19 clicks or less

Right now there are more than 14 billion pages on the Web, containing more than a trillion documents (videos, images, etc.). And according to Hungarian physicist Albert-László Barabási:

Like actors in Hollywood connected by Kevin Bacon, from every single one of these pages you can navigate to any other in 19 clicks or less.

The Royal Society referenced Barabási’s 19-click rule last week, which Smithsonian.com took as a report on new findings. They’ve since corrected that — Barabási first proposed this back in 1999. But it’s not out-of-date news, since what he found showed that this 19-click rule would continue to apply no matter how much the Web grows:

Barabási credits this “small world” of the Web to human nature — the fact that we tend to group into communities, whether in real life or the virtual world. The pages of the Web aren’t linked randomly, he says: They’re organized in an interconnected hierarchy of organizational themes, including region, country and subject area.

Interestingly, this means that no matter how large the Web grows, the same interconnectedness will rule. Barabási analyzed the network looking at a variety of levels — examining anywhere from a tiny slice to the full 1 trillion documents — and found that regardless of scale, the same 19-click-or-less rule applied.

I find this reassuring. The Web contains a great deal of misinformation, legend, BS, spin, error and outright falsehood. But on the Web, no mistake is ever more than 19 clicks away from its correction, and no lie is ever more than 19 clicks away from the truth.

That underscores the importance of the warning we read the other day from J.R. Daniel Kirk:

One of the worst mistakes we can make, especially in a day and age where media will tell people the truth if we don’t, is to affirm a vision of a single-voiced scripture that fails to correspond to the text we have actually been given.

Jesus was warning against hypocrisy and duplicity when he said in Luke 12:

Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.

But that warning also applies to those who would attempt to contain or control others by containing or controlling the truth. That’s harder to do when the truth is only 19-clicks-or-less away.

And that’s also why I think Elizabeth Scalia may be partly right when she asks if, “Benedict’s recent entry into Twitter has had anything to do with the seeming abruptness” of his abdication.

Scalia argues that:

When … Benedict finally logged on to Twitter he got to see firsthand the sort of raw, unhinged anti-Catholic hatred so active within social media threads. … It must have been a shocking revelation to encounter the vilest expressions of hatred, the intentional voicings of malice and evil hopes, flung squarely at the Holy Father, in real time.

A hoped-for encounter with the faithful also brought an encounter with something wicked. It exposed Benedict to, perhaps, a reality he had formerly been spared.

And she says that this exposure to the ugliness of some social media compelled Benedict to abdicate the papacy in order to devote himself to prayer over the wicked state of the world.

Photo by Eigenes Werk, via Wikipedia.

That is one possibility. It’s possible that, as Scalia argues, Benedict caught his first glimpse of the vitriol of trolls and YouTube comment sections and 4chan and, recoiling in appropriate horror, chose to devote himself full-time to prayerful “penance for the church, and for the world — for those of us who cannot or will not do it, ourselves.”

But Benedict has spent his life studying theology. Not even the most hateful local newspaper comment thread or the vilest sub-sub-sub-reddit ought to have surprised him. The manifestations of human sinfulness revealed in even the ugliest corners of the Web are something that any theologian as well-read as Benedict would have expected.

But that wasn’t the only “reality he had formerly been spared” that Benedict would have encountered when he “finally logged on to Twitter.” The more surprising reality for someone like him who has spent so many decades within the bubble of unquestioned authority would be the harsh reality that most people do not afford him the extreme deference he expects and demands.

That, I think, would have been very surprising indeed for someone who lives in a world of thrones and hierarchies and rings that are literally kissed. If there was a “shocking revelation” from the pope joining Twitter, that was probably it.

Al Mohler, who I sometimes joke acts like he’s the Southern Baptist pope, is more aware that the Web — and the world — is full of people who may not be awed by the spiritual authority of church leaders. In his post today on “The Christian Leader in the Digital Age,” he seems to recognize the way that the Web’s bounty of accessible information threatens the authority of those whose power has rested on controlling that access:

The Internet has also disrupted the stable hierarchies of the old information age. A teenager with a computer can put out a blog that looks more authoritative than the blog written by the CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation – and perhaps read by more people as well. Most of what appears on the Internet is unedited, and much of it is unhelpful. Some is even worse.

