Internet As Virus

May 18, 2020

I have been thinking a lot lately about the disease-like tendencies of the Internet, its capacity to infect, addict, and ensnare its victims as it propagates conspiracy theories and other destructive, deceptive ideologies. This capacity seems intensified by the emergence of Covid-19, the virus and its technological counterpart growing stronger while our resistance appears to grow weaker. Like the fictional Internet bogeyman the Slender Man, which inspired two young girls to violently attack their friend, the fiction can assume a sense of reality while it feeds on the fears and needs of its victims.

As I wrote in my book Consorting with the Shadow: Phantasms and the Dark Side of Female Consciousness, “The infectious allure of [urban legend] Slender Man and his archetypal predecessors demonstrates the seductive power of a shared belief, a contagious process biologist Richard Dawkins, featured in the Slender Man documentary, terms a “virus of the mind,” transmitted, in this case via an Internet meme. The Werner Herzog documentary Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World also discusses the infectious quality of Internet memes, their power to invade and control a multitude of minds. Although popular media has been influencing people for a long time, inciting desire, anger, hope, and paranoia. . . . the almost instantaneous spread of media via the Internet makes the transmission much more virulent. . . . the malevolent power of an image, a meme, an online urban legend, like that of a ghoulish revenant from ancient lore, is nourished by those it infects. Nurturing an obsession enhances its strength, and sharing it with others gives it an illusion of life. It becomes increasingly real, progressively more intoxicating. Like a tulpa, it assumes a sort of separate yet semi-parasitic existence, dependent on its creators and nurturers yet dominating them.”

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Writings by Alison Armstrong