First, go read Reddit Makes Me Hate Atheists (for a classic example of the braying mob trying to troll a fifteen-year-old girl off the internet by making rape jokes about her). It’s old hat to anybody who frequents internet discussion communities that lack consistent moderation, but it may be eye-opening to many of you because:

Many civilized people abandon communities like this LONG before the discussion falls to such a low level.

My mother was right about some things and wrong about many other things, but she was right about this: Who we are is, at least partially, defined and created by the company we keep. If you participate in a community that allows its tone to be set by a seeming majority of internet fuckwads, you may be a bit of an internet fuckwad yourself. If you didn’t start that way, the culture of fuckwaddery (like any other) is somewhat contagious; and even if your personal immune system is stronger than most, there’s still guilt-by-association to contend with.

There are ways to keep internet discussion communities non-toxic, but they all require substantial human effort. Sometimes it’s a moderation team with endless time, patience, and discretion; sometimes it’s a community moderation scheme backed up by a community with enough shared values in common to give the up-voting and down-voting some coherence. Sometimes (and this was more common in those legendary days of yore before all the assholes got on the internet, just ask any grey-bearded nethead and he’ll tell you, at length) a non-toxic internet discussion just happens, for a few hours or a few days or a few months. But that never lasts. Whatever the means by which non-shitty conversation happens on the internet, there usually comes a time when it stops happening, when the internet fuckwads begin to dominate the discourse, and all the interesting people get driven away.

The only exceptions I’ve seen have involved that “substantial human effort” I mentioned. Autocratic moderation or informal majoritarian censure, it takes work to keep a conversation civil after the fuckwads have begun to accumulate. And once that work begins to fail, as inevitably as Rome did, you’ll soon find that many of the conversational participants who made the conversation worth having are silenced or driven away by the booming echoing fuckwaddery.

I’m never seen a community recover from that.

So, once the conversation descends below a certain level, it may fairly be asked of the remaining participants: if you don’t consider yourself an internet fuckwad, why are you still there?

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