Tuesday, February 27, 2018
The day before Valentine's Day, social media created a bizarro-world version of me. I have seen strange ideas about me online before, but this doppelgänger was so far from resembling me that I told friends and loved ones I didn't want to even try to rebut it. It was a leading question turned into a human form. The net created a person with my name and face, but with so little relationship to me, she could have been an invader from an alternate universe.
It is strange to see such a version of yourself invented and destroyed by networked rage. It made me sad and angry, but even more, I think, it inspired a horrified confusion in myself and those familiar with my work and my character. A digital effigy of me was built and burned.
It started when The New York Times hired me for its editorial board. In January, the Times sought me out because, editorial leaders told me, the Times as an institution is struggling with understanding how technology is shifting society and politics. We talked for a while. I discussed my work, my beliefs, and my background.
I've studied online communities since 1995. I know how many underlying technologies work, and how they might relate to their historical antecedents. I have spent time with individuals in various groups -- including hanging out in their spaces, witnessing their operations -- and written about it. I have worked with Anonymous and other internet communities that dwell far from the Overton window, which describes what sort of public discourse is tolerable. I identify politically as an anarchist pacifist.
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