The social media Fordlândias
October 30, 2018 4:56 AM   Subscribe

This is how we radicalized the world. "This era of being surprised at what the internet can and will do to us is ending," writes Ryan Broderick of BuzzFeed News, after the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil. "The damage is done. I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably spend the rest of my career covering the consequences."

"We just assume now that platforms like Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, and Twitter will exacerbate political and social instability. We expect they will be abused by ultranationalist trolls. We know they will be exploited by data firms. We wait for them to help launch the careers of populist leaders."
posted by rory (147 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
But this era of being surprised at what the internet can and will do to us is ending.

*whispers* the internet is people
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:09 AM on October 30 [61 favorites]


There is something missing from all these analyses blaming the rise of the right on Facebook et al - they describe very well how the digital platforms are used as tools, but that doesn't explain why those tools only benefit the right. If influencing an election with Facebook really were all this was about, why aren't we seeing left radicals having success with the same tactics? Or even centrists? It's not like there's a lack of money to throw at the problem on behalf of the Democrats in the US, or Labour and Remain in the UK, for example, and I can't imagine that Bolsonaro had since kind of monopoly on access to social media and Internet advertising.

All of which points to the Internet and social media maybe being the method, but not the actual reason. They're the how, but not the why. There is a social and political dimension in play here, which people seem to want to ignore in favour of "oh no Facebook!" when that cannot be the whole explanation. Yes, we understand they used Facebook. That's not the interesting bit. The interesting bit is why Facebook works for the nazis and the regressives, but not the socialists or progressives.
posted by Dysk at 5:12 AM on October 30 [118 favorites]


*whispers* the internet is people

And people are affected by their experiences, stimuli, environment, etc. We know that, on average, the experience of living in poverty has certain effects on human brains and behavior. Or the experience of living under systemic oppression, or violence, or addiction. Or the experience of being a member of a privileged class that's rarely held accountable for antisocial behaviors. And so on.

People are individuals, yes, and can make individual choices. But in the aggregate, people are more like materials: subject them to particular kinds of stresses, conditions, etc., and the kinds of effects that you see are fairly predictable.

I don't see why we wouldn't consider this new, novel, highly addictive form of media in similar terms. "Blaming" the internet for its role in the phenomenon doesn't mean we're letting individuals off the hook.

the Internet and social media maybe being the method, but not the actual reason

To paraphrase Eddie Izzard: guns may not kill people, but they certainly help, you know?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:18 AM on October 30 [35 favorites]


Maybe there's something about the internet ad a medium that aligns with simplification and misleading, and there's something about right-wing extremism that does too.
posted by entropone at 5:19 AM on October 30 [21 favorites]


I think it's because the right appeals to our toddler instincts whereas being left or centrist is counter intuitive and needs to be learned through socialization or education.

Hatred of the other is a more natural uniter than lofty ideals of moderation or cosmopolitanism.
posted by Telf at 5:19 AM on October 30 [39 favorites]


To paraphrase Eddie Izzard: guns may not kill people, but they certainly help, you know?

Sure, but that's not what's going on here. It's not blaming guns for people getting killed - it's blaming guns for one side of a gang war winning. Yes, they're using guns to kill their opponents. But why are they having so much more success using those guns than the other gang (who are also dedicated to murdering their rivals in this analogy)?
posted by Dysk at 5:22 AM on October 30 [6 favorites]


Also, much like the internet liberated kinks and obscure hobbies it's liberated people who hold unpalatable opinions. Things that people in the past might have been a, little bit ashamed of. Things that face to face society tamped down.

And maybe the internet did help organize certain aspects of the left but modern progressive social movements are fractured and divisive to an absurd level, while picking someone to hate is dead easy.

Maybe the old categories of right and left are obsolete. Maybe we can organize politics by the motivator: rage vs conciliation.
posted by Telf at 5:28 AM on October 30 [20 favorites]


Hatred of the other is a more natural uniter than lofty ideals of moderation or cosmopolitanism.

This is so often taken as an almost natural and universal fact, not even worthy of examination in its self-evident correctness. But yet, there have been progressive and socialist revolutions in the past, where those ideas clearly resonated with populaces in the way that is now held to be the inevitable exclusive preserve of nazis and racists. What is it about our social context that makes right wing messages resonate with people, and left wing messages not? It isn't as simple as reducing it to the simplicity of the message, or anything else inherent to the content, or we wouldn't have seen lefty popular revolutions anywhere ever.

Why does our current time produce so many nazis in the first place, that they can go on Facebook and influence politics?
posted by Dysk at 5:29 AM on October 30 [27 favorites]


What is it about our social context that makes right wing messages resonate with people, and left wing messages not?

Fear of a world changing faster than can be kept up with and threatening what people think they "know". The internet, ironically, is one of the major forces in that as a technology and as a delivery system for the fear through examples of people whose lives and values some can't even begin to comprehend.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:32 AM on October 30 [7 favorites]


but modern progressive social movements are fractured and decisive to an absurd level

I guess the why of this is part of what I want to examine - it isn't like it's some natural state of affairs. Why are the right able to organise effectively and influence people, and use the current tools of political influence, while the left are unable? It hasn't always been like this, and I don't think it's anything inherent to the current tools, it starts before that.
posted by Dysk at 5:32 AM on October 30 [7 favorites]


Instability and economic precarity tends to favor divisiveness and make groups more insular, and the right has been (slowly, at first) leading us down that path since around the time I was born.
posted by wierdo at 5:33 AM on October 30 [7 favorites]


Wealth extraction (by the capitalist class) causes financial distress of the underclasses, and social media is abused (by the capitalist class) to pit the poor against each other. It's not that social media itself is bad, it is that it is disproportionately easier for (the capitalist class) to use the networks we have right now it to exploit the fears of poor people.

I think I see the real problem.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:35 AM on October 30 [35 favorites]


and left wing messages not?

Oh, and what makes you think the left isn't also being changed by the internet? The difference, I think, is that what we've accepted as reasonable, normal, or an improvement isn't inspiring fear, but simply becomes a fact of life. The right wants to believe things that can't be supported by exposure to wider existence, while the left has as a base belief that the experiences and feelings of others may differ and still matter. That doesn't necessarily inspire "radicalism" for action towards uncertain future events, but it does build a sense of understanding that wouldn't have existed without being able to be shared so widely across social boundaries. Fear can lead to guns, understanding, even when flawed, doesn't.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:42 AM on October 30 [5 favorites]


seanmpuckett nailed it IMO. Anger feeds right wing populism. Anger is inchoate but fungible.

We can't always point to why things are worse, but our anger can be harnessed and directed by others.

1. Tap into that anger that forms your base.
2. Use that base to elect right-leaning (As in Chicaho school, not necessarily as in Rush Limbaugh.) politicians.
3. Execute policies to extract wealth from society, especially the poor and the lower middle class.
4. The world gets worse and people get angry.
5. Repeat step 1.

There's no reason why the social, conservative right needs to be aligned with the financial right. One has learned to harness the anger of the other.

The more you screw over the disaffected, the angrier they get, just ride that tiger all the way to the bank.
posted by Telf at 5:44 AM on October 30 [12 favorites]


Yeah, my assumption has been that the reason "the right wing is successful at abusing social media" is the same as the reason "the right wing was successful at abusing television" and is the same as the reason "the right wing was successful at abusing radio" and so on: the right wing has all the money and is willing to spend it to brainwash people.
posted by ragtag at 5:54 AM on October 30 [20 favorites]


Oh, and what makes you think the left isn't also being changed by the Internet?

I never said I don't believe that? I just said the left isn't having the electoral and wider political success of the right at present.

