“After being on the receiving end of enough aggression, everything starts to feel like an attack. Your skin thins until you have no defenses left. It becomes harder and harder to distinguish good-faith criticism from pettiness or cruelty. It becomes harder to disinvest from pointless arguments that have nothing at all to do with you. An experience that was once charming and fun becomes stressful and largely unpleasant. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. We have all become hammers in search of nails.” That’s Roxane Gay channeling the lament so many longtime internet users feel about what a bummer social media has become. NYT (gift article): Why People Are So Awful Online. It would take a collection of our best and brightest psychologists and sociologists to fully address this issue. But a few things I’ve noted. Social media rewards those who love conflict. While the rest of us are up all night worrying about a flame war, they’re sleeping like babies, happily nestled into their happy place. Relatedly, people at the extremes thrive on the conflict-riddled social media platforms. People in the sane middle are afraid to speak their minds because of a concern over being lambasted by one of those sides. And that fear is often driven by the attacks from people who are on your side of the political spectrum, but feel compelled to attack you because you’re not far enough over to that side. (For example, I get way more hate email or general complaints from the far left.) Meanwhile, online discourse becomes more and more extreme, and less and less connected to actual in-person interactions between real life human beings. As Gay points out, online “every harm is treated as trauma. Vulnerability and difference are weaponized. People assume the worst intentions. Bad-faith arguments abound, presented with righteous bluster. And these are the more reasonable online arguments. There is another category entirely of racists, homophobes, transphobes, xenophobes and other bigots who target the subjects of their ire relentlessly and are largely unchecked by the platforms enabling them. And then, of course, there are the straight-up trolls, gleefully wreaking havoc.”