Roy Tang

Programmer, engineer, scientist, critic, gamer, dreamer, and kid-at-heart.

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:: 572 words

tech-life

I posted a quote yesterday about how if you’re feeling like an outsider or you don’t belong, you should take the take to try and “find the others” who are more similar to yourself. For every person, there likely exists a “tribe”, not necessarily all in one place, a community where that person would fit in. And in the modern age, the internet and social media make it all the more easier for such “outsiders” to connect with each other.

There is a power to this connection, to finding your tribe. It gives you strength and reinforces your beliefs and reassures you that you aren’t some strange outlier undeserving of connection. This is why nerd culture has become so popular lately. Traditionally seen as outcasts in the 90s and earlier, now more than ever it has become acceptable to have geeky interests like comic books, Star Wars, tech stuff, and so on. As the early adopters of the online community, nerd culture found its footing earlier than other subcultures, and they found that yes, there are a lot of us, and now the big businesses are starting to listen, seeing the “nerds” as a massive market to be served.

This connectivity has some downsides too though, since it does not discriminate. This means that even followers of fringe views such as white supremacists, flat earthers, antivaxxers, conspiracy theorists, and so on can connect to each other. If you can find your tribe, they can too. The more fringe the view, the more the worldwide connectivity can empower them. Whereas before a small community might have at most 1 antivaxxer, he would have no source of materials to support his fringe view thus finding it difficult to spread his views. But multiply that with tens of thousands of such communities connected globally online, and you have potentially tens of thousands of antivaxxers. With the internet allowing antivaxxers to reach out to each other and form Facebook groups and discussion forums and such, they can spread the word more easily reinforce their own suspicions about mainstream channels and try to convince other people to join their cause. This can apply to any fringe group.

Just take a look at the recent Christchurch massacre in New Zealand. The gunman livestreamed and uploaded a video manifesto online and the social media channels had a lot of trouble trying to block the spread of the video. Tens of thousands were re-sharing it, some even modifying the video to evade filters. Supportes in such violence might be rare in your local community, but online they are able to gather in the thousands.

It feels like a fundamental weakness in freedom of speech. The traditional argument in favor of allowing all speech is that the best ideas rise to the top and the terrible ones are drowned out, that such fringe views would fall to the wayside in the light of superior arguments. But that doesn’t take into account people being stupid and succumbing to their confirmation biases and ignoring anything that doesn’t support their world views. And as we can see with terrorism, fringe views don’t require widespread support in order to damage real lives. This feels like one of those instances, where we have to sacrifice a little bit of freedom for a little bit of security (and probably lose both).

I don’t like it. Hopefully it’s something humanity will be able to figure out sometime soon.

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roytang.net is a personal site; I post about a random assortment of topics that interest me including software development, Magic the Gathering, pop culture, gaming, and tech life. This site is perpetually under renovation.