And yet, if you are not present on the Internet, you simply do not exist, as far as anyone under 30 is concerned. …

The digital world is huge and complicated and explosive. It contains wonders and horrors and everything in between. And it is one of the most important arenas of leadership our generation will ever experience. If you are satisfied to lead from the past, stay out of the digital world. If you want to influence the future, brace yourself and get in the fast lane.

I give Mohler credit for bracing himself and jumping in. But I’m still not sure he fully realizes the implications of living in “a day and age where media will tell people the truth if we don’t.”

 

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I give Mohler credit for bracing himself and jumping in. But I’m still not sure he fully realizes the implications of living in “a day and age where media will tell people the truth if we don’t.”

    I think from Mohler’s point of view it is fairly simply: He knows The Truth™ and he needs to be online to continue to assert The Truth™.  Anyone else who claims to have the truth he can then be there to tell them that they are wrong, his truth is The Truth™, and they can expect divine legal action for intending to infringe on his claim to The Truth™.  

  • AnonymousSam

    The Web has trouble if we continue to reply on sloppy journalism for all our information, as is the case for 100% of people not in direct contact with whatever it is we need to know about.  Just look at the Sandy Hook shooting and how much misinformation surrounded it — still surrounds it in some cases (I still have to tell people that Nancy Lanza wasn’t a teacher and that Ryan Lanza wasn’t killed as well). We have information at a click, but it’s not necessarily true information until well after the misinformation has become accepted as fact.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    “The vilest expressions of hatred, the intentional voicings of malice and evil hopes,” strikes me as a pretty fair description of the Church’s positions on the rights of LGBT people, women, and the victims of priestly sex crimes and other injustices such as the enslavement of women in the Magdelene Laundries.  Granted, the Pope himself avoids using the vilest expressions of hatred and couches his malice and evil hopes in diplomatic language, but the efforts to deny basic human rights and justice are nonetheless malicious and evil for that.

  • LL

    Yeah, that 19 clicks thing would give me more comfort if I didn’t know that most people don’t bother looking beyond the first 10 Google results on any given search. There’s a reason “search engine optimization” is a thing. Clients pay to have their site come up in the top 5 or so search results. I don’t work in interactive, so I’m not sure exactly what the “optimization” part of that entails, but I suspect it doesn’t include having actual, useful information (although sometimes that does happen). Most people can’t be bothered to click beyond Wikipedia or Twitter to verify information, so I don’t think anyone is going to click 19 times to find accurate information vs. bullshit. 

    And I also doubt the Pope’s brief foray into Twitter had anything to do with his exit. I actually believe that it’s health problems. Maybe he remembers (or knows more about) the apparently poor health of the last pope and didn’t want to leave the Church in a similarly decrepit condition. (shrug) I don’t really care, but just wanted to throw that in there. Not everything is a giant, sinister conspiracy, even if the Catholic Church appears to specialize in those. 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    the vilest expressions of hatred, the intentional voicings of malice and
    evil hopes, flung squarely at the Holy Father, in real time.

    Oh, I’m sorry, Ms Scalia, I’ll just go on and forget that Pope Benedict has been busy protecting and succouring a hierarchy devoted to ensuring that anybody who took advantage of young children never actually gets punished.

    And that he has been busy perpetuating anti-QUILTBAG prejudice, and continuing to refuse to accord women an equal place in the Catholic hierarchy.

  • GDwarf

    …but I suspect it doesn’t include having actual, useful information…

    Oh heavens no, SEO is all about trying to reverse-engineers the algorithms Google and Bing use and to figure out what steps you can take to make your website more likely to turn up without having to add any new meaningful content.

    At first it was abusing the meta tag (You put words between two meta tags and that told search engines what your website was about, took approximately five seconds for every website to have most of a dictionary in there), then it was setting up link farms (dummy websites that all have links to each other and with text that consists of lots of commonly-searched-for words, it’s an attempt to trick Google into thinking your dummy websites are more popular than they actually are) now I don’t know what it is, but it’ll be the same idea: Game the system.

