Edward Snowden delivers some potent words on the effects of the commercialization of the Internet in his latest post on Substack, highlighting how short-form and algorithmically-driven content is leading us down a path of less tolerance, wherein we find ourselves either rushing into the safe arms of popular opinion or remaining silent out of fear of what the masses may do to us should we offer up an alternative way of thinking.
In the resulting zero-sum blood sport that public reputation requires, combatants are incentivized to occupy the most conventionally defensible positions, which reduces all politics to ideology and splinters the polis into squabbling tribes. The products of the irreconcilable differences this process produces are nothing more than well-divided “audiences,” made available to the influence of advertisers, and all that it cost us was the very foundation of civil society: tolerance.
We are unfortunately on a path backwards in history toward blind, ignorance-based tribalism and away from the progressive principles of open-mindedness, forgiveness, and tolerance.
The forced identicality of online and offline lives, and the permanency of the Internet’s record, augur against forgiveness, and advise against all mercy. Technological omniscience, and the ease of accessibility, promulgate a climate of censorship that in the so-called free world instantiates as self-censorship: people are afraid to speak and so they speak the party’s words... or people are afraid to speak and so they speak no words at all...
Even the most ardent practitioners of cancel culture — which I’ve always read as an imperative: Cancel culture! — must admit that cancellation is a form of surveillance borne of the same technological capacities used to oppress the vulnerable by patriarchal, racist, and downright unkind governments the world over. The intents and outcomes might be different — cancelled people are not sent to camps — but the modus is the same: a constant monitoring, and a rush to judgment.
How can we address this? Snowden encourages the use of more long-form content on platforms which offer one “full control over, and full ownership of, their intellectual property”. In other words, less Twitter and Facebook and more things like the newsgroups and blogs of years past.