How the ‘innocent internet’ died and the 21st century was born
January 7, 2019 4:15 PM   Subscribe

Forget the calendar. Just as the 19th century didn’t really end until Armistice Day in 1918 and the 1960s counterculture lasted well into the 1970s, the 21st century didn’t begin at the end of 2000. It began in 2014. - The Whelk outlines the background to our recent political upheavals. Too heavy? How about a relaxing episode of The Great Post-Brexit British Bake-Off, or destresssing with charming historical fiction. (This is your semi-regular Whelk Projects round-up)
posted by Artw (27 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
That 2014 article is excellent and probably ruined my day.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:50 PM on January 7 [7 favorites]


I felt a 2014-onwards appropriate sense of dread and unneasecwjilst reading it, yes.
posted by Artw at 4:54 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]


If the 21st century is specifically digital, then sure 2014 makes sense. But late 2001 seems like a better starting date to me. The 21st century is one of endless war. Digital is just its texture.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:32 PM on January 7 [24 favorites]


Or maybe ubiquitous video and more permanent public records in the form of Twitter/Facebook/etc made it impossible to deny the overwhelming prevalence of racism and sexism that the victims had been complaining about approximately forever?

To me, an old, the only difference is since privacy is a foreign idea, the shittyness is out in the public sphere where people can tsk at it while continuing to do nothing.
posted by iamnotangry at 7:10 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


If the 21st century is specifically digital, then sure 2014 makes sense. But late 2001 seems like a better starting date to me. The 21st century is one of endless war. Digital is just its texture.

This is the correct answer. The 20th century ended on 9/11. That event, its consequences, and the responses to it shattered the old order that had characterized the post-WWII era, especially the post-Cold War certainty that America was invincible forever and the world would inevitably march towards the Washington Consensus future. The events the article lists for 2014 were surely important but were ripples created in the aftermath of the creation of the new order, and that includes the much-vaunted technical advancements and corresponding social changes.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:16 PM on January 7 [21 favorites]


Or maybe ubiquitous video and more permanent public records in the form of Twitter/Facebook/etc made it impossible to deny the overwhelming prevalence of racism and sexism that the victims had been complaining about approximately forever?

I get what you're saying, but it seems to me like people continue to deny shit even when there is clear and direct video evidence. How many cops were acquitted in spite of the footage showing them killing someone? How many people refuse to believe that so-and-so could have done what they were filmed doing? How many fans do Chris Brown, R. Kelly, and Drake still have? I'm not even going to get into everything the sitting US president has gotten away with.

Racism and sexism aren't evidence-based. The world would be a different place if all you needed to do was provide the right evidence. The ongoing erosion of privacy doesn't seem to have put a stop to white power movements, or open racism. It has, on the other hand, presented a disproportionate threat to women (think of revenge porn, for example), people of color, and people without money.

(I wrote my college thesis on an incident in the 19th century in which someone was accused of racism. He didn't deny it, and in fact he openly acknowledged it. Of course no one cared. You could say "well, that was the 19th century!" but that's the point. It wasn't the evidence that mattered -- he admitted he'd said what he was accused of -- it was the society he lived in. Same now as back then.)
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 7:39 PM on January 7 [11 favorites]




Saying this all started in 2014 is cute. Back in 2003 or so a bunch of raging geekboy dinks on message boards were calling me preachy do-gooder tranny scum, trying to track down and expose my "real" identity as a "prank," etc. I had my own little gamergate lynch party going on, a decade ahead of the internet losing its innocence. I dunno, maybe 2014 is the year online toxic masculinity broke?
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:49 PM on January 7 [12 favorites]


entropicamericana, you just made my day. Haven't heard that song in years. And good lord is it prophetic.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:55 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]


I think Facebook ruined everything, but GamerGate is a close second on "ruined the Internet."
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:40 PM on January 7 [5 favorites]


late 2001 seems like a better starting date to me. The 21st century is one of endless war. Digital is just its texture.

