Over the past decade in particular, the internet and social media have changed the game. They speed people to like-minded warriors and give them the impression of broader company or sturdier validation than really exist. The fervor of those in the anti-vaccine movement exemplifies this. So did the stamina of Americans who insisted that Barack Obama was born abroad — and who were egged on by Donald Trump.
Admirers of a responsible politician or righteous cause coalesce quickly, but the same goes for followers of a hatemonger or crackpot. One good articulation of this came from David Simas, who was Obama’s political director, in a New Yorker article by David Remnick that deconstructed the 2016 election.What people find on the web “creates a whole new permission structure, a sense of social affirmation for what was once unthinkable,” Simas told Remnick. Obama, in his own comments to Remnick, picked up that thread, saying, “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll.”“The capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal — that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate,” Obama added. Suspicion blossoms into certainty. Pique flowers into fury.
Writing about last week's shooter of the Repbulican Congressman:
His life online reflected the goosing, goading, amplifying power of social media and the eminence of outrage in public debate. As Michael Gerson noted in The Washington Post after the shooting, today’s partisans “have made anger into an industry — using it to run up the number of listeners, viewers and hits.” Mocking and savaging political opponents have been “not only normalized but monetized,” Gerson added, and he stated the obvious, which needed stating nonetheless: “If words can inspire, then they can also incite or debase.”