Let's Use the Internet to Prove Everyone Wrong

Recently, my fondness for podcasts led me to “Reply All,” a show about all things Internet from Gimlet media. The hosts, Alex and PJ (and sometimes another Alex), lead listeners through the ins and outs of internet culture. The podcast takes a sort of anthropological approach to anything from memes to ISIS’s social networking techniques. There’s one episode that, ever since I first listened to it, I can’t get out of my mind: “The Prophet.”

 

This episode weaves a vast web of connections between America, Mexico, sexual assault, Twitter, a presidential race, and the Mexican version of 4Chan (because that’s a thing). Spoiler alert: the point of the episode is that internet phenomena can impact even the outcome of a major political event. The internet, in the hands of its users, can change history.

If you ask any person over a certain age (Baby boomers, in particular), they’ll likely tell you that the internet is an overall negative influence on American youth and their culture. Since we grew up using technology, though, we don’t know a world without it. The internet has always been our playground. But, as our generation is growing up, and our interest in pixelated video games is turning to social networks, the toy we’ve always had is maturing with us. Older people may have a point that people our age are absorbed in our phones. We use them, though, for the same reason others would read a newspaper or watch CNN. The internet is how we stay up to date on current events; it also provides us an accessible way to insert ourselves into the dialogue.

 

In “The Prophet,” so-called “Twitter mercenaries” are hired to divert bad press from a Mexican presidential candidate by covering it up with banal hashtags and fake stories (sound familiar?). One of these people amassed a following of pre-teens intrigued by faceless threats of violence on the internet. When the reporter’s personal experience became political, this legion of kids focuses its energy on her. This is just one example of the internet’s reach into our personal lives. Imagine if the internet, and the tactics and motivations of its users (good or bad), could reach elsewhere.

 

As it turns out, this is already happening. Last year’s conversation about net neutrality, which the FCC decided to repeal, highlighted the user experience of one of the most common denominators of American society. We all use the internet, even if we do it indirectly. The net neutrality debate affected all of us, private citizens and corporations alike. In this way, as in many others, the internet can’t be ignored as a societal issue.

We can’t deny that a global culture has developed in the past century. Americans are tied to people from all over the world via Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, and a host of other social media sites. For our generation especially, the internet is our network. Our friends aren’t limited by proximity because we are in contact with people who live in other countries and on other continents. These connections give us a way to spread news in a very public way in a very short amount of time.

 

All this is to say that maybe the internet isn’t such a bad thing. In the hands of millennials, it’s often been dedicated to cat videos, pranks, and memes. But the internet is also the organizing tool of our generation. If hundreds of bought-and-sold tweets can troll a presidential election (something that’s happened more than once), we definitely have proof that the internet is a powerful way to make things happen in the modern world.

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