    In a way it makes sense: For any given search term there will likely be at least thousands of results, but only 10, maybe 20, of them will ever get to be seen by most people. That means that all it takes is 10 people out of thousands to abuse the system before it stops working for anyone but those who also game the system. Still, it’s frustrating.

    On the plus side, Google (and to a much lesser extent Bing*) have gotten very good at catching these attempts to game the system and exiling them to page-30 purgatory.

    *Bing is really big on selling a certain rank. Want everyone who searches for “cars” to see your website? Just pay Microsoft and they’ll put it in an add at the top of the page that looks like it’s part of the actual search results.

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    “The more surprising reality for someone like him who has spent so many decades within the bubble of unquestioned authority would be the harsh reality that most people do not afford him the extreme deference he expects and demands. -”

    Nail, Head, Fred. 

    Though to give what’s fair to the RTC side, much of the appeal of the So. Baptist Convention, in it’s current form anyway, does lie in its implied promise to make every White male ‘head of household’ a Pope in comparision to everyone who isn’t.  That seems to be the conceit that allows Mohler to carry on with his rightous universal dictates even as he looks upon the web and knows that he and his message can never hope to dominate in the way he feels entitled to. 
    Give him some points for pluck I guess.  

  • Ian

    19 links: there’s a cheap shortcut.  Few pages are more than a few clicks from wikipedia, and every page on wikipedia is only a dozen clicks away from the page for philosophy.

  • jhe

    Benedict was a Hitler-Jugend who grew to adulthood amidst the Nuremberg trials and revelations about the camps.

    I’m pretty sure he’s seen worse than Twitter.

  • Victor

    (((Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops. )))

    Gee Victor! “I” may as well tell YA what my thoughts are NOW!

    OK Butt only “ONE” NOW!

    Knock, Knock Victor!

    OK! Who’s there NOW?

    Isabel!

    Isabel WHO?

    Ready NOW?

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Is a bell really necessary on a bike NOW!

    Go Figure! :)

    OH! OH! “I” think that we’re really in trouble NOW! :(

    Peace

  • Alethea
  • MichaelR

     The old saying about “a lie can be halfway around the world before the truth has its pants on” is especially true these days. After all, it takes time to do proper research, but making stuff up? You can do that on the spot.

  • arcseconds

    I dunno. 

    While it doesn’t compare to having death camps run by your society bought to the light of day, I’ve read my share of sickening news reports and other ghastly true stories, and I’ve had a couple of somewhat dramatic instances in my own life.

    But even though I’m an old hand at the internet, seeing some of the bile spewed forth for no reason whatsoever in comments sections still has it’s own particular kind of stomach-churning quality.  The fact that some of them apparently feel they’re fighting the good fight just makes it worse.

  • stardreamer42

    I wonder just how much of that “vile hatred and malice directed squarely at the Holy Father” boils down to the equivalent of, “We know what you’ve done and how evil YOU are”. Being forced to face up to your own shortcomings is never pleasant.
    the vilest expressions of hatred, the intentional voicings of malice and
    evil hopes, flung squarely at the Holy Father, in real time. – See more
    at:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/02/26/19-clicks-or-less/#sthash.QOb86qIo.dpuf
    the vilest expressions of hatred, the intentional voicings of malice and
    evil hopes, flung squarely at the Holy Father, in real time. – See more
    at:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/02/26/19-clicks-or-less/#sthash.QOb86qIo.dpuf
    the vilest expressions of hatred, the intentional voicings of malice and
    evil hopes, flung squarely at the Holy Father, in real time. – See more
    at:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/02/26/19-clicks-or-less/#sthash.QOb86qIo.dpuf

  • stardreamer42

    Okay, that was weird. My attempts at cut-and-paste didn’t show up in the comment box, but were tagged onto the end of what I finally wrote. 

  • GDwarf

    Okay, that was weird. My attempts at cut-and-paste didn’t show up in the comment box, but were tagged onto the end of what I finally wrote. 

