Almost anyone will tell you that the Internet is a wonderful tool that connects the world. It brings people together. It gives us a voice and a place to share our opinions. Here is my opinion: the Internet divides us more than it brings us together.
Let’s say you take 50 people – all of whom think that Ebola was manufactured by the Obama administration in order to kill conservative voters so they can’t oppose the communist dictatorship he has turned the United States into – and locked them all in the same room. They would spend a lot of time agreeing with each other and perpetuating their own craziness. If someone were to slip an opposing opinion under the door, it would be ripped apart by the hivemind. It works the same way as an angry mob bent on burning a witch alive: A small group of people with the most vocal opinions speak for the majority, and the mob mentality replaces rational thought.
This is what happens every day in thousands of online communities. Let’s say I’m an avid
hip-hop fan, and I stumble my way onto
reddit.com/r/hiphopheads. After just a few minutes of browsing, I find that this community adores Kanye West. Threads with titles like “Who, in your opinion, is the greatest of all time?” or “What artist changed your life with a single album?” all have Kanye at the top. Underneath you can read comments from hundreds of people saying how much they agree. Of course, anyone who doesn’t agree has either been downvoted to oblivion or had their comment removed by the moderators. However, the exact opposite will happen if you find yourself on /r/music where they detest Kanye with a passion. Personally, I don’t love Kanye’s music, but I don’t hate it either. But my opinion won’t be heard in either of these communities.
Try searching YouTube for a video related to any religious faith. If you scroll down and read the comments, I guarantee you will find an argument turned flamewar, where users have escalated from debating religion with strangers to insulting each other with slurs and pointing out grammatical mistakes. Because people can be anonymous behind a keyboard, many feel free to write whatever comes directly from their brain, no matter how crazy or rude it might be.
On the Internet, you have two options no matter where you are. Like or dislike. Upvote or downvote. Funny or die. You must either agree 100 percent with what someone has written or tell them they’re too stupid to live. The Internet is so polarizing because it promotes a culture where everything is black and white: Everyone who agrees with me is my friend; anyone who doesn’t is my enemy. How can we expect to get along if the central question that tears society apart is whether or not “Yeezus” was a good album?
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.