I just finished up my first Facebook jail sentence, and I have a couple thoughts.
First, I deserved it. No doubt about it, I earned my sentence. In fact, I’m surprised it took so long for me to get put in the virtual hoosegow.
I feel like the Internet I started on back in the early 90’s was the Wild West –anything went. You could say whatever you wanted.
The first time I logged onto Prodigy (that’s right, Prodigy!), it took approximately 4 seconds for someone to insult me in chat (I was typing in all caps). I don’t remember exactly what was said –something about my parents, rat poison, and a slow death– but I recall being impressed by the wit, vocabulary, and vicious beauty of the well-crafted barb. It stung, but it was also funny.
“Oh!” I thought. “Words are weapons here!”
Being good with words, I loved that idea. Within a few months I was jumping into Internet arguments with both guns blazing -my barrels spitting out cutting, witty, and deliciously profane clauses.
In this world, I was a gunslinger.
These ‘flame wars’ were opportunities to not just argue and insult, but to do so in new, entertaining, intelligent, and hilariously profane ways. Arguing on the Internet was both a contest between individuals and a spectator sport, kinda like a rap battle. It was entertainment. It was a game.
When Internet forums and bulletin boards replaced BBS’ and IRC, I just switched up the venue and continued the game. When social media supplanted forums, I did it again.
It was still a game to me –those that couldn’t take the heat should stay out of the flame war, I told myself.
Then, sometime in the last decade, it stopped being a game. It stopped being fun, or funny, or witty, or creative. All that was left was the vicious profanity and personal insults.
I was there for that, too –a merciless mocker of my adversaries, long after the sport had gone out of it.
By that time I wasn’t even trying anymore. The insults I hurled weren’t thought-out or artfully-crafted; they were the digital equivalent of a drive-by shooting: a sudden torrent of profanity and insults whose source disappeared before a response could be offered.
I wasn’t the only one. The once-fun flame wars had devolved into hateful virtual slugfests whose consequences were spilling into the actual streets, and people were getting tired of it.
Social media companies started taking notice, and a couple of years ago, virtual cops started policing our online language and behavior.
If the Internet in the 1990’s was the Wild West, then by 2018 its buffalo were dead, the natives were on reservations, barbed-wire had cut the open-range, and gunfighters were no longer welcome.
It took me a bit to get it –I was reluctant to believe the era was over– but by the time they turned me out of the virtual cell into the bright sunlight this morning, I’d realized the Old West was long gone. The time of the gunslingers has passed.
So, thanks for driving the point home, Facebook. I get it. Time to hang up the guns.
It’s a new era.
The law has come to the territories.