How did the internet become so horrific?

I can dimly remember the internet getting going, gradually staking its claims on our attention with hardly anyone except tech nerds – and famously David Bowie – realising what was going on. In our defence it was the 1990s and we had a lot else to think about: Britpop, The End of History, lads’ mags, guacamole, supermodels, Tony Blair, Monica Lewinsky, etc. But here we all are now, in a world where I can do my banking from bed, America is fragmenting like papier-mâché in the rain, and primary school children can get porn on their smartphones. Can anyone recall the incremental steps that brought us here? If not, it

The problem with being anti-woke

I’m going to do something that will likely annoy you, dear reader: I am going to make an argument about a certain class of people without naming names. If I do name names, any response will devolve into a debate over whether I am unfairly tarring the individuals in question. That’s beside the point, because the phenomenon in question is undoubtedly real. That phenomenon is anti-wokeness curdling into reactionary crankery. Don’t get me wrong: as I’ve previously written, I think there’s a moral panic afoot in many liberal institutions. Whether you want to call it ‘wokeness’ or something else, it seems undeniably the case that a culture of illiberalism has corroded

The nihilistic rise of ‘loss porn’

It’s been a terrible few weeks for that guy you know. Bitcoin dropped to a ten-month low (apparently thanks to something called ‘stablecoins’), while $1 trillion has been wiped off the largest tech companies on the stock markets. ‘Retail investors’ – non-professionals with little more than an internet connection – are struggling. You might expect many of them to put their heads in their hands and log off. But that would be to misunderstand the nihilism of online culture. Losing is the same as winning, only better. The thing to do is to post evidence of your catastrophic losses. It’s called ‘loss porn’ and if you look at the ‘WallStreetBets’ page on

Is Twitter about to step up its censorship?

Farewell then @jack. Jack Dorsey’s departure from Twitter on Monday came as no surprise given that the firm Elliott Management, one of Twitter’s activist investors, almost ousted him last year. Only the coronavirus may have prolonged the inevitable. Twitter’s stock keeps dropping. It may not reach the revenue and daily user projections for 2023 that it set last February. It also has the smallest ‘Big Tech’ user base, behind Facebook, YouTube and TikTok. The prevailing theory is that Dorsey’s departure involves Elliott Management, which controls two board seats and over $1 billion in stock shares, and which flexed enough muscle to boot Dorsey out. Elliott executives seemed dubious of Dorsey’s

Internet users are the new surrealists, and they keep changing the world

As 2021 continues to progress at a dizzying rate, one of the recurring social phenomenon we’re seeing is the surreal eruption of online activism in the real world. From the recent explosion of GameStop share prices – hiked up by amateur investors co-ordinating online – to the large-scale protests and riots in Washington following the 2020 Presidential election, the communities in cyberspace continue to spill out into the real world. The question is: why are these kinds of actions becoming an increasingly unsettling occurrence in the usual running of society? In the lexicon of web-design, the term UX, user experience, is often used to describe how an individual may interact

Memes vs Wall Street: how Reddit took on US hedge funds

What did you do this week? I spent it drenched in sweat, launching a vicious assault on Wall Street hedge funds which cost them $5 billion (£3.7 billion). And I didn’t even have to put my trousers on. Along with thousands of other degenerates, I bought shares in GameStop, a struggling US video game store whose value has soared by 2,000 per cent in the last four weeks. Behind the surge is a wild Reddit community called WallStreetBets, where bored young men gamble on barely researched stock tips and crack tasteless jokes. The community, whose tagline is ‘like 4chan found a Bloomberg terminal’, has a long and hilarious history of

The toxic side-effect of the Trump Twitter ban

Almost two weeks on from the storming of the US Capitol it’s becoming plainer that the most substantive changes to our political and public spheres are brewing not in Congress but on the internet. First, let’s be clear: Twitter had to act against Trump. By deleting his account, it shut down a large part of his ability to provoke civil unrest. Trump has not been unfairly ‘censored’ and free speech does not give someone the right to stoke violence and insurrection: either in principle or in law. The wider ethical and even philosophical ramifications of gagging the leader of the free world are a different story. Angela Merkel called the ban

Trump vs Twitter: the battle begins

When Tony Wang, general manager of Twitter in the UK, described the company as the ‘free speech wing of the free speech party’ he was expressing an ideal that would soon collapse. This was in 2012, long before the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency was anything other than a flippant punchline in The Simpsons. Six months after the 2016 election, Twitter’s co-founder Evan Williams expressed his regret for the part they played in securing Trump’s victory. The implication – that the decisions of the general public are shaped by bad actors who prey on their malleability, and it is the responsibility of technocrats to do something about it –

Are there ways in which virtual exhibitions are better than real ones?

Six months ago I published a book about travelling to look at works of art. One such journey involved a round trip of about 6,000 miles to contemplate minimalist sculptures in the Texan desert. But the point wasn’t so much the distance as the importance of standing physically in front of the works themselves. Seeing the actual thing, I argued, was fundamentally different from looking at it in a book or on a screen. Nowadays, of course, unless you live within walking distance of a notable sculpture, that’s really all there is. A week ago my inbox was flooded with messages announcing that the art institutions of the world were

The Best Talks and Debates on the Internet

The internet has changed beyond recognition in recent years. In the noughties we consumed short, digestible bursts of information online. But now there’s a growing appetite for long-form intellectual content – the internet is chockablock with podcasts, discussions and debates. People are going online to explore ideas that, before, would never have been found beyond the bounds of a university campus. As Douglas Murray revealed here on Spectator Life, the most radical contemporary thinkers are joining the likes of Jordan Peterson in tapping into this growing desire to discuss philosophical and political questions online. In doing so, they sidestep the censorious culture of some universities and reach an online audience