This is the correct answer. The 20th century ended on 9/11. That event, its consequences, and the responses to it shattered the old -


came to say 9/11, not surprised I got beat to it. So perhaps better to focus on the 19th Century ending not in 1918 (end of the so-called Great War) or even 1914 (the beginning of it), or 1916 for that matter (eruption of Dada) ... but 1912, the year the Titanic sunk, the South Pole finally got trod upon (the whole damned world finally observed and mapped, the solid surface parts of it anyway), Arizona and New Mexico finally achieved statehood (US of A finally ready to roll), the Girl Scouts founded, Fenway Park opens in Boston, stainless steel patented, Tarzan introduced ... and so on.
posted by philip-random at 10:47 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]


The “innocent internet” (i.e., John Perry Barlow's Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace and such) could only exist while we believed in Francis Fukuyama's End Of History, that now the world was all an endless virtual plaza of interchangeable consumer experiences. In a sense, we were like Wile E. Coyote, and the two decades or so of the “innocent internet” were the moment between when he runs off the cliff and when he realises that there's no ground beneath his feet.
posted by acb at 2:46 AM on January 8 [7 favorites]


While I agree with others that 9/11 was the most significant turning point, I also find the article very to the point. I've been thinking of posting this comment on the endless politics threads, but it fits much better here:
I've mentioned before that I visited the State Department during the run-up to the war in Iraq. I was there with a group of mainly old European men with lots of US business and diplomacy connections. And at a point, one of those old men asked about the "immigration crisis" made out of Latin American hoards crossing the border. At the time, I understood it as an (embarrassing) echo of the new racism that had grown in Europe since the mid-90's. Now I don't know. Anyway, the State Department officials did what any US officials at the time would have done, rolled their eyes a bit and then answered that of course immigration reform was needed and at the top of the President's mind, but it was difficult. It was made discreetly clear that the US is a nation of immigrants and racist language was not acceptable, as was the official stance of both parties back then.
What has happened since is that language like that has entered polite discourse everywhere on the right. Here in Europe, what was a far right position in 1996 and still not mainstream in 2003 has become acceptable to some Social Democrats (not all). Look at Labour's struggle with Brexit. And for that difference, I do indeed feel 2014 was a turning point, and that this came about because of the transformation of the internet.

One thing that isn't mentioned in the article, but that I've also been thinking about for a while, is that it also has to do with older people entering social media. I've been joking for a while that Facebook is a site for middle-aged ladies. And Trump himself is the prime example of a boomer with a twitter machine. Those old white men I was traveling with back in 2003 have now found each other on all types of online media, and they are having the time of their lives, echoing each others' wild conspiracies and not least their self-aggrandizement.
I'm not denying that angry gamer-types exist and are a force for evil. As are Russian trolls and "influencers". But when I look at the real people I know, the people who are most vulnerable to lies on the internet are my older friends and relatives.
posted by mumimor at 2:56 AM on January 8 [13 favorites]


There were men being shits on the Internet to women way before 2014. Gamergate was only the first time the rest of the world knew about it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:34 AM on January 8 [9 favorites]


It’s when it got weaponised.
posted by Artw at 6:41 AM on January 8 [5 favorites]


Another thing to ponder: a lot of sensitive, intelligent teenagers and twentysomethings in the US and other Western countries were on LiveJournal during the late 1990s and 2000s; they used the site, with its granular permissions mechanism, as a “private” forum for sharing anxieties, concerns, desires, kinks and other sensitive topics. Then a Russian oligarchical operation linked to the Putin administration bought the site.