Really, I don't think it is the case that the Internet has changed the right or the left. The wider social context - which includes cut is far from limited to the Internet - dad changed both. The right is having much more success than the left. It's not that the left hand changed and the right has, it's that everything has changed in big or small ways, and here we are looking at a world where messages of hate are resonating with people, and messages of solidarity are not, to the same extent. History indicates that it isn't something inherent to the messages, or anything inherent to the Internet or social media. So I'd like to see more discussion of what it is that's causing this, and less handwringing about Facebook as if Facebook were some unavoidably Nazi tool.
posted by Dysk at 5:55 AM on October 30 [3 favorites]


(And if anger is fungible, why is it only the right that are able to harness it at this moment in time?)
posted by Dysk at 5:57 AM on October 30 [1 favorite]


Originally, social media was helping Obama get elected. It was also a factor in Bernie's support.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:00 AM on October 30 [12 favorites]


If influencing an election with Facebook really were all this was about, why aren't we seeing left radicals having success with the same tactics?

The OP article does mention AMLO in Mexico.
posted by XMLicious at 6:02 AM on October 30


We're being a bit reductive here about what "the right wing" means that I think is obscuring important information: the people who are exploiting media bubbles are selling very simple narratives, at heart. It's immigration's fault. You should eat "naturally". Why can't you be proud to be white? But narratives that are more complex, like the neoliberal "free movement of money will happen regardless of regulation, so why not harness it instead of trying to ban it?" aren't having the same kind of success. Narratives that are really convenient for certain industries, like clean coal, don't get traction because their narrative doesn't have an emotional core.

The left, at the moment, doesn't have an emotionally simple narrative to tell, and most of the ones we have at the moment are the old ones with nuance learned from the times we tried it without nuance. This is useful for not repeating the mistakes of the past, but it doesn't really help you run fearmongering ads on Facebook. We had 'hope' and 'change' and Obama kind of blew it.

The left needs an emotional narrative beyond anti-fascism, and an educated narrative to back that up, and the co-ordination to insist upon it until anchors stop scoffing at it. 'The rich stole your future by calling it a loan' is emotive, and Piketty provides the intellectual basis for it, but what the new world looks like? We can't answer that question yet.
posted by Merus at 6:06 AM on October 30 [33 favorites]


Fuck this noise.

It's the Mail wut won it, not Facebook. We've had thirty years of mainstreaming of fascism through Fox news, British tabloids and the like while the Very Sensible People have been Very Concerned on campus leftists.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:09 AM on October 30 [29 favorites]


Sorry for the multiple posts, was writing on a phone but switched over to a computer so my points hopefully won't be so choppy. I'll give the thread some breathing room after this.

But yet, there have been progressive and socialist revolutions in the past, where those ideas clearly resonated with populaces in the way that is now held to be the inevitable exclusive preserve of nazis and racists. What is it about our social context that makes right wing messages resonate with people, and left wing messages not? It isn't as simple as reducing it to the simplicity of the message, or anything else inherent to the content, or we wouldn't have seen lefty popular revolutions anywhere ever.

I think the elite have become more savvy in the way they harness or deflect anger. Communism as a viable political philosophy seems pretty well disproven but social democracy seems pretty obviously to be the best of both worlds. (Though still deeply imperfect in real life application.) Investing in your people, empowering everyone live up to their potential and maximizing participation in society seems like a no brainer to me.

Unfortunately, the idea of global solidarity seems too tenuous to work. I think splitting the world into two camps as Marx did is too hard to maintain over generations. We still need a tangible target to focus on. Too much of the left's ideals are nebulous. They can't be distilled into a message like "X people are bad and our problems are because of them." Many people are feeling left behind and it's easier to pick on people who don't talk like you than it is to look at tax codes.

Second point:
Material conditions are pretty good in that we have plenty of screens and things to watch on them. We have hyper palatable calorically dense food, compelling video games and unlimited porn. It's not as though people are dying of cholera on the streets or we're living in an Upton Sinclair passage. As an aggregate, lives are measurably better in the narrow metrics that we use. The pitchforks won't come out unless parents can't feed their children. The easy choice is to keep going but complain on the internet.

I feel like the ruling elite learned some implicit lessons during the gilded age. You need to tick a few boxes in Maslow's hierarchy before you really go full vampire on the populace.

Also, this has been a multigenerational effort. How many people today have first hand memories of debates about trickle down economics or the Laffer curve? The rich have made this a project while the left have to relearn things every generation.
posted by Telf at 6:10 AM on October 30 [7 favorites]


It's not so much that it was a multi-generational project, so much as the best facts we had available at the time supported the arguments of the rich. The actual scientific data from America at the height of its power seemed to suggest that there was only so much inequality that happened due to capitalism; eventually the working class caught up. Trickle-down was based on actual statistics.

Of course, we discovered later that those statistics were because rich people bankrolled WWII and poor people didn't, and the time series stopped before the rich recovered from that.
posted by Merus at 6:15 AM on October 30 [2 favorites]


we discovered later that those statistics were because rich people bankrolled WWIIeconomics research and poor people didn't
posted by PMdixon at 6:22 AM on October 30 [9 favorites]


I don't buy the claim that hate is somehow a more natural human state than tolerance. Some science seems to indicate that humans are inherently more inclined to pro-social behavior in fact, though also can be strongly influenced by our environment.
posted by eviemath at 6:27 AM on October 30 [4 favorites]


The interesting bit is why Facebook works for the nazis and the regressives, but not the socialists or progressives.

Perhaps for a similar reason that in politics the hacks tend to dominate the wonks. The wonks have all the data, the carefully crafted proposals, the analysis, the vision and the irrefutable numbers (MeFi is crawling with wonks). The hacks only care about winning and, if necessary, at any cost. For them politics is a full-contact bloodsport and to the victors belong the spoils...
posted by jim in austin at 6:28 AM on October 30 [5 favorites]


Leftist ideas can be succinct and easy too. "Thou shalt not kill," "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God," etc.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:34 AM on October 30 [11 favorites]


It's not like there aren't left wing hacks, or right wing wonks. It's not a simple as "we're right, but the truth is unsexy, they're full of appealing lies". If that were all it took, then the portion of the left full of appealing lies would rival the right (and the left in general would be well served to just start lying). It's very appealing to think it's all because 'we' are hobbled by our righteous high horse, but I really don't think that's it. Nazis don't have a monopoly on shitposting or trolling.
posted by Dysk at 6:34 AM on October 30 [5 favorites]


Seems like the last time we had a major change in how media was consumed and information spread combined with a global economic downturn, we also saw the rise of facism. (Radio in the 1920s & 30s.)
posted by sleeping bear at 6:36 AM on October 30 [16 favorites]


Dysk wrote

All of which points to the Internet and social media maybe being the method, but not the actual reason. They're the how, but not the why.

Because the right chooses to do so. The goal of the left is to modify society through policy. The goal of the right is to win.
posted by thefool at 6:39 AM on October 30 [3 favorites]


Are there seriously people who still believe that the left aren't interested in winning? It's not like Remain didn't overspend it use dubiously targeted ads. It's not like the Democrats aren't above dirty tricks. It's not like Labour doesn't have Momentum trolling for them.

The left is not on a high horse, here. Plenty of progressives and leftists are dedicated to just winning the fight.
posted by Dysk at 6:41 AM on October 30 [5 favorites]


It's not like there aren't left wing hacks, or right wing wonks.

Not to the same degree - the "hack gap" is a well documented phenomenon.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:45 AM on October 30 [12 favorites]


Of course they want to win various elections, in order to get their guys in office so they can enact the policy.

But when your focus is on control of public opinion and news, taking control of an established party (in this case the Republican party), taking control of government procedures and bureaucracies, etc then its very different and the energy is put into, e.g. gaming and abusing social media, facts or reason or norms of discourse be damned.

And of course both parties have done so at various times in history. At the current moment, on national and state levels, its a certain "right wing" (sort of) collection of people who are currently inside the Republican party doing so.

jim in austin above put it much better re wonks vs. hacks.
posted by thefool at 6:49 AM on October 30 [1 favorite]


Not to the same degree - the "hack gap" is a well documented phenomenon.

