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“the internet isn’t real life”

Neither are books or cable news, but you don’t see their influence over world culture so recklessly disparaged. It’s a fact that most Americans don’t use Twitter. But things are done and said on Twitter that can impact all Americans.

Online behaviorial patterns, especially the habits of obsessive subcultures, reflect the mindsets of a small slice of the population. But this isn’t irrelevant. In fact, it’s often disproportionately influential over the broader culture.
Through aggregration like Twitter’s algorithms, you’re going to see the most dedicated — or the most extreme — people and behaviors rise to the top of cultural awareness. Over time, outliers gain mass audiences. This is what Twitter was designed to do.
Internet culture can perhaps be considered a colloquial twenty minutes ahead; what’s cool online today may not matter much in the real world, but give it a few days, or years, and you’ll see normal people following suit.
It’s easy to dismiss online subcultures, particularly online political movements, as inconsequential in the short term. They often are. But it’s reckless to assume they all equally benign or esoteric.
Sometimes they explode into violence (see: many of the recent mass shootings worldwide, performed by Very Online young people.) And sometimes they are suppressed or ignored while spreading through mass culture until they sweep into prominence (see: Trump, Bernie.)
Pay attention to what’s driving traffic and conversation online. Think of culture like an massive ship with a tiny rudder; social networks have inherited the role of that rudder from traditional media. Where it turns, the ship eventually follows.
Why do some online phenomenons translate to real world influence and others remain isolated to the digital realm? Each subculture must be considered on a case by case basis, but there’s a simple answer to this question.
What movements and mindsets that translate to real world action? The ones that demand it.
Online organization led to the Arab Spring and the Hong Kong protests — the stakes necessitated real world action. Berners were so motivated to prevent a repeat of 2016 that they put real boots on the ground and made Bernie the presumptive frontrunner.
By contrast, most conspiracism encourages a kind of helplessness — vast forces are at work, so why bother — which causes the huuuge world of kooky online conspiracy theorists to self-quarantine, limiting their ability to inspire much except the plotlines of popular TV shows.
Generally, in so far as an online community has an ethos focused on the nexus between online and real world organization, it will only grow in influence so long as the internal demand for action is high.
So don’t let anybody tell you that the internet isn’t real life. For 21st century culture, the internet is where real life begins. If you’re active online with intent to change the world, then start the clock: it’s only a matter of time until the Very Online is Very Real.

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