What The Good Place tells us about internet morality

Photo Credit: The Good Place/Colleen Hayes/NBC, Acquired From NBCUniversal Media Village
Photo Credit: The Good Place/Colleen Hayes/NBC, Acquired From NBCUniversal Media Village /

The Good Place is constantly exploring themes of morality. There’s so much the audience can take and learn from it, especially in today’s complicated world of social media. What does the series have to say about morality in the age of the web? Here’s my take on it.

It’s been a week since The Good Place‘s season finale, and I am still thinking about the deeper meanings behind the comedy. In its own clever way, The Good Place makes social commentary and philosophical questions easily digestible. Behind the show’s quirky humor and characters, The Good Place has a lot it’s trying to say.

Please note: Spoilers for Season three of The Good Place ahead!

There was a moment towards the end of this past season that really struck a chord with me. When Michael is trying to figure out why so many humans have gone to The Bad Place he realizes something crucial. Basically, as time passes and the world becomes more and more complicated, being a good person becomes harder and harder. This idea sparked a lot of internalized debate and questioning in me.

What does being “good” mean in today’s world of technology and media? Are people judged more harshly because of the technological advancements the world has made? What else has The Good Place said about this?

THE GOOD PLACE — “Janet (s)” Episode 310 — Pictured: D’Arcy Carden as Janet — (Photo by: Colleen Hayes/NBC)
THE GOOD PLACE — “Janet (s)” Episode 310 — Pictured: D’Arcy Carden as Janet — (Photo by: Colleen Hayes/NBC) /

Our own points system

In this season of The Good Place, Michael questioned the points system that determines whether deceased humans go to The Good Place or The Bad Place. The points system records and judges every action a human does. With every “good” action, points are given and with every “bad” action points get taken away. Michael investigates the points system after he learns a human named Doug, who dedicated his life to doing good, was headed for The Bad Place. It seemed the micro-“bad” actions took precedence over the bigger, “good” ones.

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On the internet, it seems our own version of the points system exists. There are social media accounts dedicated to listing and posting every “bad” deed a celebrity or public figure has done.

These celebrities are often dubbed “problematic.” Though the social media accounts targeted at celebrities are more common and well-known, I have seen accounts “calling out” non-famous social media users, as well, listing every “problematic” post.

Our online version of the points system works in some cases. For people who have consistently done deeds that many people can agree are objectively bad, this system fits. Online discussions about alleged celebrity perpetrators of sexual assault are definitely warranted. However, where this online points system fails, is when, like The Good Place‘s point system, micro-“bad” actions result in heavy moral judgement and good deeds are often ignored.

Let’s say for example American Beauty is your favorite movie and it has been your favorite long before the news about Kevin Spacey broke. You’re having a bad day and decide to watch it again, despite the controversy surrounding Spacey. You post about your decision on social media.

Someone reposts your original post and adds to it, calling your action “problematic”. As long as that person doesn’t delete their commentary on your decision, the label “problematic” is for millions to potentially see, in spite of the action being relatively small. Negative points have been given.

The Good Place Season 3
Photo Credit: The Good Place/NBC, Acquired From NBCUniversal Media Village /

There are many celebrities featured on these “problematic” social media accounts many would consider philanthropic and good people. Many of these accounts list micro-“bad” actions, without mention of the good deeds these people have committed. Though Taylor Swift is often associated as being one of the most philanthropic celebrities, many accounts have labeled her as “problematic” for not publicly speaking out about political issues for many years.

This way of thinking mirrors that of the demons of The Bad Place. It reflects Shawn’s view that humans are bad “end of story.”  One of the main themes of The Good Place is that with education and the willingness to try, we can change for the better. Take Michael, he was literally a human-torturing demon who changed for good.

Internet morality often doesn’t acknowledge the complexities of human behavior and morality itself. It also doesn’t allow room for growth and positive change, as people are “cancelled” left and right. With the possibility of our every minor action being judged online, it’s tempting to have a mental breakdown involving chili and junk food, much like Chidi did this past season, when he found out his efforts to be a good person were essentially worthless.

The Good Place
Photo Credit: The Good Place/Colleen Hayes/NBC, Acquired From NBCUniversal Media Village /

A call for direct action

In an attempt to change the points system, Michael brings his case to a committee in The Good Place. They agree to help him, only after they had carefully selected the “right” team for it – a process that would take hundreds of years. Frustrated and fueled by the need to save humanity right away, he takes direct action and sets up a meeting with the Judge.

To me, this was a commentary on how many internet activists talk the talk, but rarely take immediate action. Don’t get me wrong, raising awareness is great and can lead to action.

Going back to Taylor Swift, her Instagram post calling for her fans to vote actually had tangible results. The problem lies when internet activism is time-wasting and leads to barely any direct action that would wield real results.

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Are we really doing good for humanity if we spend so much time hyper-policing people’s social media posts? If we spend hours writing laundry lists of every “bad” action celebrities committed? This is time that could be used to donate time or money, to go out and vote, or maybe even educate a person who wants to do better.

There are people who definitely deserve the internet’s moral judgement. However, if we truly want the internet to be a good place, we need to stop looking at things so linearly. We need to realize that being a human is hard and we never know what people go through. We need to call for direct action and give people the chance to grow and become better. It’s what we owe to each other.

The Good Place will return in late 2019 on NBC.