That's very US-centric, and more of a supposition than anything well-documented.
posted by Dysk at 6:50 AM on October 30


And like, if it were that simple the answer wouldn't be more complicated than "start lying more". And yet that hasn't worked where it's been tried (the Mirror, Momentum, trots generally, etc)
posted by Dysk at 6:52 AM on October 30 [2 favorites]


There is something missing from all these analyses blaming the rise of the right on Facebook et al - they describe very well how the digital platforms are used as tools, but that doesn't explain why those tools only benefit the right.

Perhaps the digital platforms have just evened the playing field. Socially acceptable movements have always been able to network and advertise openly. Social media is allowing less palatable movements to make up for lost time.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:53 AM on October 30 [4 favorites]


Twenty years ago, when we were dreaming of what the internet was going to bring, I was optimistic that giving everybody access to information would make everybody smarter, give everybody a voice. It turns out that most people don't have anything to say, and are more interested in being validated than being informed. The internet made the actual complexity of the world more apparent, and most people don't want complexity. They want stability and simple answers.
posted by spudsilo at 6:57 AM on October 30 [39 favorites]


The left, at the moment, doesn't have an emotionally simple narrative to tell

This is why I keep saying guillotines. It’s simple, works with the anger in the zeitgeist instead of against it and gives it a healthy outlet.
posted by rodlymight at 7:02 AM on October 30 [13 favorites]


My response to "why doesn't the Left exploit social media in the same ways as the Right" is the same as my response to all such calls for the Left to use the same organizing tactics that the Right is currently having success with: we're talking about tactics such as scapegoating, playing to people's fears, appeals to authority, skewing facts and outright lying, etc. These are not value-neutral actions or tactics. They are unethical. The idea that attaining power is more important than acting ethically is antithetical to most worldviews or ethical systems on the Left. (And Liberals are often uneasy with them as well, since a Liberal worldview tends to focus on doing the right thing in terms of what is immediately in front of one as an individual, even though they have a propensity to ignore or downplay systemic, emergent harms caused by some of their policies.)

What has traditionally been effective in building power for the Left is solidarity. Part of what is different in our current time is that capitalism is very good at atomizing people and weakening communal bonds through which solidarity grows and propagates. Capitalism is also very good at coopting ideas, even ones that, in their pure state, are fundamentally anti-capitalist. Thus although social media can be used for building community, the specific social media tools that we have encourage a weaker, inactive form of community, not so much the sort of engaged community needed for solidarity. Social media tools or sites that have led to the sort of communities where people will honour of their way to help each other in real life are not the monetized, profitable ones like Facebook, so haven't spread as far. The sort of "community" that sites like Facebook structurally encourage is more of a simple affiliation "I identify with this group" type. That's not to say that Facebook can't or hasn't ever been used to build more solid community, just that it takes more work, since that's not what Facebook is designed for. (Partly because the most common ideology among those who developed much of the current and earlier social media infrastructure has, for various reasons good and bad, been a more individualistic or individual liberties and expression focused ideology.)

Some on the Left are working on building the necessary solidarity and community-based power. It's not as flashy or obvious, so doesn't tend to make the news as much. I recall a few years ago, for example, listening to someone who had helped organize the Quebec student strikes talk about that process, and point out that although the strikes and marches in the streets of Montreal made the news, they were the result of years of organizing work that didn't make the news.

You don't need to be a super politically commited activist or have read a whole bunch of theory or anything like that to build strong communities that can support solidarity, by the way. Just start with your friends, family, or whoever you are close to and commit to helping and supporting each other, as well as celebrating good times together. The trust needed for a large action is built up from many smaller and more personal events: believing someone when they tell you of a trauma they've experienced, and letting them direct your response toward what they need; bringing food to someone who is I'll or stressed or grieving, or opening your table to someone who is alone on a holiday or in general; actively looking to see who is excluded (intentionally but not due to their own actions (you don't have to include people who cause harm), or unintentionally) and inviting them to be included in the thing, and keep inviting them until they trust that the invitation is genuine; actively seeking out new cultural experiences or other perspectives, so that people from different backgrounds don't feel they have to give up part of themselves in order to be in community with you; learning positive communication and conflict resolution skills; and so on.

(People's or community's own experiences of trauma - from racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, ablism, from misogynist violence, homophobia, transphobia, from economic instability, the effects of colonialism - make all of the above harder, of course; and part of our current political moment is that we're still working through the effects of colonialism, the Cold War, etc.)
posted by eviemath at 7:10 AM on October 30 [28 favorites]


I'm of the understanding that "right-wing" political stances track pretty well with fearfulness. Things like deference to authority, rallying around one's group, and distrust of outsiders are all amplified by fear.

As sleeping bear mentioned, breakthroughs in mass media seem to be precursors of right wing political success. They're also great ways to stoke fear, and I don't think that's a coincidence.

As people get better at self-mediating the messages they receive from new media, they become less susceptible to fear stimuli via those media. Nobody would fall for a "War of the Worlds" type hoax if it were over the radio these days -- but if it were on Snap, and Periscope?

Fear is an emotion, and it can be easily inflamed. The lack of fear isn't a symmetric condition, and anybody who has dealt with anxiety for any length of time understands that. It takes a while for the polity to adjust to a new medium, to become less susceptible to inflammatory signals carried by that medium; in the meantime the inflammation is real.

Over time, I believe people will get better at internetting. Eventually Facebook will seem as dated as Molly and Fibber McGee. But by then, our pocket computers will be talking directly to us in the voices of trusted friends, and it will take time to adjust to that new reality, too.

So why is FB etc. disproportionately increasing the lot of right-wing politics? I think it's probably because those are the politics of fear.
posted by dbx at 7:11 AM on October 30 [16 favorites]


sleeping bear: Seems like the last time we had a major change in how media was consumed and information spread combined with a global economic downturn, we also saw the rise of facism. (Radio in the 1920s & 30s.)

Radio also played a large role in the Rwandan massacres, though I'm not sure if it was a new thing there or not.

Same thing with the rise of the printing press, and the neighbour-slaughtering-neighbour religious wars that were, in part, enabled by it.

Television is the one new communication media which didn't seem to have that effect. I'm not sure if that's because it's a natural opiate or because it was controlled from the beginning by a comparatively responsible elite which had just learned about the horrors of WWII and the Holocaust and didn't want that to happen again.
posted by clawsoon at 7:20 AM on October 30 [8 favorites]


i think journalists really want facebook to be the reason things are bad, because it’s so bad for them. facebook has spent the last 8 or so years causing newsrooms to lay off journalists and making the remaining jobs increasingly undignified and difficult.

social media has caused many problems and has something to do with the current bad state of politics, but the idea that there’s somehow something structurally right-wing in the medium of social media is weird and doesn’t make sense to me.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:23 AM on October 30 [3 favorites]


To me, at least, the problem with social media companies is less one of technology, and more one of ideology. In the US, we have a view of free speech that too often refuses to acknowledge the harm that speech is capable of - hence why allowing an act of intimidation and terror to occur is lauded as a symbol of our "freedom of speech", for one example. And this attitude is something the tech community is steeped in, and then exports - remember Twitter's "we're from the free speech wing of the free speech party" line? We see this over and over again, from Facebook refusing to do anything about the use of its services in the genocide in Burma, to Cloudflare openly working with white supremacists until they were forced to stop through social opprobrium. Hell, look at the response by the founder of alt-right social media provider Gab as companies refused to work with him due to his unwillingness to deal with hate speech:
Gab released a statement on its site before going dark. “Gab.com is under attack. We have been systematically no-platformed by App Stores, multiple hosting providers, and several payment processors,” it reads in part. “We have been smeared by the mainstream media for defending free expression and individual liberty for all people and for working with law enforcement to ensure that justice is served for the horrible atrocity committed in Pittsburgh.” The message says that the site will be “inaccessible for a period of time” as they work to get it up and running with new service providers.
This is the heart of the problem with social media - not that it exists, but that the people running it are ideologically unable to deal with the abuses on it.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:44 AM on October 30 [18 favorites]


What is it about our social context that makes right wing messages resonate with people, and left wing messages not?

