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How the Internet has Killed Civility

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A demonstrator stands outside Trump International Hotel Washington during its grand opening y in Washington, D.C. (photo by Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

This originally appeared in my Broke-Ass City column for the SF Examiner. It was originally about 2016 but rings just as true for 2017.  

If 2017 and I were Facebook friends, I would’ve blocked it months ago. If it could text me, I’d change my number. If we were at a party, I wouldn’t even want to be in the same room as 2017, let alone look the motherfucker in the eye.

All year long, it’s felt like we’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop, but instead of a single sneaker falling from a telephone wire, it’s been like Payless Shoes has dumped its entire unused inventory from a B-52 Bomber doing a flyby. What a shit year.

There has been way too much death this year. The deaths of beloved cultural heroes. The deaths of unarmed people of color at the hands of those who are supposed to protect them. The deaths of innocent people at the hands of terrorists. The deaths of refugees trying to run away from death.

Look, I know, I’ve read the same articles as you — the ones saying how this is actually a glorious time to be alive because fewer people are dying per capita than ever before. I get that; it’s grand. It’s wonderful that 2017 hasn’t been too terribly genocidal and that there haven’t been pandemics that have nearly wiped out entire populations.

But we’re also so much more connected than ever before. And that’s a complicated thing. Somehow, the technology that has given us the ability to be more empathetic and understanding of people we’ll never meet is also the same buffer that allows us to be far meaner and more vile to people we barely know.

Because of that, the most disturbing death of 2017 might be the death of civility.

Donald Trump is a deranged lunatic so in love with himself that Narcissus would be like, “Damn, son, you should chill.” His entire campaign and presidency has been fueled by racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and ableist rhetoric, all while taking to the internet to scream and yell about any perceived slight. Yet, even though he was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault GOP still didn’t turn their back on him.

Trump, the president of the United States, is basically the human embodiment of the comments section on a website, and that is terrifying. His campaign and presidency has been the public execution of civility. And because of that, there are political strategists right now who are calculating how far future candidates can run with the same tactics without going too far.

Oh yes, Trump’s meanness and contempt of other peoples’ humanity may very likely be the tenor for all political campaigns in the future. And we’ve started to see this in our local elections as well.

Last year when Supervisor Jane Kim asked her opponent, Supervisor Scott Weiner, to join her in pledging that they will not run negative attack ads on each other in their state Senate race, Weiner rejected it. Who does that?!

In that same election, PACs funded by evil billionaire Ron Conway — to help get Weiner elected — were equating a vote for Kim as a vote for domestic violence. Once again, who does that?!

The beast has been set free. And there’s some real fucking darkness ahead of us.

But you already know this. You experience this everyday on the internet. We’ve all seen people we think of as kind and intelligent in real life become rabies-ridden, garbage-spewing shit monsters while commenting on Facebook. We’ve seen sweet moms from the neighborhoods we grew up in yelling red-faced, digitally speaking, about how we need to bomb the hell out of places they’d never heard of the day before. We’ve seen people we respect respond so cruelly to other people we respect — yet who don’t know each other — that it’s made us question who they are fundamentally.

And these are just the people we know; anonymous comment sections on places like Reddit and 4Chan are where hate is a point of pride. Not having to talk to the person you’re disagreeing, with face to face, takes away the nuances of having to be respectful. We’re helping kill civility every single day.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that we can collectively take the Michelle Obama approach: “When they go low, we go high.” Maybe if we all did that, and responded to each other with things like, “Hey, it’s not OK to talk to people like that,” we might be able to change things. Maybe if we held our politicians and their financial backers to the same standard, we could avoid this bleak future. Until then, we will always remember 2017 as the year civility died.

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website BrokeAssStuart.com is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, Geek.com and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle , "an SF cult hero": SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.