The title is simply an exercise on why you shouldn’t use a question in a headline. The answer is always no.
On CNN.com today, Andrew Keen wrote an op-ed tying Anders Brevik’s sociopathic and isolated personality to the internet, social media, and online gaming. To put it in one sentence, Andrew Keen is wrong because he ignores the worldwide network of anti-multicultural racist radicalism that Brevik is just a single node of.
His article introduces us to the problem and the way that Brevik is a sociopath of a unique sort. But his largest claim is this: “there’s something about Breivik which captures, in extremis, the increasingly delusional, violent and narcissistic nature of our digital culture.” He qualifies this somewhat but continues on down the wrong path completely: “It would, of course, be crass to blame something as tragic as the mass murder of 77 innocent Norwegians on social media. And yet it would be equally irresponsible to simply ignore these signs and refuse to draw any connection at all between Breivik’s troubled personality and the broader culture forces in our electronically networked world.”
I am willing to. I am willing to say there is absolutely no connection between Anders Brevik’s Facebook page, his Twitter feed, his Okcupid page for that matter and his World of Warcraft habit and his sociopathic and homicidal tendencies. Obviously Brevik is narcissistic and perhaps social media gave him a delusional audience to pander his 1,500 page manifesto to on Youtube and Facebook. Keen claims that World of Warcraft, a game about Night Elves and Dragons casting spells and fighting dungeon bosses with magic is a “violent video game.” If Brevik had played Call of Duty or at least a game based around human representations, it would be much less ridiculous. This is one of the promotional pictures from World of Warcraft.
Literally, World of Warcraft is essentially Dungeons and Dragons played over the internet. The characterization of this as a “violent video game” is astonishingly out of touch. There are violent video games out there, but World of Warcraft isn’t one of them.
The crux of Keen’s argument is that loneliness and narcissism he cultivated on the internet had an effect that made him more susceptible to becoming a mass murder. He argues that Brevik is lonely because “No friends, no fellow conspirators, no girlfriend, no loved ones. Even his father hadn’t spoken to him for years.” The only problem is, as Das Speigel reported yesterday in an excellent feature, the second psychiatric report mentions the 100 letters Brevik has received from supporters in the radical anti-Islam movement. Brevik isn’t lonely whatsoever, he’s elated at the support his act has engendered from anti-Islamic extremists from around the world.
This connection to the radical anti-Islam movement I believe is the most important connection between Brevik’s obvious mental illness and his choice to commit mass murder. From Spegiel: “Talking to the psychiatrist, Breivik enthused about a network of militant nationalists that he wants to operate from his jail cell. Tørrissen reported that the letter writers “use the same language, the same terminology as Breivik. And some say they have been inspired by him and will be more extreme.”
I think Keen’s hysteria echos the equally wrong frenzy over the dangers of comic books in the 1950s and the quickly thrown out lawsuit against the producers of the game Doom for influencing the Columbine shooters in 1999.
So in all, I think Andrew Keen is wrong, the internet is certainly narcissistic, but dangerous? Absolutely not.