The right wing celebrates wealth, a fantasy for most. The left focuses more on a problems, which is a downer for most. Asking a relatively poor person to focus on poverty or the environment when a rich guy is calling them great (and talking about enemies stealing good jobs) is a recipe for denial. I would add that the left needs to acknowledge the importance of wealth as a source of tax. It would pin the tail on the donkey, as it were, co-opting the fantasy, or putting it to work.
posted by Brian B. at 7:44 AM on October 30 [3 favorites]


Dysk: The interesting bit is why Facebook works for the nazis and the regressives, but not the socialists or progressives.

Why are populists winning online? Social media reinforces their anti-establishment message (Clara Hendrickson and William A. Galston for The Brookings Institution, April 28, 2017)
The Twitter habits of the president of the United States are well-documented and much-discussed. However, President Trump’s fondness for social media is not unique — it is a feature he shares with his European populist counterparts.

Populists throughout the West were early adopters of social media and such platforms quickly became a favorite tool for political communication. Today, populists are the stars in political cyberspace, far outshining their centrist opponents. The 2015 Facebook posts of the United Kingdom Independence Party, the leading voice of the Brexit campaign, received 4,000 likes on average, twice the number received by the Conservative Party. While Dutch voters rejected the populist, anti-immigrant candidate Geert Wilders in its recent election, Wilders’ social media following greatly outpaces that of other Dutch party leaders.

Similarly, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) boasts the largest social media following among German political parties. Despite the fact AfD receives half the support Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats receives, it possesses a Facebook following twice as large. Marine Le Pen’s National Front is well-known for its digital prowess, with an office in Paris dedicated exclusively to managing the party’s social media presence and aggressively launching online campaigns that include viral hashtags, memes, and animated videos.
...
Populism and social media make good companions because platforms like Twitter and Facebook allow for direct communication between party leaders and their constituencies. This accords with populist calls to restore popular sovereignty, fulfilling the most basic promise of democracy, rule by the people.

Unlike traditional news media, there are no gatekeepers in social media who fact check information or help the public make sense of political events. Additionally, social media challenges the meritocratic values of traditional media – on Twitter, pundits and experts do not enjoy an elevated platform. This characteristic of social media reinforces populists’ anti-establishment ideology.

VISCERAL REACTION

Social media is particularly conducive to the emotional appeals embraced by populists. Candidates attract many supporters by responding viscerally to feelings of injustice and anxiety, a political approach readily employed in the wake of terrorist attacks. Mebel Berezin, a Cornell University sociologist studying the European far right, notes that the common line urging voters not to give into fear often loses out to a populist message that validates fear. Populists consistently experience surges in social media following and engagement after specific news events, especially terrorist attacks. This suggests that populists turn to social media following major national tragedies to identify enemies to the nation and make calls for swift action. Most centrist politicians are wary of doing the same, favoring deliberate messaging that seeks to assuage a frightened nation while upholding multicultural and religious tolerance. Evidently, a populist narrative translates well into short tweets and posts that reinforce the tendencies of some and spark feelings of outrage in others.
Emphasis mine.

Sadly, no research included on leftist opportunities or efforts, instead comparing populists with centrists.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:44 AM on October 30 [8 favorites]


I think a lot of the lefty handwringing is just a result of losing the initiative online.

Cambridge Analytica was the toast of Washington when the Democrats used it, but miraculously became a tool of fascism when the Republicans did.
posted by Middlemarch at 7:58 AM on October 30 [3 favorites]


The right does better because their goals and means are easier.

They value the short-term over the long-term, and humans have a tough time with long-term thinking.

They stand for destruction of government over building government, and destruction is always easier than construction.

They lie, and it's always easier to tell people something palatable when you've decided that the truth doesn't matter.

We are always going to have the harder job. With a tool like fire, it's much more work to contain it and keep people warm and happy than to torch a few dozen buildings. The focus shouldn't be on adopting the tactics of the right, but finding the way to expose their rapaciousness and make it clear that their easy promises are all smoke and mirrors.
posted by explosion at 8:02 AM on October 30 [8 favorites]


What NoxAeternum said.
posted by eviemath at 8:02 AM on October 30


social media has caused many problems and has something to do with the current bad state of politics, but the idea that there’s somehow something structurally right-wing in the medium of social media is weird and doesn’t make sense to me.

Social media favors simplicity over complexity, immediacy over reflection, emotions over consideration, and the structure favors audiences hearing more from people like them and that share their level of privilege and perspective than those who differ. That mix suits conservative values better than those of change.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:04 AM on October 30 [8 favorites]


It's not that the whole idea of social media is inherently right-wing. But the most popular and influential instantiations are absolutely affected by systemic biases, both in particular design choices and as an indirect result of algorithmic bias in the code that mediates/helps shape people's interactions on social media.
posted by eviemath at 8:05 AM on October 30 [2 favorites]


Cambridge Analytica was the toast of Washington when the Democrats used it, but miraculously became a tool of fascism when the Republicans did.

Uh, what? It was co-founded by Steve Bannon and the Mercers and AFAIK have never had even a single Democrat as a client.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:06 AM on October 30 [14 favorites]


Noting however that the evidence or data that I've seen so far does not support the idea that social media is wholey, or even majority, responsible for the current rise in fascism and far right ideologies around the world.
posted by eviemath at 8:07 AM on October 30 [2 favorites]


Oh, and that social media also doesn't differentiate between truth and falsehood, which ends up to the benefit of lies and "instinct".
posted by gusottertrout at 8:09 AM on October 30


All of which points to the Internet and social media maybe being the method, but not the actual reason.

Worth noting that the rise of the Nazis (and other fascists) in the 30s came on the heels of global economic failures, and came with plenty of messaging around throwing out elites and restoring the right order of the world.

We're currently ten years out from the 2008 crisis. Unfortunate that when people start getting vocally anti establishment they run to the fascists instead of turning against the capitalists...
posted by kaibutsu at 8:10 AM on October 30 [4 favorites]


run to the fascists instead of turning against the capitalists...

In our world, the venn diagram of these two groups is essentially a circle.
posted by maxwelton at 8:19 AM on October 30 [5 favorites]


"Are there seriously people who still believe that the left aren't interested in winning?"

Yes, I do. Not saying they're on a high horse, but even when they cheat it's to do something they think should happen not what they know will succeed with other people. Democrats cheated to make an unpopular choice be their frontrunner. Then they apparently didn't cheat enough in manipulating the actual election. Obama even downplayed Republican/Russian manipulation, not wanting to ruffle feathers or cast aspersions. The left also takes on loser roles, like trying to counter lies with truth, data, facts, compelling arguments, etc. All things which lose handily to simple lies, bad-faith arguing, and stoking deep-seated and highly emotional existing conflicts. If you want to win, you don't tackle lies with truth, you lie better. If you want to win, you don't continually make compromises and meet people 3/4 of the way, in their favor. If you want to win, you bully and push people into the positions and situations you want. Even when Dems have the office they still lose, they practically roll over to appease Republicans while also still wagging the tail at the same corrupting influence of bribing businesses.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:30 AM on October 30 [2 favorites]


All of which points to the Internet and social media maybe being the method, but not the actual reason.

Worth noting that the rise of the Nazis (and other fascists) in the 30s came on the heels of global economic failures, and came with plenty of messaging around throwing out elites and restoring the right order of the world.


the messaging of which was manipulated by the sinister genius of Goebells and his propaganda machine, of which the movies of Leni Riefenstahl etc stand in evidence. But radio was also a powerful tool, and it was the NEW media of the time. I suspect the rise of Hitler's Reich would have been impossible without it.
posted by philip-random at 8:31 AM on October 30 [5 favorites]


I think it's important to remember that Brazil, like a lot of countries outside of the Anglosphere/Western Europe, have only had democratic rule for the last few decades. In many of these countries there are still folks alive, like Bolsonaro, who were born and lived under the previous regime.

