Are We Really as Awful as We Act Online?

It’s not brutish human nature that prompts nasty posts and tweets, the author says. But how we evolved does play a role.

“You need to have your throat cut out and your decomposing, bug-infested body fed to wild pigs.” An anonymous Facebook user wrote that—and more that’s unprintable—to Kyle Edmund after the British pro tennis player lost in a 2017 tournament.

After University of Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard spoke about the history of male suppression of female voices, she received Twitter threats, including “I’m going to cut off your head and rape it.”

On Martin Luther King Day this year, an anonymous Twitter user lionized the man who killed King some 50 years ago: “RIP James Earl Ray. A true fighter for the white race.” The same month, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that his “Nuclear Button … is a much bigger & more powerful one” than Kim Jong Un’s. This capped weeks of dueling statements in which Trump called the North Korean leader “Rocket Man” and “a madman” and Kim called Trump “a gangster” and a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”

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