It’s increasingly apparent that our information delivery systems were not built for our current moment — especially with corruption and conspiracy at the heart of our biggest national news stories (Epstein, the Mueller Report, mass shootings), and the platforms themselves functioning as petri dishes for outlandish, even dangerous conspiracy theories to flourish. The collision of these two forces is so troubling that an F.B.I. field office recently identified fringe conspiracy theories as a domestic terrorist threat. In this ecosystem, the media is frequently outmatched and, despite its best intentions, often acts as an amplifier for baseless claims, even when trying its best to knock them down.
Saturday’s online toxicity may have felt novel, but it’s part of a familiar cycle: What cannot be easily explained is answered by convenient untruths. The worst voices are rewarded for growing louder and gain outsize influence directing narratives. With each cycle, the outrage and contempt for the other builds. Each extreme becomes certain its enemy has manipulated public perception; each side is the victim, but each is also, inexplicably, winning. The poison spreads.