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What is the Dead Internet Theory?

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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MSU chapter.

Since the late 2010s, internet users have speculated on a theory that most posts, users, and interactions had been replaced by bots and AI-generated content. Kaitlyn Tiffany wrote in The Atlantic that the internet as we knew it before died some time in 2016. But what exactly does this mean?

Conspiracy theorists have published the most outlandish propositions, driving their viewers to spiral along the lines of revolution and delusion. However, the dead internet theory gained more traction and even credibility after a thread posted on Agora Road. 

“Large proportions of the supposedly human-produced content on the internet are actually generated by artificial intelligence networks in conjunction with paid secret media influencers in order to manufacture consumers for an increasing range of newly-normalised cultural products,” the thread says.

Candidly, the theory is stating that nothing on the current internet is real. There are two sides to this idea that are worth noticing. On one side, we see the Internet, websites, and social media being infiltrated by bots that drive false engagement. On the other end, we see real users publishing content that is only suitable to what can be marketed. Max Read writes in Intelligencer and insists that everything, and I mean everything, is fake: the metrics, the people, the business, the content, the politics, and last but not least, we ourselves are fake.

Read concludes by seeking a solution and asks where this leaves us. He briefly describes a hypothetical event called “the inversion,” where data-analyzing systems would detect bot traffic as real traffic and human traffic as fake. Read suggests we could “red-pill ourselves back to reality,” reverting to pre-inversion times and gaining trust in the content we consume.

The internet is indeed different from what it was just a few years ago. Many have found that as the algorithms become more curated, interactions grow less organic, and in turn, create “lonely” online experiences. For now, we may find comfort in just simply shutting down our devices, and stepping outside, but when outside feels like online, where does the problem start and end?

Think about it: when was the last time you had an original experience? If that frightens you in the slightest bit, I can assure you that overall, there is no reason to worry. The dead internet theory is not particularly entirely true. 

“The dead internet theory might not reflect the reality of the average browsing experience, but it does describe the feeling of boredom and alienation that can accompany it,” Dani Di Placido wrote in an article for Forbes.

I’ll leave you with a few words of advice: stay true, stay real, and stay off the internet.

Osa is a researcher and writer from Detroit, MI. She bases her work at the intersections of media, information, technology, and philosophy. As the worldliest experiences become magnified by new technology, she takes interest in the way ideas are exchanged, the inventions behind it, and their influence on society. Bearing witness to the digitalization of communication— the rise of the Internet, smartphones, and social media— she knew life would never be the same as before. This is what inspires her. Her mission is to serve in researching secure, innovative, and accessible information solutions. Music, languages, and nature are amongst her personal interests. When she isn’t drafting her latest report, she is making the best of her time. She is dedicated to living an informed life by reading books, conversing with people, and exploring new areas of the world.