Before the widespread adoption of the internet, power dynamics were primarily constrained to real-world locations: the office, the dinner table, and the bedroom. In the modern era, amplified by algorithms and social media clout, power dynamics have shifted, changed, and impacted our society and culture in ways both positive and poisonous.
Whether we’re talking about the attack on the Capitol or the latest hot take on WallStreetBets, the power of online communities is undeniable. Masses of anonymous, faceless people sitting behind the perceived anonymity of their screens have collectively done what used to be largely thriller-movie fodder, like move markets and attempt to destroy governments.
Online communities have upended livelihoods, fortunes, and even threatened to render the fabric of democracy as we know it. They’ve also created tremendous social change and increased awareness around everything from sexual harassment in once cloistered industries to diversity and inclusion in nearly every aspect of society. Everything from the #MeToo movement to the Capitol attacks in January have originated in online communities and on social media.
So, how did we get here? From listservs to AOL chat rooms, from multi-player video game worlds to the darkest corners of the internet which spawned conspiracy theory group QAnon, how we’ve gathered online has taken on form after form.
But not all digital populaces have been created, are, or even want to be equal in their desires to exact change for the better or worse. So, what can we do to amplify those online collectives doing good in the world, while also addressing those working for naught in the ongoing culture war over the internet?