And the wave of decolonization and democratization happened relatively quickly in a matter of decades (And a similar democratization wave happened when the Cold War ended). There's no rule saying that this democratization can't be rolled back, and just as quickly.
posted by FJT at 8:37 AM on October 30 [5 favorites]


Worth noting that the rise of the Nazis (and other fascists) in the 30s came on the heels of global economic failures, and came with plenty of messaging around throwing out elites and restoring the right order of the world.

In like fashion, it's also worth noting that the rise of fascism also followed a time of increased sexual/identity liberation, which was one of the most notable elements of cinema in the late twenties and early thirties, and which created a strong reactionary response. The same was true in the late sixties/early seventies leading to another conservative backlash.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:41 AM on October 30 [8 favorites]


I haven't finished reading this but this managed to shock me:
...according to a new study by Pew Research Center, only 17% of people over the age of 65 were able to identify fact from opinion.
Pew's own article about the study is here, and the ability of the general public to tell facts from opinions is lower across the board than I'm comfortable with. Yikes!
posted by Western Infidels at 8:49 AM on October 30 [5 favorites]


Seems like the last time we had a major change in how media was consumed and information spread combined with a global economic downturn, we also saw the rise of facism. (Radio in the 1920s & 30s.)


As has already been drawn out, this is a critical point. The basic disruptive effects of mass media and communication always seem to be under-weighted in these conversations, because it's the hardest aspect to see objectively, or to get any perspective or context about, from within one's own lifetime.

What had maybe seemed to many like a fairly stable world that they understood and were familiar with has been upended and made chaotic--first by actual events, but then by an unceasing flood of information about all the other events happening everywhere. The thing about an economic depression or violence or other large-scale awfulness, is that any one local manifestation, e.g. an individual's lived experience, is an attenuated or limited facet of that total set of events. So while the Depression was bad for almost everyone, it was really bad for some and just hard for others and difficult but manageable for others, and so on. But with mass media, suddenly everyone had to cope with knowing and experiencing (by mediation) how bad it was for everyone, in all the different ways that it was bad. As our mass media become more vivid and immediate, human beings collectively have to learn how deal with all of this new information about the world, how to be skeptical and critical of it, how it (and you) can be manipulated, and that's a skill set that requires some time to learn, and smartness to collectively sustain. It is not an easy or peaceful learning process (ref.: 20th c.).

Fear and anger are the easiest, most basic emotions to exploit. In the confusion and seeming chaos that individual people experience following a paradigm shift in mass communication, until we each understand it better and are less emotionally vulnerable to and confused by it, that's what will win out. It's not the political views specifically, but the emotions that have already been provoked: people are made afraid and anxious by having all this new information about the world coming at them all the time, and the politics of hate and fear give easy articulation to those feelings. Fascists are capitalizing on an unprecedented opportunity/collective vulnerability.

The challenge to any left-wing (or even just peaceful and conciliatory) politics is that it must first acknowledge and give voice to the widespread fear and anxiety that we're experiencing, because the paradigm shift we're living through now is, in fact, kind of scary and anxiety-inducing--but also assure people that it's OK and we'll get through it together. Human beings are physiologically irrational creatures, and no matter how fancy our thinky-parts get, our emotions shape our thoughts far more profoundly than the other way around. No rational, well-reasoned response will speak to that because reason is the wrong language for what we're experiencing all around us.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:16 AM on October 30 [12 favorites]


something I just stumbled on while going through a pile of old notes and such:

Buckminster Fuller said it in 1970: All of the world’s oppressive problems - - war, overpopulation, hunger, disease - - can now be solved. Utopia is possible on planet earth. The only stumbling block is communication

And so on.
posted by philip-random at 9:26 AM on October 30 [3 favorites]


The Pew study was also mentioned here.
posted by RobotHero at 9:41 AM on October 30


Uh, what? It was co-founded by Steve Bannon and the Mercers and AFAIK have never had even a single Democrat as a client.

That's certainly what this guy suggests.

In an odd way I don't completely disagree with Middlemarch's comment, though, because the Obama campaign's use of the Internet was seen as a bellwether and then arguably the Decomcrats kinda blew their early advantage.
posted by atoxyl at 9:42 AM on October 30 [1 favorite]


The medium doesn't matter and it never has. Every time a new form of communication technology becomes popular there's a fucking freak-out about what it's doing to society across all kinds of metrics (children, women, ethnicity, economy, blah blah blah telephones are witchcraft etc.). The problem is the same problem it has always been: Liberals fall in love, but Conservatives fall in line.
posted by tzikeh at 9:49 AM on October 30 [1 favorite]


I haven't finished reading this but this managed to shock me:
...according to a new study by Pew Research Center, only 17% of people over the age of 65 were able to identify fact from opinion.
Pew's own article about the study is here, and the ability of the general public to tell facts from opinions is lower across the board than I'm comfortable with. Yikes!
posted by Western Infidels at 8:49 AM on October 30


They mention this in their analysis as well, but one thing that became really clear to me when I taught the basics of logical reasoning to some non-student Ian's recently is that the term "fact" is legitimately confusing. Under common usage, when we say that something is a "fact", that usually connotes that it is a true fact, not just a factual statement that could have a truth value of false. Technically, a factual (aka logic) statement is any statement that can be either verified to be true or shown to be false. But even the term "factual statement" sounds a lot like just a high-falutin' way of saying "fact" to those who aren't familiar with that technical definition, and we generally think of "facts" as, specifically, true factual statements. So you can see in the Pew data that people have a harder time correctly classifying statements that they believe to be false factual statements.

In other words, the way that we colloquially use "fact" can contribute to the conflation of the "factual vs opinion statement" categories with the "true vs false" categories. And the complicating issue with that is that there are still at least two common epistemologies that people implicitly work under.

Epistemology is, roughly and coming from someone with minimal actual training in philosophy (so maybe not wholey accurate), the philosophical study of how we know what we know - so, eg., what is truth, and how do we determine if something is true? So there are different epistemologies: a scientific/rational/materialist in the philosophy sense worldview would say that we know that something is true if we can verify it experimentally and the preponderance of evidence supports the thing being true. This is where the factual versus opinion statement categories come from - factual statements are things that it is even possible to determine the truth value of, whereas opinion statements can't be determined to be true or false (due to being subjective, or overly broad and untestable).

But many people are still raised with a faith-based epistemology, where truth is determined by level of faith, or by religious authority figures, or by reference to (and personal or authority figure interpretation of) a key religious text. Yet other people are raised with a more secular version where something is true because an authority figure says it is true (and, consequently, false when an authority figure says it's false). I think that many people have been raised to work with more than one of these epistemologies, in fact, and might implicitly switch between them based on context (which could include emotional content of the topic being reasoned about), or could be trying to apply multiple criteria for what makes something "true" at once, thus coming to conclusions that seem confusing or inconsistent to others.
posted by eviemath at 9:53 AM on October 30 [11 favorites]


I think there’s also an issue in new media during/after an economic downturn where people work hard to exploit it to make a buck regardless of the societal effect. “We need more listeners/tweeters to make money, who cares what they’re hearing/saying.” The type of media that keeps people engaged is stuff that stokes fears and considers truth to be optional.
posted by sleeping bear at 9:56 AM on October 30 [1 favorite]


Social media does present a new problem in comparison to past mass media technology, because the flow of data goes both ways. Social media is both a propaganda network and a surveillance network.

