“I know it’s bad – but everyone’s doing it”

The optimists who got excited about the ‘everyone has a microphone’ promise of the Net 20 years ago overlooked two flaws in human nature:

First, given sufficient reward (money, attention, fame, notoriety) some people will show up and say and do things that they know are wrong.

Second, if enough people are in the first group of bottom fishers, many other people may decide that those behaviors aren’t as wrong as they thought they were. The internet ends up normalizing bad behavior, because bad behavior captures our attention and gets noticed. We multiply the outliers in our imagination and come to the erroneous conclusion that their behavior is common, when it actually isn’t.

There are two ways forward, and both are up to us: First, we can start paying more attention (rewarding) good behavior. And second, we can start modeling precisely the sort of discourse and contributions we hope to see from others.

The best antidote to a culture shifting to bad behavior is to re-normalize good behavior.


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