The kids who poured their hearts out onto their LiveJournals would be entering the prime phase of their careers now; statistically, some of the would be in positions of influence or sensitivity. Which makes you wonder to what extent GRU have used their old juvenilia either as kompromat or for finding more recent points of leverage over them.
posted by acb at 6:46 AM on January 8 [7 favorites]


1912, the year the Titanic sunk

In 1912, the outlook still looked pretty good. That's what makes 1918—or sometime during the Great War, anyway—a turning point; it's when the idea of industrialized progress, of industry as the engine driving capital-c Civilization forwards, of the inevitable victory of (white) man over nature, finally and irrevocably collapsed.

You can trace it back before that if you wish, but it doesn't really matter because it wasn't recognized at the time. The Titanic sinking was a tragedy, but it was a tragedy that more engineering, better lifeboats, better steel, better telegraphy, could all fix. It was a tractable problem, amenable to the tools at (again, white, European) man's disposal. It was a failure of implementation, not of underlying philosophy.

The aftermath of the war in 1918, by contrast, was not. And in particular, one of the casualties of the war was the idea of Progress, as a sort of one-way ratchet mechanism away from the brutality of the natural state and towards some sort of enlightenment. Technology itself became suspect, and the future became darker.

You can draw a parallel between 9/11 and the Titanic, in the sense that it was a harbinger, but at the time it seemed as though it could be dealt with within existing frameworks. (And perhaps it could have been, handled differently, and the post-Cold-War "Washington Consensus" / Pax Americana would have held for a few more years. This is sort of like playing what-if games involving Gavrilo Princip's aim being slightly worse.) It was not obvious, nor I think was it necessarily inevitable, that it would be the end of the unipolar world order, and with it the idea that global civilization and the arc of history would move inevitably towards more democracy, more respect for human rights, more openness, more communication, etc.

2014 seems as good a year as any, from the perspective of today, to drive a stake in the ground and say that's when it became obvious that things had fallen apart and weren't going to be put back together. So in that sense, it is a parallel to 1918. It's the point when a reasonable person can look over the mess and can no longer say with a straight face that of course everything is going to turn out fine. Obviously not everyone got the message at the same time, as I can only assume not everyone understood the lesson of the Great War at the same time. So at some point you need to invoke a "reasonable person" standard and draw a line. It's easy to set that line too far back, given hindsight.

Since 2014 or thereabouts, it's been increasingly hard to see the dream of the 1990s—of the Internet as a force for good, of the "global village" united by fiber optics, of new media bringing us all together, etc.—as anything but a ridiculous technocratic hallucination. I fully expect that someone in a generation or two will browse through textfiles.com with much the same attitude that someone today might read stuff about the Chicago World's Fair, wondering "how did these morons not see it? How did they not get the uses to which this stuff would be put?" How did someone look at a 16" Krupp gun and think that it was an instrument for peace, and not for explosively rearranging Belgium?

I fully expect the idea that the Internet would somehow magically unite the globe in peaceful transnational cooperation, might well seem just as ridiculously naive. Perhaps right up there with the developers of machine guns selling them as the a way of making war impossible, when really they were creating a whole new kind of war. But up until 2014 or so, I don't really blame someone for hanging onto that hope. It was, just like the people at the Columbian Exposition, an optimistic extrapolation.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:59 AM on January 8 [14 favorites]




I'm still waiting for the Gamergate/Russia connection to surface. I'm irrationally convinced that it was the successful test run or proof-of-concept for 2016.
posted by longtime_lurker at 5:41 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]


The FPP link is good but incomplete, to me. Needs a link to this piece by Clare Malone at FiveThirtyEight: "From Where I Sit, The Trump Era Began In 2014."

And this episode of This American Life: "The Beginning of Now"

I'd probably throw in something about the Sad Puppies...

I'd probably quote this bit from one of Mueller's indictments...
By in or around April 2014, the ORGANIZATION formed a department that went by various names but was at times referred to as the “translator project.” This project focused on the U.S. population and conducted operations on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. By approximately July 2016, more than eighty ORGANIZATION employees were assigned to the
translator project.