1984's video walls that simultaneously broadcast and monitor exist in real life. We call them Twitter and Facebook.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:12 AM on October 30 [10 favorites]


Not to abuse the edit window, but I meant to include this link in my comment above as just the very latest example of what I mean.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:14 AM on October 30


Apologies, the Democrats gamed Facebook direct
posted by Middlemarch at 10:26 AM on October 30


Social media is an ecosystem of universally accessible popularity contests with no overall authorities and a structure that naturally (either implicitly or explicitly) encourages soundbites, witty one-liners and memes over any deeper form of analysis or discussion. Think of a school where all the teachers suddenly disappeared.

It's obvious to me that it's made both the left and the right much stupider - it's empowered populists, regardless of their politics.

However, the success that accrues to attacks on others in these types of systems (again, think of a school with no teachers) favours the right, because they tend to focus on attacking external, out-group enemies.

I would (not joking here) happily regulate all social media out of existence, or simply ban it. I don't see that the destruction of our politics and social fabric is worth the trade off for baby pictures and dril.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 10:36 AM on October 30 [2 favorites]


Apologies, the Democrats gamed Facebook direct

NB: Ben Shapiro is not a trustworthy source of information.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:45 AM on October 30 [4 favorites]


Is it wrong?
posted by Middlemarch at 11:05 AM on October 30 [1 favorite]


Is it wrong?

If Ben Shapiro told me that the sky was blue, I would go outside for independent verification. If your statistics hold up, I would imagine that you can find another source that isn't compromised.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:09 AM on October 30 [15 favorites]


The medium doesn't matter and it never has.

I think this is naively wrong. I would bet real money that the ways that everyone reading this right now conceives of time as a phenomenon is profoundly, conceptually shaped by how we measure and keep consensus about the idea of “when.”

The medium of a clock or a watch is a basic influence on anyone’s thinking about time, regardless of how you use the tool itself. The question “what time is it?” only makes sense in the context of a specific symbolic medium, clocks. Or “what date is today?”, a question dependent upon the technology of calendars to make sense. The idea of clock and calendar, how they organize and present information and communicate that, is far more fundamental to our minds than any specific date or time. The medium is the message.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:09 AM on October 30 [11 favorites]


Is it wrong?

Yes. He's already been caught out on the lies in that piece before:
Ben Shapiro, the editor-in-chief of the conservative Daily Wire, said the impact of Facebook’s algorithm change on his site has been “substantial," but he declined to give specific numbers.
[...]
Not all sites favored by conservatives have been hurt. Fox News has actually seen its interaction rate on Facebook — the rate at which users like, comment, share or otherwise interact with a post — go up in the past month, according to the analytics tracker CrowdTangle. National Review has also experienced an increase. The liberal Daily Kos, meanwhile, has seen a decrease.
But then again, this is the same guy who claims that systemic discrimination against marginalized people doesn't exist and that it's scientific fact that transgender people are mentally ill, so maybe we shouldn't be taking this bigoted little shitstick's word at anything?
posted by zombieflanders at 11:20 AM on October 30 [13 favorites]


Also, if you're going to submit a right-wing opinion piece in lieu of actual proof, do look for one that at least tries linking to factual evidence.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:28 AM on October 30 [4 favorites]


Television is the one new communication media which didn't seem to have that effect. I'm not sure if that's because it's a natural opiate or because it was controlled from the beginning by a comparatively responsible elite which had just learned about the horrors of WWII and the Holocaust and didn't want that to happen again.

Television came of age in the early years of the Cold War, a war that was fought on different terms than preceding wars. US interests fought a war of economic philosophy and fought, in part, on the domestic front, through/in/over domestic media. They deplatformed and/or blacklisted anybody in media who could remotely be considered Commie-adjacent (HUAC) to ensure their voices were silenced and couldn't creep into the media, perverting the messages they hoped would take root.

The "comparatively responsible elite" were perhaps in part motivated by the horrors of the Holocaust, but were also definitely motivated by the desire to maintain the level of control they possessed, increase it if possible, and make a little money into the bargain, same as it ever was. I wouldn't say television itself is a natural opiate, but the type of lifestyle that 50s-era American Dream cultural imagery promoted certainly is, and television showcased that imagery to great effect. The television was, itself, a synecdoche for that dream: if you had a TV, you had it all. And if you couldn't afford a TV, perhaps you bought one on credit -- and then you bought all the things the TV showcased. Consumer credit, perhaps above all other innovations of the post-war TV age, is a natural opiate. As with all opiates, tolerance builds, and it's fundamentally unsustainable, with addicted users eventually hitting bottom.

Television, more than radio and more than preceding media, was aspirational media, and functioned as a sales medium, not by design but by its nature. It was a Window On The World, and sold images simply by showing them. Simply possessing one showed others in your social circle that you were a part of that glamorous world. Social media is an acceleration of this. Instagram does the same thing far more effectively. But it's not a broadcast medium, so no semi-centralized elite can exert the same degree of pressure when it comes to messaging. Major and minor players are all scrapping for the same pool of consumer engagement and consumer dollars. Audiences have also fragmented -- consumption has hit saturation points again and again, so to maintain profitability, new arrays of content and goods, pitched at increasingly specific demographic subgroups, are constantly being launched. At the same time, the "comparatively responsible elite" in charge of business and the "comparatively responsible elite" in charge of government have become decoupled, and consumer debt is hitting its upper limit.

This time, war is not being fomented by media. The war is the media -- the war is within it.
posted by halation at 11:48 AM on October 30 [7 favorites]


The medium doesn't matter and it never has.

I think this is naively wrong.


yes, just because it may confuse our sense of where to direct our frustration doesn't mean we can just shrug off what amounts to some profound wisdom (ie: Marshall McLuhan's guiding notion that until we become conscious of the medium we're mucking around in, the fish grasping water, we're not going to reconcile our current catastrophes).
posted by philip-random at 12:22 PM on October 30 [1 favorite]


One of the most significant reasons why the right has found so much more traction on social networks than the left is simply that capitalists with a lot of money are more likely to throw that money at the movement that keeps them in charge instead of the movement that wants to take their power away.

If only the rumors about George Soros funding antifa shitposters were actually true...
posted by Ouverture at 3:16 PM on October 30 [8 favorites]


It doesn't hurt that Putin's troll farms and whatever the FBI is calling COINTELPRO these days have been aligned in purpose since well before they started serving the same boss.
posted by tobascodagama at 4:48 PM on October 30 [1 favorite]


I'd suggest that its inherent tribality plays some role in the differential adoption of social media by right and left.

I mean, you open up Facebook and it doesn't ask about the ideas that excite you, or the works that inspire you, it asks who "your" people are, and merrily proceeds from there.

The basic conceit, as far as I can see, is that a primary (if not *the* primary) factor in judging the value of an idea (or photo, or song, or just about anything) should be attribution. "Who likes this, and what is their standing in my social circle?"

Does this sound like a recipe for sober reflection, self-doubt, and openness to different viewpoints? Or does it seem a better fit with authoritarian, personality-driven epistemic closure?

Maybe I'm wrong to connect my loathing of this model of engagement with my liberalism, but it sure feels to me like they touch on a lot of the same bases.
posted by bjrubble at 4:49 PM on October 30 [10 favorites]


Ed Burmila (aka gin and tacos) writes for the Baffler: Twilight of the Racist Uncles
Spend a full hour reading right-wing Facebook. It is like a funhouse mirror; you’ll feel the what-was-in-those-cookies sense of having entered a fantasy world of grievance and rage—a Lewis Carroll version of The Turner Diaries, a John Birch Society children’s book for sundowning grandpas. It is a barrage of propaganda crafted around the biases of old white people to exploit their deepest racial fears and authoritarian-follower personality traits. Much of it makes Fox News look tame and responsible by comparison. Toy commercials could only dream of reaching kids as effectively as the right-wing noise machine hooks our elders.

Now imagine looking at that for hours per day, every day.

