On anger and apologies on the internet

Posted on December 16, 2017

So in the last few days or so, it’s occurred to me that the current internet has a culture where everyone and everything must be perfect, and even the slightest offense causes widespread anger, panic, and vitriol. There’s no room for forgiveness anymore, and instead, mob mentality prevails and takes things to an unhealthy extreme.

I’ve been watching this whole Firefox/Mr Robot thing pan out over the last few days. If you’re out of the loop: basically Mozilla quietly installed an addon into most installations of Firefox. The addon was part of the Mr Robot ARG, but people are now livid that it got installed without any approval from the users. First off, I understand why users are angry; having that sort of access to all installs is a security risk, and it’s a violation of users’ trust. (Personally I saw the addon and looked it up, and being a fan of Mr Robot, didn’t really care all that much.) But the way it’s playing out, at least per responses on posts on Hacker News, Reddit, and so on, you’d think this is the worst crime ever committed. Apparently Mozilla is now just a company of major disappointments, shills, and sellouts; people should never donate to them ever again; and their CEO or whomever should step down and prostrate themselves before the internet and beg for forgiveness. This is a slight exaggeration of actual comments, but the point is that this is somehow an unforgivable incident.

You’d think that no one has ever made a mistake before in their lives, and apologizing and trying to make retributions is wholly impossible. Every company has screwed up at some point or another, but we still use and rely on their products. Remember how people complained endlessly every time Facebook changed their interface? Or all those times that Google made mistakes with their ad algorithms or maps issues? More recently, think the Patreon screw-up in their pricing, or a few years ago, when Reddit let their director of talent (and coordinator of AMAs) go and were roundly condemned for it. And everyone has at, at least once, sent a bad email, either by CC’ing a hundred people or saying something inappropriate and sending it to the wrong people. Everyone makes mistakes at one point or another. It happens. Unfortunately we’re human, and making mistakes is part of the human condition. And unfortunately, the internet is such that every mistake is broadcasted to the ends of the earth, retweeted and shared, and vitriolic comments stack up from anonymous users. Mob mentality takes over, the feelings and anger escalate, and things get exponentially out of control.

(Just to be clear, I believe there’s a huge difference here between mistakes like these, and actually serious things like BP’s oil spills, or a leak that exposes social security numbers. One causes irrevokable harm; the other leaves users with a less than stellar user experience.)

It’s a really scary world that offers no path for apology and forgiveness. Personally, I would want people to accept my shortcomings, and in turn, I can forgive theirs. A company that messes up like Mozilla did, where the scale is relatively small (compared to, say, environmental screw-ups) should be entirely forgivable. Firefox is still an excellent product made by a company who, I believe, really does care about privacy and transparency, and they should be allowed the occasional error.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *