Dear Internet: It’s Time to Fix This Mess You Made
Dear Internet, it’s been a while, right? We here at WIRED talk about you a lot (mostly good things!), and we’ll admit it feels a little weird to address you directly. But we need to have a talk. And yeah, no, this is not going to be a fun one. Because things aren’t great, Internet. Actually, scratch that: they’re awful.
You were supposed to be the blossoming of a million voices. We were all going to democratize access to information together. But some of your users have taken that freedom as a license to victimize others. This is not fine.
Are we talking about Leslie Jones? Sure. Today. But we should’ve mentioned something to you Monday when some of you went after the woman running Ireland’s Twitter account. Or earlier this summer when anti-Semitic trolls started crowing about their nested-parentheses bat-signal. Last year, it was the assumption that of course we should have a pro-Gamergate panel at SXSW. Or two years ago, when some of you hacked Jennifer Lawrence and a slew of other folks in that ugly display known as—this is as gross to type as it is to read—the Fappening.
Did you know 40 percent of Internet-using adults have experienced online harassment? Do you know how many Internet-using people commit harassment? Us neither. It’s not many. But that minority is literally the worst. And they’re screwing it up for the rest of us.
When you were born 25 years ago, people were so overjoyed that they just wanted to talk with each other. Then they wanted to spend money. Great! Except the companies that rushed to fill that void figured something out: For anyone trying to spend money, odds are there’s someone else trying to take it. They added fraud protections to protect people and themselves.
But that didn’t protect anyone against what people said to each other. As you got bigger and stronger, more people wanted to talk—but some of them were jerks, or worse. Remember flame wars? You had no immune system, and you started to rot. Now that rot has turned to blight. And here we are.
The networks we use to talk to each other have managers, and they don’t seem to know what to do about it. We don’t either. We don’t know how to make you a place where information is still free but people are safe, too. We only know that silence is unacceptable.
Here’s what a Twitter spokesperson said when we asked about the problem of abuse on its platform: “We don’t comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons.” After a hate mob drove Leslie Jones off Twitter last month, Jack Dorsey appealed to bureaucracy: “Our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.” There are rules? Well. As long as there are rules.
Except, you know what’s not making a difference, Internet? Rules. Do you know what happens when people talk to us about how to stop harassment? They get harassed! Threatened. Other people email them their home addresses and name their family members!
And do you know what happens when we highlight how people respond to hate with love? Just read the replies.
Internet, it has to stop. And since you are this enormous, limitless beast with many heads and hearts and faces, the best way we know to get your attention is to talk to the companies and people who form your backbone and your bloodstream.
So. Companies that created the tools that let us communicate: no more passes. You have the ability to help people feel safe in their daily online lives. You have sophisticated tools to fight spam, and you take down content that infringes on copyright in the blink of an eye. This is a call to action. And a plea. You can’t say “we suck at dealing with abuse,” promise to do something, and then drag your feet. Because it’s starting to look like you care more about your next earnings call than the people who actually use your sites.
Maybe you’re not a company! Maybe you’re a hacker who can come up with some solutions to this problem. Go get ‘em, White Hats. And companies who pay hackers and researchers to poke holes in the Internet, how about putting a bounty on fixing this enormous hole at the heart of the Internet? Help some people out.
And if you’re someone who organizes, executes, or fuels abuse and hate crimes online, then let us be blunt: You are not our people. We see you dominating the comments on our Facebook posts. We see you shouting louder than anyone else in the comments of our stories, and in our Twitter timeline. Stop. Just don’t. You’re an embarrassment to the sites you frequent. We trust you can find the door.
Back to you, Internet. After all, we’re stuck with each other. You’re how we live our lives, and you’re how we’re going to continue to live them. We wouldn’t trade that for the world. We just want to make sure we work together—with you, and the people who built you and maintain you and depend on you—to become the place you were supposed to be, and be better than you are.