What would be left of your brain after several years of that? Like the president they so blindly love, the brains they once had become a puddle of Cracker Barrel sausage gravy strewn with flotsam and jetsam of the Greatest Hits of the reactionary playbook.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 5:49 PM on October 30 [11 favorites]


Ed Burmila (aka gin and tacos) writes for the Baffler: Twilight of the Racist Uncles

I was trying to figure out a slightly less overtly ageist way to put it but this is sort of the other part of what I said about Democrats blowing their lead in leveraging the Internet. Ten years ago everyone thought the promise of communication technology in campaigning was its ability to reach diverse and progressive young people. Now it seems to be leveraged more effective to reach paranoid old white people. I don't think either of those uses is exactly inherent to the medium of "online," though. They are strategies. However the for-profit nature of Big Social Media does work in favor of the least scrupulous parties.
posted by atoxyl at 9:10 PM on October 30 [4 favorites]


The quote "A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes" has been around in some form for 300 years. While Facebook changes aspects of the conversation, the quote suggests it is not a new phenomenon.

I credit Facebook with some of the success of #MeToo. A question to ask yourself is: Would you trade #MeToo's success for the revival of Nazis?

I hope it doesn't have to be an either/or, but at this point, due to lack of problem-free examples (Metafilter included), I have a hard time imagining one without the other using anything other than magic.
posted by fragmede at 9:24 PM on October 30 [2 favorites]


I was just thinking about how, back around the turn of the century before I joined MeFi and started spending most of my online life here, I would encounter this particular kind of guy on usenet and web forums and email lists... I would have some sort of disagreement with a person which would escalate to harsher and harsher criticisms of each other's positions.

Then at some point the other person would start belligerently saying something along the lines of “I bet you wouldn't say that to my face!” And I would respond that yes, I'm super wimpy, so feel free to fantasize about beating the shit out of me which you could probably do easily, but it doesn't make you any less wrong. But they'd sort of get stuck in a loop of repeatedly and ever-more-ostentatiously implying or outright saying how violent they'd get if I disagreed with them to their face.

Pondering this, I assume that they were almost always if not always white men. (I also am a white cis-het man.) So I'm realizing that, in addition to fantasizing about violence against someone critical of their ideas and about prevailing in an argument through personal threats and physical force, they were essentially saying “If we were face to face it would be apparent that I am white and male and that I have additional visible status signifiers which would make others apprehensive of disagreeing with me.”

This is undoubtedly more obvious to people who aren't white cis-het males, and I'm belatedly overcoming some of my own obliviousness here, but one effect of the internet on our cultures that I'd expect must have moved segments of our societies towards the closer embrace of the white male supremacy that fits so well with fascism must be a phenomenon like a mass The Emperor's New Clothes experience, where guys who walk around in real life clothed and armored and enabled by their privilege and society's deference started getting a more frequent taste of what it was like for their words and ideas and sentiments to stand on their own merits and be found wanting.

So they idolize men like Trump who flagrantly don't have to live in that reality, or who can project the impression of living apart from it. I haven't picked up if Bolsonaro fits in the same category but obviously his politics of oppression indulge the desire for all the privileges to become absolute.
posted by XMLicious at 4:14 AM on October 31 [7 favorites]


I think the problem with that is that most people don't post on forums
posted by Merus at 4:19 AM on October 31 [1 favorite]


I'm not on Twitter and have no truck with Facebookery, but surely there's a similar phenomenon on the social medias?

A couple of times this actually happened on professional mailing lists where people were saying these sorts of things under their real names. No idea if it had a subsequent effect on their careers but at this point I could imagine a positive effect... “I like that Johnson fellow's spunk, threatening to beat people up on the internet!”
posted by XMLicious at 4:29 AM on October 31 [2 favorites]


The medium doesn't matter and it never has.

Parts one and two of FRONTLINE's Facebook concerns aired this week, and it covered the influence Facebook had on recent world events. Most disturbing was part two, where they credited the rise of the violent right in the Philippines and elsewhere directly to Facebook, no doubt in Brazil too, as the methods are being copied. It even documented democracy activists arguing their case in the midst of their problems to Facebook executives about fake accounts and fake news, but Facebook didn't care much, if at all, until the privacy scandals started impacting them. I involuntarily now associate the word "right wing death squad" with Facebook itself. Don't miss part one where Zuckerberg is taped in the middle of an apparent panic attack during a stage interview, and removes his hoodie to relieve the sweating, revealing the garment's interior to have the company's principles sewn inside as a large patch, invisible to the outside. As the moderater said, "Just like a secret cult." Apparently they have a plan and follow it.
posted by Brian B. at 6:52 AM on October 31 [4 favorites]


It really surprises me that this whole discussion is about the question "Is social media/the internet the cause of the problems we have right now?"

I think the clear implication of the piece is that it's certain communities which happen to exist on social media/the internet which are the problem.

"The MAGAsphere in the US, the Netto-uyoku in Japan, Fujitrolls in Peru, or AK-trolls in Turkey. Your trolls will probably have been radicalized online via some kind of community for young men like Gamergate, Jeuxvideo.com ("videogames.com") in France, ForoCoches ("Cars Forum") in Spain, Ilbe Storehouse in South Korea, 2chan in Japan, or banter Facebook pages in the UK."

It's true that these are "aided by algorithms recommending content that increases user watch time" and I think we need to turn down the gain on that amplifier by, like, a lot. For other reasons as well -- it's just not good for us.

But mainly the cause of problems of "our times" as so starkly documented in the main link... is humans. As humans generally have been the causes of the problems of other times. Humans, working together, and re-enforcing one another's anti-social belief systems within toxic subcultures.

It just so happens that THESE groups of humans "live" on the internet. But so what? They always live somewhere. Why do they live on the internet this time? Probably because that's where they are allowed to live right now, that's where they can form these cultures in relative privacy without getting shamed and shunned by the people around them who are not participating. The internet is the Wild West, so it's where the train robbers work.

But the question is not "should we keep people out of the West" as if the Rocky Mountains and the desert were causing bad behavior. It's "What should we do about these train robbers?" What the Wild West needed was better organized communities and some enforceable laws. And that's what we need now, on the internet, I would say.
posted by OnceUponATime at 9:04 AM on October 31 [3 favorites]


The "Wild West" is a myth, created to cover up how the actual West really was, and tying into toxic national myths of individualism. The reality was that many of the communities in the West were well organized (for example, gun control was a common element in Western settlements) and the communities wanted the railroads in part because they were a connection to law and civilization.

And we're seeing the same thing happening online as well. Online communities want law, want protection - but the people who own the systems don't, because that would mean losing power, as well as being against their own ideology. That's why you see Matthew Prince tying himself in knots saying that he has to work with terrorists and white supremacists because that's what freedom means. That's why you see Jack Dorsey talking about removing the like button, instead of actually dealing with hate. That's why Chris "moot" Poole has a cushy job at Alphabet today. And that is the problem.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:43 AM on October 31 [13 favorites]


It just so happens that THESE groups of humans "live" on the internet. But so what? They always live somewhere.

I would think that the internet probably creates some historically unique features for human social networks, because for the purposes of epidemiology it's equivalent to infinite population density. An approach analogous to controlling the characteristics of communities and imposing laws on them may not be effective when changing communities is no more difficult that clicking on a different link or maybe as hard as installing a different app.
posted by XMLicious at 9:49 AM on October 31 [4 favorites]


the right wing has all the money and is willing to spend it to brainwash people.

It's more the latter than the former. Most capitalists (by number) were perfectly happy with a 39.6% top marginal rate, an estate tax with a reasonable exemption, and no special capital gains treatment.

Problem is that people who have the moral scruples to not invent a religion that says it's not only OK but morally virtuous to evade taxes in any way possible and otherwise generally act like a sociopath also have the moral scruples to avoid building an Orwellian propaganda machine to counter the propaganda arm of the Church of Rand.
posted by wierdo at 9:53 AM on October 31


An approach analogous to controlling the characteristics of communities and imposing laws on them may not be effective when changing communities is no more difficult that clicking on a different link or maybe as hard as installing a different app.

