physical world. We shift into a state of perceived anonymity. Though our actions are visible to almost everyone online, in our primitive monkey brains, when we log in, we are all alone.

This isn’t anonymity in the sense of real names versus fake names. The names we use are irrelevant. This is about a mental detachment from physical reality. The design of our devices acts to transport us into an alternate universe. One where we are mentally, physically, and…

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Jesse Weaver

CoFounder and CEO of Design Like You Mean It | Humane Tech Evangelist | Designer