    Mine’s doing that too. I suspect it’s the javascript they’ve got running now to append the “read more at…” text to the end of every copy from the page being poorly coded and conflicting with the comment system. I’m just pasting into Word or Notepad, editing my post there, then copying it, seems to work.

  • Random_Lurker

     Most of the “bile” is nothing more then the usual chest-beating, either rebellious youth, tribal identification, good old fashioned attention-seeking, making oneself feel important, what have you.  Most of this, just like teenagers listening to music their parents hate, or Grampa whining about those teenagers with his 100th variation of the same “Kids Today” speech, is completely harmless.  Well, as harmless as the rest of human society anyway.

    What we have is: 1: Anonymity, shielding the speaker from consequences of going over the line, and 2: Loss of face to face contact.  The second makes it necessary to be ever more colorful to get a response, the first makes it possible.

    The dangerous part is that people are growing up with this, and it may become a self-fulfilling thing that comes into real life.  I tend to think not, since most people are generally sane when you meet them in person.  A bigger worry is that telling what’s real, what’s bluster, and what’s genuinely dangerous is nigh impossible.

  • Baby_Raptor

    And that he’s planning on living in the Vatican for the rest of his life so he can’t ever be called to court and held accountable for what he’s done. 

    Also, not just the Catholic hierarchy, he’s actively promoting not allowing women an equal place in society in general. 

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    What we have is: 1: Anonymity, shielding the speaker from consequences of going over the line, and 2: Loss of face to face contact.  The second makes it necessary to be ever more colorful to get a response, the first makes it possible.

    Recall John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory:

    Normal Person + Audience + Anonymity = Total Fuckwad

    Recently, GTZ from FatUglyOrSlutty.com introduced a modification to the GIFT:

    Normal Person + Audience – Consequences = Total Fuckwad

    I feel that this refines the theory considerably, as the anonymity was simply a means by which consequences were avoided, but even absent the possibility of being anonymous someone who fears no consequences of their behavior will turn into a total fuckwad.  

    We need some kind of “stick” on the internet to punish bad behavior with, something that sticks and hurts.  They can be as anonymous as they want, so long as it does not enable the evading of punishment.

  • flat

    Victor, what the fuck are you talking about?

  • flat

    well that’s one of the things I liked about slacktivist in the first place: you don’t often have fuckwad’s here.

  • arcseconds

    Are you unaware of the likes of the following examples, or are you claiming they’re harmless? 

     misogyny:
    http://sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.co.nz/2013/01/silent-no-more-and-manning-up-on-online.html

    .. and atheism:
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2012/09/goodbye-for-now/

    … and christianity:
    http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/features/2011/11/18/catholic-women-need-thick-skins-online/

     racism:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/11/online-racist-abuse-writers-face

    homophobia (and disabilities):
    http://www.harlowstar.co.uk/News/Harlow-news/Harlow-MP-receives-online-threats-following-gay-marriage-vote-07022013.htm

    It’s interesting too that you should think that the internet is not ‘real life’.   Are you sure you’re living in the 21st century?  For many people it rivals or exceeds face-to-face contact in terms of how much they communicate using the medium.  If your social network site is a major way of communicating with people, and it ends up getting drowned in vile abuse, I can’t see why we shouldn’t think that equally as bad as having people yell nasty things at you on street corners.

     

  • Penny

    Sorry, but 19 clicks really isn’t that impressive to me. 

    This page, which is pretty average for a page, has 152 links on it. To be fair, most of them are internal links to the site that usually wouldn’t provide a conflicting opinion, so let’s only look at the external links, of which there are 23. The number of external sites within 19 clicks would be something of the order of 23^19, which is 74,615,470,927,590,710,561,908,487. The statement that “no lie is ever more than 19 clicks away from the truth” tends to gloss over that there isn’t a straight-line path down those 19 clicks to the one site containing the truth…

