That gesture can almost serve as a source of comfort. The old systems of prestige—the literary inner circles, the top-ranking daily newspapers, the party leadership—are rickety and insecure. Everyone has a publishing platform and no one has a career.
Scocca gets at something here that runs much deeper. Smarm has always been one of the primary modes of defense of power. Privilege has always protected privilege, and I can only assume that egos have always been easily bruised. So yes, if anything, the Internet age has led to heightened smarm precisely because of its threat to existing structures. Public disagreements are decried (e.g. as “call-out culture”) because a disagreement in private looks like no disagreement at all — not to mention that privacy allows for a more calculated response. Public disagreements feel dangerous, because a smarmy response in public implicitly carries with it the threat of private reprisal.
As a result public disagreements do only come from “true outsiders,” who have nothing to privately threaten, and those challenges are doubly muddled because of the blur of legitimacy, through which significant challenges can be easily dismissed and superficial critiques that serve the ruling order just as well can get invited to the table for discussion, if not outright championed.
Need to read the essay again - I think Nick’s comment speaks to one worry I had, which is that for all Scocca’s praise of Twitter etc as a way of countering smarm, the amount of smarm ABOUT tech and its “levelling” and “meritocratic” qualities in the last decade outweighs almost any other topic bar politics.