The Internet. One of the most impactful inventions in the world, and perhaps the most important part of modern life. The evolution of the Internet is a rather interesting one, and there have been lots of ups and downs throughout it’s history. Today, I’d like to discuss one of it’s more recent and controversial developments: Social Media.

From the very beginning, the Internet was all about connect people. With the ARPANet, it was just about connecting military bases and important government institutions. It eventually became common on large college campuses, in order to share research and findings. In a way, social media is a natural extension of the Internet’s original purpose - connecting people that would otherwise be separated by distance.

At first glance, social media can seem like a really good thing. After all, what’s better than connecting the whole world? We’ll get to that, but for now, let’s focus on the positives. As I mentioned, the Internet allows people from all over the world, of varying hometowns and demographics, to connect with each other. And this is a good thing! The best way to keep an open mind is to meet other people. The more people you meet, and the more viewpoints you see, the better your own life becomes. Platforms like Discord, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and other messaging apps allow you to meet new people, as well as keep up with old friends you otherwise wouldn’t be able to see.

In my own personal experience, the Internet has truly expanded my worldview from just a small city in central Washington to spanning the entire globe. I’ve met people from all across the United States, as well as in other countries like Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. I’ve also been exposed to many more kinds of people that I would likely never have known about, like plural or ace people. In meeting all these people with their own thought and feelings and viewpoints, I’ve discovered more about myself than I ever would have on my own.

But with all this inter-connectivity comes a cost. The Internet is an open platform: anyone can say whatever they want, if they’re willing to try hard enough. A great example of this is the Fediverse. In theory, the Fediverse is the ultimate social networking platform. It is decentralised, and anyone can run their own instance if they are willing to provide hardware. Each instance is connected to each other, and (in theory, at least) everyone should be able to interact with anyone else. The problem with this is, sometimes the kinds of people that are willing to set up their own instances are not the kinds of people that everyone wants to interact with (ie, nazis).

Due to the distributed nature of the Fediverse, it can be very difficult to filter out unwanted people. Your instance might block one nazi instance, but all they have to do to get around that is buy a new, relatively cheap, domain. If one user gets banned from their instance, they could just start their own instance and continue harrasing people. In an ideal world, there would be some way to globally block and/or filter these users. This is what the Fediblock project aims to accomplish, but it is not without it’s own problems and (sometimes deserved) criticisms.

There is also the opposite: a user that gets bullied off of one instance can join another, friendlier one. Or, they could start their own. Unfortunatly, it often does not take long before the bullies follow. If you want to keep a safe space, a lot of moderation is required. This moderation also requires that the moderators are willing to put up with seeing and most likely recieving all the harrassment that would otherwise end up on the main page. You can get around this by allowlisting instances instead of the default blocklist, but this often isolates your instance from people who would otherwise mean no harm. So, a delicate balance must be maintained between keeping a safe space, and allowing others to participate.

The Internet, as it stands today, is a far cry from the hardline-connected terminals of the early Internet. The connectivity that it provides is truly unmatched, and in my opinion, is a net positive to society. But it should always be remembered that this connectivity can bring out the worst in some people. Even if your own feed is drowned in positivity, it doesn’t mean that everyone else’s is. We should make the world a better place not by being more positive, but by getting rid of the negative. While you may never see anything negative on your own feeds, there are people out there whose lives are directly impacted by the hurtful things that are said to them. I hope you keep that in mind while you continue to use the Internet. Until next time, remember that you matter more than you think you do. Thanks for reading.