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    Yeah, that bit from Scalia, I…I don’t buy it, because to me it sounds like a lot of “oh man, there are people who say bad things about Catholics, so I guess the only reason they’d do that is True Ignorance & Real Hate, right?”  I think it drastically shifts the blame in the wrong directions.  Do some people on the internet make troll remarks about priests being pedophiles as a kneejerk reaction when something Catholic comes up (for instance)?  Yes.  Does that happen in a vacuum   No.  It happens in a context in which the church covered up for pedophiles & persecuted victims.  So while that trolling is just that– trolling– using it to provide a sort of “& then people hate Catholics, just with vitriol & malice!” sounds like tin to me, sounds like little old woe is me, why would anyone hate an organization that, for instance, actively funds & preaches inequality.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     Oh, I’m sorry, Ms Scalia, I’ll just go on and forget that Pope Benedict
    has been busy protecting and succouring a hierarchy devoted to ensuring
    that anybody who took advantage of young children never actually gets
    punished.

    Yeah…the amount of special pleading and victim blaming in that bit kinda made me throw up in my mouth a little.  It’s great the way that apologists for the RCC get to call people calling the church out for it’s crimes “sinful,” though.  I mean, it’s pretty obvious that “sin” = “disagreeing with your self-appointed authorities.”

    I also find it fascinating that apparently we’re at the point where Twitter + any activity = Twitter caused said activity.  As someone who pops over to Twitter about, oh, once a week or so, mostly to see if Bruce Campbell has said anything interesting, I just don’t get it.  I can kinda get blaming Facebook for stuff, since I’ve learned many, many things I don’t want to know about people I actually know in real life from Facebook.  But Twitter?  Meh.

    Although I guess it goes to show one thing: Twitter has the best damn PR team in history.

  • MaryKaye

    It is weird how that article slides from “penance” (for the Church’s sins or Benedict’s own personal sins) into “spiritual warfare”.  Penitence is essential but it’s not at all heroic, and the author wants to see Benedict as a hero.

    In Christian theology I suppose it’s true that your prayers can be efficacious (up to the disputed point about whether any prayers are efficacious) even if you are personally mired in sin.  But, I suspect, not if you are offering them in order to get out of facing your own sin.  Jesus said some pretty pointed things about that.

    When I picture Benedict kneeling in prayer in his Vatican retreat I can’t help thinking of Claudius in _Hamlet_.  How shall I repent my sin when I still have what those sins brought me?  “My words go up, my thoughts remain below/Words without thoughts never to Heaven go.”

    Anyway.  The man’s soul is his own business.  Here’s hoping his organization gets a leader who will encourage it to do more good and less evil, and will tackle the hard question of organizational penitence.

  • MaryKaye

    Just out of curiosity, is there any evidence behind her “never wanted to be Pope” assertion?  That’s not how his career looks to this outsider, but I don’t really know much about him.

  • christopher_y

    That’s not how his career looks to this outsider, but I don’t really know much about him

    I don’t know any more than you or Scalia, but it seems plausible to me. Ratzinger was/is first and foremost a theologian concerned with definitional stuff about the Catholic faith. A person with such interests might well be more attracted to an administrative, rather than political, career. He seems to have been right in his element as head of the Inquisition, and was probably happy enough to work as a fixer for JPII, at least as long as the Pope was setting his own agenda. But the Papacy is a political post par excellence, and he may well have felt he wasn’t the best fit for it.

  • PatBannon

    We need some kind of “stick” on the internet to punish bad behavior with, something that sticks and hurts.  They can be as anonymous as they want, so long as it does not enable the evading of punishment.

    And what’s to stop the bad actors from using this very “stick”, whatever form it takes, as gleefully and recklessly as they use their current weapons of abuse and hatred? Who holds the “stick”?

  • Tricksterson

    I wonder if what might have caused his resignation, or at least played a part in it wasn’t  exposure to vitriolic hatred but to honest criticism from both Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  Of course to Scalia the two are probably identical.

  • Tricksterson

    Oh sure, spoil our fun with reason and logic.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    I suspect it’s the javascript they’ve got running now to append the “read more at…”

    Whoa, that’s a horrible “feature”. It’s not like patheos coped with pasting styled text before they added this.

