Everyone Wants to Save The Internet
You can't save the internet. It doesn't need saving, but that hasn't stopped everyone from trying anyway. If you've ever been around evangelicals, you know that once the word "save" or "salvation" flies out of their mouths, you'd better run. It's always a cover story for a deeper agenda.
The platform wars have raged for about a year. Every tech bro CEO is trying to snatch up everyone's users. Even the politicians are trying to pressure companies like ByteDance to sell TikTok to western investors. Even they're invoking our privacy and mental health as the reason.
It's all bullshit.
At one point, the slogan "save the internet" had actual meaning. It was about protecting online spaces from private, corporate interests. It was about net neutrality. It was about browser security. It was about giving kids a place to go where they weren't bombarded by ads.
It was about access.
Now corporate flunkies have started appropriating this language for their own vanity projects. None of them actually understand the internet. Or maybe they do, and they just don't want to admit the truth.
It's like that song in Avenue Q.
The internet is for porn. The internet is for porn. The internet is for porn. Why do you think the internet was born? It's porn, porn, porn.
There's lots of different kinds of porn.
There's productivity porn. There's lifestyle porn. There's finance bro porn. There's get rich and retire early porn. There's Zillow porn. There's tech porn. There's gamer porn. There's cottage core porn. There's wellness porn. There's anger porn. There's pretentious literary porn. There's crypto porn. There's homesteading porn. There's social justice porn. There's conspiracy porn.
There's classic pornhub porn.
And so on...
Everyone writes clickbait. Everyone wants your attention. Everyone wants to craft sizzling headlines. Everyone wants millions of views. Everyone wants money. You know who wants all that more than anyone?
The ones who say they don't.
Over the last few years, we've seen a special privileged class emerge who believes they're above all of this. They tend to come from Silicon Valley. They believe they're better than everyone else.
They're going to save us.
You probably know platforms like Substack and Medium. Just like Twitter, Threads, Bluesky, and the rest, they've launched campaigns to either save the internet or provide some kind of enclave where their fellow elites can huddle in scorn and judgment from everyone else.
Their CEOs talk big about ejecting clickbait and hate speech from their platforms. In the end, they only impose their own subjective worldview onto their users. They come up with definitions of clickbait and hate that serve their own incredibly narrow visions of what the internet should be.
Most of these CEOs are... wait for it...
Middle-aged white dudes.
Most of them actually can't and won't police the real harassment, trolling, and bullying on their platforms. They don't actually stand up against bullies. They often get rid of one kind of bully they don't like, just to bring in another kind of bully who shares their ideologies. They import their own biases and prejudices. They refuse to listen to anyone else.
They might pretend to.
It's been a solid 20 years now. We haven't seen a single platform manage to create an actual safe online community for their users. Facebook tried and failed. Twitter tried and failed, even before Elon Musk. Reddit tried and failed. Some of them even admit, they find it tedious. They hate having to moderate content. Nobody can agree on what content to moderate.
The problems we're seeing on the internet are symptoms. The root problem is that groups with opposing views are trying to silence each other. They all want control over the public sphere. They all want the power to decide who gets to speak and what kinds of discussions we can have.
Foucault had a framework for this.
It's the discursive function.
The communication theorists tried to tell us decades ago, there's no such thing as free speech. Nobody ever truly enjoys the autonomy to say whatever they want. There are always consequences. There is always someone deciding who gets to speak about what. You can't escape it.
It's fundamentally human.
After decades of trying, we're no closer to agreeing what to protect and what to regulate than we were at the beginning. If anything, it's gotten worse. We can't even agree on what clickbait is.
A few things seem pretty clear, though.
People show you who they really are on the internet. They say what they really think. Policing their speech doesn't make their worldviews go away. It probably does a lot to embolden them.
We probably would've been better off as a global society without social media. It created at least as many problems as it solved.
Is there any going back now?
I don't think so.
If anything, the internet seems to have exposed the power structures and the ideologies that actually dominate our lives. Politicians and CEOs took off their masks and stopped spouting platitudes so often. So did our neighbors. Maybe it only emboldened them in the sense that they could be more honest about what they were already thinking and doing.
Maybe that's a good thing.
We could kill the internet to save ourselves, maybe. We could spay the internet to make it a harmless home for funny cat videos.
The elite will never let that happen.
As long as the internet is run by CEOs and shareholders, it will never be truly safe. We'll never have an internet free of conflict. There's another song that comes to mind here. Try. Try. Try to separate them.
It's an illusion...
Conflict drives traffic and engagement. They need traffic and engagement in order to generate their endless profits. Yes, the internet was supposed to be about knowledge and learning. Information can bring in lots of engagement, too. It'll always have a home on the internet.
It'll never be the only thing.
Our tech overlords will never stop trying to save the internet. It's a good way to sell a new product. It's a good way to rebrand your company. It's an easy way to distinguish yourself from your competitors and poach their users. It's a convenient way to justify changes that users would otherwise protest. It's an effective way to micromanage everyone. Those are the only reasons they talk about it. None of them will ever make an honest effort to do it.
These misguided crusades to "save the internet" or "make a better internet" have occupied a central space in the platform wars. It's worth noting that all of these Twitter/X spinoffs have essentially failed.
None of them delivered.
None of them actually want to get rid of trolls. None of them want to get rid of hate speech. None of them want to get rid of clickbait. They simply want to endorse and elevate the version of it that they like.
Saving the internet is just like all the corporate charities and nonprofits we read about. They don't actually want to solve the world's problems. They often create those very problems. Then they force solutions on everyone that serve their own agendas. They exist to make the rich look noble.
Stop trying to save the internet.
It only makes things worse.