Why Do We Anthropomorphize the Internet? [Content Made Simple]

Issue #176: Read the crazy, scary story of an innocent man being doxed following a viral video of a crime he didn't commit.

Quick bit of news: I’ve signed a contract to publish a book with B&H Publishing Group. It is tentatively due out Fall 2021.

Generally, the book is about the effects of the social internet on us, and how to push back on some of the lies we are led to believe by engaging with the social internet. For instance, we are led to believe the lie that "Reality is relative to my beliefs" for a number of reasons, namely that Facebook algorithms create echo chambers in which we are reaffirmed in our beliefs, however wrong they may be, leading some to go as far as sharing conspiracy theories. The book will unpack a number of such phenomena (cancel culture, privacy issues, how we decide what is “important”) and provide some tools to be aware of these distortions so that we can fight back against them.

Now, on with the email.



We used to talk about the internet like a place to “log on.” Now we talk about the internet as a person (“The internet went wild about this cat video.”). What led to that shift?



The mobility of the internet increases our interest in personifying it. In the 90s, you had to go into your “computer room” and “boot up” your “desktop” in order to socialize with the Irish deep sea fishing aficionados you met in an AOL chatroom.

Today, to share a picture of the 200-pound marlin you caught this weekend with your buddy O’Donahue, all you have to do is whip out your phone, snap a picture, and upload it to the deep sea fishing subreddit.


Joanne McNeil’s book Lurking has been one of my favorite reads of the last year or so. It’s a quick read, and I highly recommend it if you’re looking to learn how the social internet got to where it is today. Early in the book, she identifies the fact that we, at some point, transitioned from recognizing the internet as a place to recognizing it as a person. In this post, I elaborate on that a bit.


Social Qs #009: Can Social Media Change Hearts and Minds?

Following the major movements in our world right now, will our hearts and minds really have been changed by social media and the social activism on the platforms? We discuss this week.


Link #1: @Breaking911 on Twitter: You Probably Don’t Want to Trust This Account

With what feels like endless amounts of “breaking news” dropping every day the last few weeks, @Breaking911 has had a bit of a field day on Twitter. I’ve seen people sharing the account for a number of years, and have always sorta wondered about what it is and who runs it. This is an interesting article explaining why you may want to be a bit careful as you follow it.

The original Breaking911 account appears to carry the authority (and big-time social following) of a news organization: Its Twitter bio says it provides “breaking news in real time,” and its logo and handle resemble major news organizations’ breaking news Twitter accounts, such as NBC News’s “@BreakingNews” handle. But Breaking911 just aggregates news from other sources, and experts say it has frequently spread misinformation. Though the site is influential enough to merit copycats, it’s been unclear until now who runs and contributes to Breaking911 and what editorial standards its staff might adhere to.

Link #2: What Is Elite TikTok?

Just…just read the paragraphs below and be utterly amazed at kids these days.

(Honestly I think this is pretty awesome, and I love seeing how kids get creative with stuff like this.)

Megan, 14, who runs @walmart.department.store, said that acting out scenarios as a multinational corporation is a fun creative exercise. “Some stores date,” she said. “They make fake things happen between them. I know Goldfish and Fruit Gushers are dating. I’m pretty sure In-N-Out Burger and some other restaurants are a couple too.”

Eleanor, 14, who runs @Swiffer_Official, said that she prefers that TikTok account over her main account. It’s lower-stakes and allows her to engage in silly feuds with fake competitors.

“If you’re Takis, you try to expose Hot Cheetos because they’re your enemies,” she said. “You’ll find bad reviews of Cheetos online and make a video about them. It’s cancel culture, but fun. We all canceled Dasani because no one likes Dasani.”

Link #3: What It’s Like to Get Doxed for Taking a Bike Ride

This is a wild story, but it unfortunately is more common than you would expect.

By the standards of the pandemic, Thursday had been a normal day for Peter Weinberg. A 49-year-old finance marketing executive, he worked from his home in Bethesda, Maryland, right outside of the District of Columbia, staying busy with Zoom meetings and the new rituals of our socially isolated world.

Then, around 10 p.m., he received an irate message on LinkedIn from someone he didn’t know. He brushed it off, thinking it was probably just spam. Then he got another. And another. The third message was particular strange, as it mentioned something about the cops coming to find him. Perplexed, he watched as the messages continued to pile up. They were all so similar: angry, threatening, accusatory. His profile views suddenly soared into the thousands.


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