    Hint for Mac users: most Mac apps have “Paste and match style” – cmd-opt-shift-V, instead of simple cmd-V – which strips out everything that confuses Patheos.

  • Tricksterson

    Admit it Vic reincanation of Allen Ginsberg aren’t you?

  • Tricksterson

    Is Elizabeth Scalia any relation to Antonin?  It would explain a lot.

  • Victor

    (((Is Elizabeth Scalia any relation to Antonin? It would explain a lot.)))

    Oh sure, spoil our fun with reason and logic sinner vic NOW!?

    Victor, what the fuck are you talking about?
     

    Don’t be like that sinner vic! Be nice if YA know what’s good for YA NOW!

    Go figure folks? :)

    Peace

  • LeRoc

    You credited the picture with “Photo by Eigenes Werk, via Wikipedia”. But “Eigenes Werk” is the German term for “my own work”. You’d probably have to look further for the name of the author. 

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     I certainly like to imagine that Pope Benedict got on Twitter, was instantly exposed to exactly what people thought of him and the policies of the church, found that the scope and breadth of the complaints were so wide and so deep as to not be easily dismissed as a conspiracy of anti-catholic bigotry, and suddenly realized to his horror that he was, in fact, the bad guy in all of this, and not the tragic hero struggling despite adversity to bring order to a fallen world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

     “I’m the bad guy? When did that happen?” – Bill Foster in Falling Down, on the day he had already committed assault, robbery, and murder

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=667708632 Kenneth Raymond

    The idea of an internet “stick” sounds kind of like reputation economies showing up in science fiction for the past while (in particular, Karl Schroeder’s Lady of Mazes touches on it, or Charles Stross’s Accelerando, or the transhumanist RPG Eclipse Phase). The idea is that everyone holds the stick and the carrot and uses them through social sanction or endorsement.

    So the argument goes, once the infrastructure is able to provide a certain minimal standard for enough people, you start transitioning into a new economy where the sufficiently inventive, savvy, and helpful can trade on their reputations to get what they need from others as a favor. (In the first part of Accelerando, the protagonist is basically founding such a rep economy as he has given away so many million-dollar ideas that owners of certain business chains are so indebted to him they pay back by letting him walk in, get whatever he needs to eat or wear, hotel rooms or plane tickets, and walk out without paying a cent.) You have an easier time “buying into” such an economy if you willingly engage in sousveillance of (almost) your entire life, and work hard for others. The implied stick, of course, is that everyone will see you being an asshole when you are an asshole.

    And that’s my biggest sticking (*ahem*) point with the idea of rep economies because we know already that’s not how social dynamics work. There are already tons of people who trade on their reputations and personal behavior, only they get cash instead of favors. They’re called politicians and celebrities, especially the politicians who care more about grandstanding to get reelected rather than doing anything, and celebrities who are famous only for being famous. A rep economy is a huge segment of the traditional economy. And as long as our assholes are at a disconnect from us, we love our assholes. Putting them under the panopticon of sousveillance and surveillance isn’t going to change that.

    The stick stops looking so worrisome when you can play to the prejudices of millions of others who are perfectly happy to give you a share of their carrot.

    EDIT: Disqus ate my line breaks

  • Andrew K.

    I think “Elizabeth Scalia” is a pen name, and I think it does reflect her admiration for the monster Antonin.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    For what it’s worth, the 19-click thing is bunk. It’s not based on an analysis of the real internet, but on a statstical model of the internet which Barabási assumes to be accurate mostly by authorial fiat.

    That said, I actually find it a little surprising that the number is as high as 19 — that would reflect a *huge* percentage of the web being hidden behind single-points-of-access (A lot is, but given what I actually *expect* the number to be, we’re talking about “enough of the web is buried deep to triple the average”).  That whole “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” game isn’t just pulling a number out of nowhere — it’s not even based on statistics. It’s based on math. At each degree of separation, assuming a random distribution (and the fact that it’s not a random distribution is the reason that the mythical bacon number is as high as it is),  the number of people involved grows not just exponentially, but by tetration (If exponentiation means “multiply this to itself N times”, tetration means “raise this to itself N times”).  And the way you go backwards from tetration to “number of degrees of separation” is an iterated logarithm. Now, the iterated logarithm function is kind of a cool function, because although in principle it grows to infinity, it does so more slowly than nearly any other function. How slowly? Well, if you were to take the iterated logarithm of the number of atoms in the universe, you would get (wait for it)… A bit less than six.

