There are pluses and minuses to giving everyone a voice. In real life, most people knows to tread very lightly when talking politics in mixed company, but there’s a mass delusion that the Internet is different—a place where words deserve less consideration, not more, than at a dinner party. (“Twitter felt like a Garden of Eden; a place where people can be honest about their flaws and secrets,” Ronson has said.) Stone didn’t mean for the image of her disrespecting a national monument to be seen by many people, but is it any great surprise that what’s literally the most anti-patriotic symbolic gesture a person can make might get out onto the wider Internet once it’s on Facebook? Sacco tossed into the world a joke about racism that actually came off, to many, as racist; is the takeaway that people are too sensitive, or that it’s a good idea to carefully consider matters before sending out a joke about AIDS in Africa, of all topics?
Most of the people Ronson writes about (with the big exception of the disgraced journalist Jonah Lehrer) should have been given the benefit of the doubt by the online masses; their biggest sin was naivety. But the thing that enables both the outrageous and the outraged is the Internet’s glorification of pointless babble; the way social media and the “hot takes” ecosystem ensure off-handed remarks become permanent statements with an unlimited reach. Might the solution be for everyone to quiet down a bit? It’s not that no one should ever say anything controversial, but that a little more conscientiousness might prevent people from accidentally doing so. Take Noah’s contested jokes: They are, if nothing else, very stupid. The world didn’t need to see them. Same goes for Sacco’s tweet. And Stone’s photo. And yes, the same goes for much of the backlash to all of the above—the tweets calling for firings and life-ruinings where a simple “why on Earth would you say that?” might have sufficed.