I Liked The Internet Better...

06 March 2012
...Before The Stupid People Got Here

I'm not much of an early adopter, but I have been on the internet for a reasonably long time. I've used Alta Vista, had a Hotmail account when there were under a million, been blogging since blogs were the big new thing, then when blogs were dead, and now blogs are big again. So, she says as she hitches up her pants, I've seen some changes on this here internet. I got online slightly too late to say I remember when the internet was just the domain of geeks, but certainly in my early days it was...different. People online tended to be just a bit smarter, a bit more forward thinking, a bit more literate than the norm.Oh, there were vicious disagreements, sure, but at least they tended to be reasoned disagreements.

No more. Everyone is online. Everyone. All the ill-formed tepid spaghetti which passes for your average Jayms's mind is now online, to be shared, nurtured and fermented with other like-minded souls. I think most prospective parents wonder if they are doing the right thing bringing a child into this world. For me, the closest I came to despair was reading the comments section of the Daily Telegraph website. Ignorance is now something to be cherished and displayed. Facebook crawls with pages where the ignorant can go to share their lack of knowledge. Rumours become fact. What would once have been dismissed as a minor mistake becomes a national outrage. Then there's been backlash against Yumi Stynes.

To reiterate the depressing details, host of morning advertorial show The Circle Yumi Stynes, along with veteran journalist George Negus, made some stupid and mildly offensive remarks about the sexual prowess and intelligence of Ben Roberts-Smith, an Australian soldier who won the VC Cross in Afghanistan. About eight people saw the original incident, Stynes and Negus apologised, Roberts-Smith accepted, and that should have been the end of that. But of course it wasn't. For people who have been around the media as long as Stynes and especially Negus, the dumbest thing perhaps was not realising that unquestioning hero-worship of the Digger ideal in Australian would mean any criticism wouldn't be tolerated. It's on. There is a hate campaign of staggering proportions underway, mostly directed at Stynes (as a female Japanese-Australian, she's the far easier target), with Facebook pages inundated by people using the most abusive, racist language to criticise her far milder remarks, and even making death threats against her young daughters. Companies who ran advertising on The Circle have rushed to cancel their sponsorships in the wake of the campaign. No one - from the defence force, from any of the show's sponsors - have condemned the abuse; they are feeding in to it. Sure, this would have all been possible pre-internet; much of the hatred has been fermented on talkback radio. But the internet ferments, magnifies, allows the lazy and the disinterested to join in with copying, pasting and minimal effort. I'm sure there were some who were genuinely hurt and offended by the original comments. But how much of the hatred is coming from bored people looking for an excuse to be nasty? And any sponsor who self-righteously drops their advertising is condoning the threats.

I recently got a very low-level taste of all this myself, with some anonymous internet troll threatening to stalk me over my belief that some trees shouldn't be cut down (really). The internet sadly becomes a medium to spread ignorance rather than knowledge; people misinterpret what they read, paraphrase without understanding meaning or context, repeat inaccurate assertions without checking the facts. It was without surprise that I read new research showing people are too stupid for democracy. The average citizen rates their own intellectual prowess as much higher than it is and lacks the basic ability to accurately assess which is the best candidate in an election. No matter how much information is provided about the issues surrounding the election, people are simply too dumb to understand them - and don't realise that they are (one of today's Telegraph comments condemned Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore as "under/overeducated" - presumably there is a middle ground level of education which the commentator has reach and feels is the ideal for all others). So we see the phenomenon on the internet of people unable to differentiate between a blog, posts on a blog, and comments on a post - let alone the difference between your and you're - and yet still somehow believing their political opinions are valid and deserving of credence. The internet is an amazing tool, but it seems, sadly, that many people are too stupid for the internet.


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