  • Lliira

     It’s not nearly as bad to have nasty things yelled at you on the internet as nasty things yelled at you on street corners. Being yelled at on street corners is significantly scarier — I’ve had rape dog whistles yelled at me in both places, and trust me, when the person doing the yelling is actually physically near you, it is very different. Horrible both times, but only the person who is actually physically there causes immediate terror. Because only the person who is physically there can either cause you physical harm or induce others who are also right there to cause you physical harm in that instant.

    Further, there’s a remove on the internet; when someone on the internet calls me names, meh, they don’t know me. Also, I can sit down and write a nasty post to them right back. I can even ignore them, block them, skim past everything they write. When a person on a street corner calls me names (always in the name of Jesus, of course), I have to hear them, I just have to get past them, and I never have an opportunity to respond. And actual in-person interaction is always, and will always, be more meaningful. Face, voice, body language, simply sharing the same space: it all matters deeply.

    Pretty much all my social interaction that is not with my husband is online. It’s real and important. But it’s not the same as face-to-face interaction. The intensity is just not there, for both good and ill.

  • arcseconds

    What you’re telling me is that you don’t find online abuse so bad.

    But your experience of online abuse sounds like it’s different from your experience of face-to-face abuse.  The main points seem to be:

    *) face-to-face interactions imply the possibility of threat beyond verbal abuse.
    *) you feel you have more control over online interactions

    but it also sounds to me very much as though you’re talking about low-incident random abuse from strangers.

    None of those things are necessarily true of online abuse.  Just because a threat turns up in your inbox doesn’t mean it’s not credible.  Someone might be motivated enough to actually take physical or online actions against someone else, especially if their potential victim is high-profile. More to the point in terms of psychological harm, some people find them credible. 

    I’d invite you to consider cases that are more equivalent.  Your usual threat on the internet might not be credible, but credible threats on the internet can be far more scary.  If someone wants to belt you in the street you can run away and probably never see them again, but if someone wants to wreck your life on the internet, they already have a handle on you.  It can also be harder to get away.

    You don’t necessarily have that much control over online interactions, either. Sometimes you have to communicate with the person.  They might be a friend, a family member, or an employer! Or you might be moderating a site and have to adjudicate disputes, or any one of a number of things. 

    If they’re in your peer group, and they’re posting vile slander about you on their own site, then the fact you don’t have to interact with them directly might not matter.

    High volumes of abuse are also harder to shrug off than the occasional one, in both face-to-face situations and online.  If your day-to-day experience is just that everyone hates you and wants to make your life miserable by giving you awful interaction experiences, I’m not sure the fact that it happens face to face makes that much difference: you end up living in a cloud of active antipathy either way.

    Also, the fact that there’s no tone of voice or body language can make things worse, especially if you have to interact with the person, because everyone can read everything in the worst possible way, and things can easily escalate.

    If you haven’t experienced anything like that, then great, I hope you never have to.  I have had personal experience of a handful of the above examples (no credible threats, though, thank goodness), and they certainly rival the worst of my face to face interactions. 

    Along with my previous examples, the case of the late lamented slactiverse probably bears some reflection.  I’ve read accounts from both sides of the fence about people extremely strongly affected by the negative and often outright abusive interactions there.  I’m pretty sure some of them mentioned physical shaking (and i’ve been physically shaking after some online interactions, too, and it’s not like I’m a sensitive orchid).

    and how bad can it get? Well, it drove Amanda Todd to suicide.  Granted there’s a stalking aspect there too, and it’s definitely gone beyond the realm of mere abuse into vindictive psychological torture, but my point would be that there’s only a difference in degree here.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    OT, but thank you for mentioning “tetration”. I came up with that idea way back, probably around middle school, but never knew a word for it until now, or whether it had any actual applicability.


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