Was the internet built on a false optimism about human virtue by naive people who aspired to make the world a better place by connecting everyone?
This is the subject of a short but thoughtful essay by David French in the National Review, sparked off by the hypocrisies of social media censorship, most recently Facebook’s clumsy U-turn on its blocking of PragerU videos.
French proceeds to ask a set of ‘what ifs’ in answer to this initial question:
‘What if the net effect of all this connection is that human flaws are magnified perhaps even more than human virtues, problems can’t either be coded or managed away, and whether good or evil ultimately wins is in constant doubt? What if the result is a product that people feel they can’t do without (great for the bottom line) but that also magnifies anger and division, leading to a constant outcry from customers distressed by their experience with your product? And then what if your product serves the whole nation, but your colleagues and peers almost exclusively reflect the ideas and worldview of a small slice of the progressive elite?’
He explains why neither complaints-based systems nor authoritarian crackdowns will work, let alone please all the conflicting interest constituencies at play.
He sees a series of choices looming ‘between a miserable status quo, an alienating authoritarian future, and a more rational but less progressive regime that strikes the same kinds of balances that have benefited American culture for more than two centuries’.
You can read the whole essay here – it sets out the parameters of the debate we need to be having.