Internet shaming spreads everywhere and lives forever. We need a way to fight it.
.. James Damore, the author of the notorious Google memo, has had his 15 minutes of fame. In six months, few of us will be able to remember his name. But Google will remember — not the company, but the search engine. For the rest of his life, every time he meets someone new or applies for a job, the first thing they will learn about him, and probably the only thing, is that he wrote a document that caused an internet uproar.
.. Try to imagine the Damore story happening 20 years ago. It’s nearly impossible, isn’t it? Take a company of similar scope and power to Google — Microsoft, say. Would any reporter in 1997 have cared that some Microsoft engineer she’d never heard of had written a memo his co-workers considered sexist?
.. Even if the reporter had cared, what editor would have run the story? On an executive, absolutely — but a random engineer who had no power over corporate policy? No one would have wasted precious, expensive column inches reporting it. And if for some reason they had, no other papers would have picked it up. Maybe the engineer would have been fired, maybe not, but he’d have gotten another job, having probably learned to be a little more careful about what he said to co-workers.
.. Rarely would someone’s notoriety follow them if they moved to another city.
.. Back then I saw Twitter as a tool for building social bonds. These days, I see it as a tool for social coercion.
.. Forager bands do not have or need police. They have social coercion so powerful that it is just as effective as a gun to the head. If people don’t like you, they might not take care of you when you’re injured, at which point, you’ll die. Or they won’t share food with you when your hunting doesn’t go well, at which point, you’ll die. Or they’ll shun you, at which point … you get the idea.
We now effectively live in a forager band filled with people we don’t know. It’s like the world’s biggest small town, replete with all the things that mid-century writers hated about small-town life: the constant gossip, the prying into your neighbor’s business, the small quarrels that blow up into lifelong feuds. We’ve replicated all of the worst features of those communities without any of the saving graces, like the mercy that one human being naturally offers another when you’re face to face and can see their suffering
.. Without the tempering instincts of intimate contact, without the ability to exit, it looks a lot more like brute, impersonal government coercion — the sort that the earliest and highest U.S. laws were written to restrain.
.. Given the way the internet is transforming private coercion, I’m not sure we can maintain the hard, bright line that classical liberalism drew between state coercion and private versions.
.. I find myself in more and more conversations that sound as if we’re living in one of the later-stage Communist regimes. Not the ones that shot people, but the ones that discovered you didn’t need to shoot dissidents, as long as you could make them pariahs — no job, no apartment, no one willing to be seen talking to them in public.