Revenge, selfies and neoreactionaries: what the internet is doing to our society

The internet is profoundly shifting our sense of self - for good and ill. Can we promote the good and resist the bad?

Another Sunday round-up of links for you, but all on a common theme: senses of self in the digital age.

The internet is doing some interesting things to our sense of self. Some of it is positive, but some of it is distinctly less so. One rather sobering story emerged about a woman who has been campaigning against the rise of “revenge porn” – doctored or real images of women in revealing poses distributed to shame or humiliate them. Charlotte Laws has made a mission of combatting the man behind so much of it:

Revenge porn was a pack of wolves. It was tearing our family apart. Kayla was withdrawn. Charles was agitated, and I was obsessed. I contacted Hunter Moore’s publicist, his attorney, his hosting company, his Internet Service Provider in France, some of his advertisers and his mother’s former workplace at the city of Davis, where associates pressed for details about Mrs. Moore’s son and his venomous website. I also registered Kayla’s photo with the U.S. Copyright office and spoke to nine attorneys about copyright law, right to privacy and options for legal recourse. The consensus was that revenge porn was largely untested in the civil courts, while criminal laws were nonexistent, except in the state of New Jersey. Within days, I became an expert on revenge porn; and it was not long before lawyers were telephoning me for guidance.

It’s at once an unsettling account and an inspiring one – people can fight back.

Of course, people are posting increasing numbers of images of themselves online. The rise of the “selfie” in recent years has led to it being declared word of the year. Could the selfie be a positive thing for young women‘s self-confidence?

The selfie is a tiny pulse of girl pride—a shout-out to the self. Earlier this week, the first three women to complete Marine infantry combat training, along with a fourth who completed most of the hurdles but was injured before her final physical fitness test, posted a jubilant selfie.* (Nancy Pelosi tweeted it as “selfie of the year.”) If you write off the endless stream of posts as image-conscious narcissism, you’ll miss the chance to watch girls practice promoting themselves—a skill that boys are otherwise given more permission to develop, and which serves them later on when they negotiate for raises and promotions.

Interesting argument, although it does rather skirt around the problem of this self-confidence being entirely based on appearance, rather than taking it head on. If you’re interested in exploring this further, Om Malik has a bunch of selfie reading for you.

The selfie is just a form of identity-building on social networks, but we might not even have to do that for ourselves soon, if a new Google patent comes to anything:

The Google message-automation service promises to at last close the realtime loop: A computer running personalization algorithms will generate your personal messages. These computer-generated messages, once posted or otherwise transmitted, will be collected online by other computers and used to refine your personal profile. Your refined personal profile will then feed back into the personalization algorithms used to generate your messages, resulting in a closer fit between your computer-generated messages and your computer-generated persona. And around and around it goes until a perfect stasis between self and expression is achieved.

Completely automated communication, taking the “social” right our of “social networking”…

And if you need any evidence that the tech world does not lead inevitably to cultural progress, Klint Finley wants to introduce you to the Neoreactionaries over on TechCrunch:

Neoreactionaries believe that while technology and capitalism have advanced humanity over the past couple centuries, democracy has actually done more harm than good. They propose a return to old-fashioned gender roles, social order and monarchy.

Not, in fact, a joke.

Photo by Susana Fernandez and used under a Creative Commons licence