Linus Torvalds on Social Media: 'It's a Disease. It Seems To Encourage Bad Behavior.'

Linus Torvalds on Social Media: 'It's a Disease. It Seems To Encourage Bad Behavior.'


From a wide-ranging interview of Linus Torvalds with Linux Journal on the magazine’s 25th anniversary: Linux Journal : If you had to fix one thing about the networked world, what would it be?
Linus : Nothing technical. But, I absolutely detest modern “social media” – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. It’s a disease. It seems to encourage bad behavior. I think part of it is something that email shares too, and that I’ve said before: “On the internet, nobody can hear you being subtle”. When you’re not talking to somebody face to face, and you miss all the normal social cues, it’s easy to miss humor and sarcasm, but it’s also very easy to overlook the reaction of the recipient, so you get things like flame wars, etc., that might not happen as easily with face-to-face interaction. But email still works. You still have to put in the effort to write it, and there’s generally some actual content (technical or otherwise). The whole “liking” and “sharing” model is just garbage. There is no effort and no quality control. In fact, it’s all geared to the reverse of quality control, with lowest common denominator targets, and click-bait, and things designed to generate an emotional response, often one of moral outrage.

Add in anonymity, and it’s just disgusting. When you don’t even put your real name on your garbage (or the garbage you share or like), it really doesn’t help. I’m actually one of those people who thinks that anonymity is overrated. Some people confuse privacy and anonymity and think they go hand in hand, and that protecting privacy means that you need to protect anonymity. I think that’s wrong. Anonymity is important if you’re a whistle-blower, but if you cannot prove your identity, your crazy rant on some social-media platform shouldn’t be visible, and you shouldn’t be able to share it or like it.

Linux Journal : Is there any advice you’d like to give to young programmers/computer science students?
Linus : I’m actually the worst person to ask. I knew I was interested in math and computers since an early age, and I was largely self-taught until university. And everything I did was fairly self-driven. So I don’t understand the problems people face when they say “what should I do?” It’s not where I came from at all.