jaron lanier (via the ezra klein show) on backlash

i’ve talked about this a lot (especially with cameron) but haven’t yet written about it and now it’s time.

in ezra klein’s mind-boggling interview with jaron lanier, jaron surfaced the dangers of online backlash in a way that terrifies me. and makes me think anyone doing online organizing needs to be paying attention to this phenomenon. ok, so i think the points in the argument generally go like this:

  1. one of the simultaneous strengths and weaknesses of the internet is that it collapses context. for most internet content, anyone from anywhere at anytime can locate it and see or read it. the great thing is that that allows more people more access. the downside is that the context in which things were created can be totally invisibilized.
  2. online spaces have created opportunities for people to share things that haven’t been shared at this scale before. #blacklivesmatter, #iftheygunnedmedown, #mniwiconi, #metoo, #timesup, etc.
  3. the visibility of these movements can be exactly their downfall. people who are anti- whatever is happening can dive right in, take content, and interpret it to have the exact opposite goals.

in the episode (which you can start listening to at this timestamp) lanier shares several examples that are totally on point and terrifying. and they’re so terrifying because he’s exactly right. the backlash from these online movements can be worse than the original movements themselves.

the internet (like all tools throughout all of history that were supposedly going to just save the world by their existence) is not neutral. who controls it, who decides what is and isn’t fair game, who pays for it, these are all things that contribute to how different people experience it. and, as many people have experienced, the internet (because it is perceived to be bad to regulate any behavior at all, including bad behavior) often creates the opportunity for the worst parts of humanity to be front and center (in the worst case: random internet attacks).

in my mind, none of this is a push to stop. it just means that it requires more thinking and strategy. how do we do online (and offline) work in ways that anticipate backlash and incorporate it into our strategies? how do we get more savvy about what conversations we have online (in public) and which ones we have online (in private)? in essence, these are age old questions (“don’t throw your pearls before swine,” also black reconstruction in america), but now it’s our time to grapple with them in our way… or it’s at least my time to think about them.

words / writing / post-processing
398w / 12min / 6min