If there’s one thing people have learned about the internet in recent years, it’s that the lines between the “real world” and the “cyber world” are getting blurrier every day. The Reddit and RobinHood fiasco is a timely example.
For those unaware, a subforum on Reddit.com known as r/WallStreetBets collectively raised the value of several struggling stocks, like Gamestop (GME) and AMC, only to have the trading app they were using, RobinHood, impose restrictions on buying and selling due to the drastic changes. This situation has caused an uproar on social media, has been widely publicized and most people who keep up with anything stocks or Reddit-related probably know about it at this point.
Examples of this happening are rife throughout the history of the internet, especially when people became able to communicate with each other on a large scale. There are both positive and negative examples of this, and it really goes to show how open and decentralized the internet is, allowing any group to connect with each other for any objective or reason, good or bad.
One example of a positive way internet communities can make real changes is through fundraisers and petitions. Real-world situations often bring about these kinds of nonprofits, but they are created, shared, and donated online, creating an internet-based community of supporters. There isn’t just one community to peg this under, as GoFundMe’s and the like pop up every day, but specific groups have had huge success with this.
#charliesfight is a fundraiser dedicated to a baby named Charlie, diagnosed with a rare disease at eight months old. The fundraiser raised over 1 352 600 Euros and was spread on social media, where it went viral. The money was for research of the disease, and the original goal was 1 300 000 Euros, so the real world of cure research was affected here. This is a more well-known way of people online affecting real life, and though an occasional fundraiser may exist for nefarious purposes, they largely produce good outcomes.
Another example of this comes from Reddit again, although it can be applied elsewhere. The “Reddit Hug of Death”, or the “Reddit effect”, is a phenomenon that occurs when internet traffic is overwhelmingly driven to a website from Reddit, often resulting in the site shutting down. Outside of Reddit, this is called the Slashdot effect, and can originate from any internet community, potentially even on purpose. The owners of the site may receive fluctuating user statistics, IT workers are sent into a frenzy and ad revenue will likely shoot up.. And all of this, just from posting a link on a forum.
A third example of a way the internet can change real life is significantly less positive. Extremist groups can use online communication for radicalization and recruitment. ISIS, especially in the mid-2010s, used Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more to post advertisements and rallying calls for their cause. Other extremist groups, like Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and the Taliban also use these methods. It’s not all overseas by any means, however, as even in the U.S. there were online groups who were at least in part planning and promoting terrorism in the name of white power, leading to happenings like the 2017 Charlestown incident or, more recently, the Capitol Hill riots.
These are just a few instances, but there are many more. The effects on the world and the communities causing them vary on a case-by-case basis, and can be something as innocent as a viral fundraiser for a child, or as malicious as recruiting for a terrorist group.
Although the internet is sometimes considered the wild west with no rules in place, there are in fact laws aimed at deterring people from gathering online for negative causes. The FCC, or the Federal Communications Commission, investigates harmful or potentially dangerous content and communications in the United States and can shut down websites or even have a hand in arrests and prosecutions when needed. However, even with some communications laws in place, the internet is a difficult place to control, and communities who really want to band together can likely do so, even if their intentions are not pure.
So whether it’s financial, moral, personal, political, or any other kind of drive behind these examples, one thing they all share is that they spillover from the cyber world into real life. As we use the internet and communicate with strangers online more and more, there will likely be more and more examples of this in the future, and it will be easier to do so.
Sometimes these effects are good, sometimes they’re bad, sometimes they’re morally gray, and sometimes they have no purpose at all- kind of like a microcosm of the internet, isn’t it?