By in or around May 2014, the ORGANIZATION’s strategy included interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with the stated goal of “spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”
I'd probably also mention how Cambridge Analytica was testing slogans like "deep state" and "drain the swamp" in 2014 even as it was appropriating Facebook data from 87 million people and using "Russian researchers to gather its data" and openly sharing information with Russian companies.

I think some of the reason 2014 turned out to be such a pivotal year is that the internet had grown big enough to be disruptive, and the white supremacist backlash against Obama's election had grown desperate enough to toss aside norms. But one of the norms it tossed aside is "don't work with American adversaries to undermine American elections." Milo Yiannopoulos, one of the leading voices of Gamergate in 2014, worked at the for Steve Bannon, who was also running Cambridge Analytica. Peter Smith, the Republican strategist who was trying to buy emails from Russian hackers also sought help from the Daily Stormer's Andrew Auernheimer, AKA "Weev”: "Auernheimer—who was released from federal prison in 2014 after having a conviction for fraud and hacking offenses vacated and subsequently moved to Ukraine."

2014 is the year the alt right hooked up with Russia.
posted by OnceUponATime at 7:04 AM on January 10 [9 favorites]


(It's also really worth reading Timothy Snyder's "The Road to Unfreedom" and watching the documentary "Active Measures" to understand what was happening in Russian and Ukrainian politics, where 2014 was also a pivotal year. Having ousted Manafort's client and Putin's puppet, Yanukovych, Ukraine was invaded by Russia in 2014. These events are more connected to our own politics than we ever suspected at the time.)
posted by OnceUponATime at 7:11 AM on January 10 [4 favorites]


From today's Guardian: Older people more likely to share fake news on Facebook, study finds
Older people are almost four times more likely to have shared fake news on Facebook than the younger generation, according to research published in the journal Science.

On average, American Facebook users over 65 shared nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains as those aged between 18 and 29, researchers from NYU and Princeton found in the study, which also concluded sharing such false content was “a relatively rare activity”.

The researchers analysed the Facebook history of about 1,750 American adults, cross-referencing links they had posted with lists of fake news publishers. In doing so, they found the vast majority of users did not share any articles from fake news domains in 2016 – 8.5% of those in the study as a whole shared at least one link to a domain such as denverguardian.com, truepundit.com, or donaldtrumpnews.co.

These sites, and 18 others like them, made up the list of “intentionally or systematically factually inaccurate” stories the researchers defined as fake news. Sites that are “partisan or hyperpartisan”, such as the far-right Breitbart.com, were excluded from the list of fake news purveyors.
posted by mumimor at 7:39 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]


I'm still waiting for the Gamergate/Russia connection to surface. I'm irrationally convinced that it was the successful test run or proof-of-concept for 2016

It’s a Mercer project, so a homegrown fascist conspiracy. Of course the road to Trump was basically the Lervers and the Russians acting as force multipliers for each other.
posted by Artw at 8:03 AM on January 10


Centuries begin late, and the beginning is only known retrospectively. The 21st century has probably just begun, and I'm more inclined to see the mid 2010s as the point at which second- and third-order effects start to cohere.

Kate Wagner (McMansion Hell) takes an architectural perspective, talking about "the hell of beautiful interfaces." It's a companion piece, thematically, to Drew Austin on platforms as "space without imageability, or geography without adjacency." These are aesthetic / cultural critiques, but I think the transformation of huge parts of online activity into smooth, undifferentiated surfaces turned them into petri dishes.
posted by holgate at 8:58 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]




I think Republicans learned a lesson with Nixon, and that lesson is “If we’re gonna be crooks, we might as well go ahead and be crooks, no apologies.” And here we are.
posted by valkane at 8:28 PM on January 17


Older people are almost four times more likely to have shared fake news on Facebook than the younger generation, according to research published in the journal Science.

That's because there are barely any younger people on Facebook.
posted by tzikeh at 9:21 PM on January 17


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