There’s soooo much happening right now that shows the blurring of the lines between what happens online and what happens in the real world.
For a long time, people who didn’t spend much time online would somehow look at it as this ‘other’ space, and many parents still think of gaming online with friends as something different to hanging out with friends in the real world. But for those kids, it’s just as real, and in some ways more so as they spend time challenging each other and cooperating on grand quests. Something kids haven’t done all that often in the real world since cricket stumps were used as pretend guns while running around the garden.
But it’s darker adult issues that are coming to the fore. QAnon is emerging from the weirdest parts of 4chan and Reddit to become a part of politics, and not just in America where the bizarre conspiracies argues that Trump is a saviour against the tyrannical Democrats who enslave and eat children (seriously, that’s the origins). Now it’s taking over 'wellness’ groups even here in Australia, and the coronavirus has been tied into the web of lies until the idea of wearing masks and the anti-vaxx crazies are blending it all together into a unified mega-matrix of madness.
Facebook continues to outdo itself, with 'armed militia’ groups being reported for inciting violence but Facebook saying it doesn’t breach terms of service… until the Kenosha shooter who emerged from such a group went out and shot a bunch of protesters dead.
Then in more mundane respects we have stories about Slack 'causing’ high-school type problems in workplaces (see below) as people are ruder to each other through such tools. But maybe, just maybe, this is how a group in a workplace has acted toward each other in the untrackable real world kitchens and corridors, and now Slack is making it easier to hold people to account for bullying and other bad behaviours?
The biggest issue with the sense of accountability out there is automation and scale. The big platforms don’t want to have to manually police billions of posts per day because it would break the laws of physics to try to point enough eyeballs at the act of doing so. But this problem means the platforms allow the sharing of horrific things by erring on the side of 'let them share’. It’s still messy parts of humanity doing the sharing and letting the feedback loops of conspiracy and poor judgment spill from online back into the real world.
There’s a strong argument that the state of these things might be somewhere very different if a reality TV star hadn’t been given the most powerful political office in the world. But there’s also a clear line from those dark corners of the web to how he got that job in the first place.
Digital and online are one big mess today, and they have been part of the one big mess for decades. We all need to stop pretending it’s some 'other’ if we are to deal with making modern society a safer and more positive place for the long future we’re all hoping humanity gets to have.