Culture / 

06 Sep 2021

Dead Internet Theory

About a year ago, in mid-summer 2021, “Dead Internet Theory” was having a moment. I’m not sure where exactly the term came from—I can only find discussion about it, rather than its origin—but it’s an interesting little mental nugget to chew on.

As Kaitlyn Tiffany writes in The Atlantic, the idea is pretty ridiculous on its face, but there’s something to it. Just not the big conspiracy theory that some people clearly want it to be (don’t they always want a Grand Conspiracy, though?)

After all, large parts of the Internet are dead. Have you been on Usenet lately? It’s mostly just bots talking to themselves, now.

The majority—by some estimates, the vast majority—of email traffic is spam; we just don’t see it because Google and others’ filtering has (barely) kept it out of our inboxes. But actual emails sent from one human to another are, from the perspective of a core router somewhere, pretty rare.

Twitter and Facebook? Lousy with bots and spam. Their crapass excuse for moderation, and all the millions of dollars they spend on trained neural net detection algos, just barely keep the signal-to-noise ratio bearable so the real users don’t leave.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the Web itself is, by weight, mostly automatically-generated spam. For every actively-maintained site there are probably a dozen crap ones, created expressly for the purpose of deceiving the unwary traveler. And then there are all the festering corpses: once-loved sites left to decay, ancient CAPTCHAs thoroughly broken, their comment sections an unending argument between dueling penis-enlargement spambots.

Humans live at the bleeding edge, in the gap between the continuously-advancing frontier of new media, and the implacable fungus-like growth of anticontent that comes after, infiltrating everything, eventually poisoning the host. Users have to keep moving, keep proving to each other that they are real.