This is another myth that keeps popping up with the internet as well - that switching communities online is "easy". It's not, which is why Twitter still exists. Network effects are a thing, which is why even though the technical side is just "click a different link", the communal side - the human side - is just as powerful and as hard as it's always been.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:07 AM on October 31 [3 favorites]


Kevin Drum at Mother Jones: Social Media Is Making the World a Better Place. Quit Griping About It.
I realize that this might not be the most opportune moment to persuade you otherwise, but I’d like to offer a far different take. I once wrote that the internet makes smart people smarter and dumb people dumber. Likewise, it might very well make good people better and bad people worse. But on average, that doesn’t mean the world is a worse place. So why does it seem so much worse?

[...]

Broadly speaking, the world is not worse than it used to be. We simply see far more of its dark corners than we used to, and we see them in the most visceral possible way: live, in color, and with caustic commentary. Human nature being what it is, it’s hardly surprising that we end up thinking the world is getting worse.

[...]

... if you want to make things better, you first have to convince people that something bad is happening. Social media does that. Hoo boy, does it do that. But this is a good thing, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Shining a light on the dark corners is the first step toward getting people to give a damn, and for all its faults social media is absolutely stellar at doing that.

And that’s what we’ve wanted all along. Right?
It's a nuanced argument, worth reading before critiquing.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:07 AM on October 31 [4 favorites]


The Internet is great for terrorists, racists, and fascists for the same reason that it's great for other marginalised groups: it can put you in touch with others and let you know that you're not alone and make you feel a bit more normal. We need to grapple with the idea that some groups, some ideas, need to be marginalised. Even in places like Twitter and Reddit that have pretensions to being the public square where all can have a voice.

Also, the "so what" is that the speed and range of the Internet is transformative: there is no way in hell I'd be writing letters to everyone on this thread having read the same newspaper article and agreed to coordinate via the classified section. Every technological advance just provides humans opportunities to human at each other harder and faster than before, but it never does it in a neutral way. The answer is not, of course, to say "Internet bad!", but we have to acknowledge the characteristics in order to adapt to them.

Right now, online and offline, we're doing a bad job of coping with the characteristics of the Internet and the emergent properties that spring from them. Online, we circle the wagons, making some places relatively orderly and civil while allowing anything at scale to become a cesspool. Offline we argue over nonsense like regulating encryption while allowing the really dangerous social manipulation to dismantle bits of our society. It's not 20 terrorist bombers with great opsec that pose a risk to my family, it's sloppy stochastic terrorists with thousands of followers, and nation states funneling funds to propel people from the fringe to the main stage.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 10:31 AM on October 31 [7 favorites]


This is another myth that keeps popping up with the internet as well - that switching communities online is "easy". It's not, which is why Twitter still exists. Network effects are a thing, which is why even though the technical side is just "click a different link", the communal side - the human side - is just as powerful and as hard as it's always been.

But right-wingers forming Gab and oozing over there really did not involve the level of difficulty and overcoming obstacles involved in, say, the Leideners relocating to Plymouth Colony or the Mormons reaching Salt Lake or, perhaps more apropos, the Free State Project losers moving here to New Hampshire and throwing some of the key 2016 elections to the Democrats via spoiler candidates.

Equating movements between communities online with the uprooting and travel of doing so in real life seems much more mythological to me than leaving out network effects in an articulation of why the measures used to control the movements and associations of people in the physical world will not transfer well and not be as effective online.

There are much more fundamental things which need to be put in place legally before we should get anywhere close to analogizing certain kinds of consensual online communication with train robbing and implementing legal measures to prevent it. Net neutrality is an example but I get the impression there's all sorts of completely dystopian crap platforms could pull to intentionally deceive people about who is communicating with them and what's being communicated, which there wouldn't be any legal consequences for currently.

I want to write more, or try to clarify what I'm saying, but unfortunately it's time for me to go to sleep and I'm in a bit of a pharmaceutically-induced fog at the moment.
posted by XMLicious at 11:19 AM on October 31 [2 favorites]


But right-wingers forming Gab and oozing over there really did not involve the level of difficulty and overcoming obstacles involved in, say, the Leideners relocating to Plymouth Colony or the Mormons reaching Salt Lake or, perhaps more apropos, the Free State Project losers moving here to New Hampshire and throwing some of the key 2016 elections to the Democrats via spoiler candidates.

Equating movements between communities online with the uprooting and travel of doing so in real life seems much more mythological to me than leaving out network effects in an articulation of why the measures used to control the movements and associations of people in the physical world will not transfer well and not be as effective online.


Again, easier does not mean easy. You bring up Gab, but it's worth pointing out that throughout all of Gab's short, malign existence, it was always on the knife's edge - the major app stores refused to work with them, they struggled with finding hosting and payment providers that would turn enough of a blind eye to work with them, and in the end it took just one act of domestic terrorism tied back to them to sever even those meager lines and cut them off. Furthermore, the next Gab won't have the benefit of the doubt, and probably will find nobody willing to work with them.

The biggest problem for someone looking to relocate communities, whether online or off, is the support network. Changing communities means severing ties and entering a new community where you have to start from scratch, and it's the ramifications of that (physical, social, and emotional) that makes relocation difficult.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:35 AM on October 31 [3 favorites]


The left (NOT liberals, this is a distinction worth making) have been using the internet fairly effectively. The socialist podcast Chapo Trap House has the second highest grossing Patreon page on the site, bringing in $109,000 a month. There's a whole gamut of other popular leftist podcasts too, covering every conceivable left tendency. The libertarian socialist magazine Current Affairs also uses social media extremely effectively, putting out online articles with accessible analysis of major news developments almost immediately after they happen and sharing them across social networks. "Leftbook" groups are huge and put out hella memes. Gritty has been quickly and overwhelmingly co-opted into an anarchist mascot. Weird Twitter is almost overwhelmingly leftist.

The left is engaging the internet just as effectively as the right, and it is successfully radicalizing people. So why isn't the left remaking the world the way the far right is? Because the one thing that everyone in power can agree upon, liberal, conservative, or fascist, is suppressing, beating up, imprisoning, and killing the far left. The left provides a meaningful critique of the status quo that challenges the ruling class. The far right does not. Those who already have money and political power tend to make out like bandits when countries go fascist.

Every idiot pepe on 4chan has the explicit backing of the Republican party. Meanwhile almost every Democrat will run the hell away from an outright communist. Liberals in power will always choose the far right over the far left, and they allocate money, news time, and other resources accordingly.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 2:30 PM on October 31 [5 favorites]


What about the recent adoption of social media by older, much more reactionary demographics?
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 6:40 PM on October 31 [1 favorite]


Broadly speaking, the world is not worse than it used to be.

Since 1970 most animals besides insects have experienced more than a 50% decline in their numbers, many going extinct despite best efforts, while humans have doubled. I've heard the argument that the world is a kinder, gentler place since WW2, but this is merely indicative of a productive lull that hasn't yet stalled. Perhaps it is waiting for a complex supply of food grown with modern pesticides and herbicides to run out, as food likely did in the last major world depression before WW2, setting the stage. It is only a matter of time at these rates. And the threat of nuclear war and bio-terrorism only increases as technology advances, and water quality gets worse. Nothing has moderated our human cultures to make them less combative. I'd say the numbers don't lie and the worst is yet to come with global warming.
posted by Brian B. at 7:08 PM on October 31 [3 favorites]


We really cannot depend on a supposed difficulty of switching between online communities to serve as a limiting factor on the spread of right-wing sentiment.

There just really is no substantial barrier where you're trying to assert one, NoxAeternum. The analogy to the physical world is tenuous at best. You can effortlessly be a member of two separate communities on the figurative opposite sides of the world, no need whatsoever to sever all your ties in one place, and you don't have to be rich like a jet-setter or even take time to travel. Or even log out of one of them and participate exclusively in one community at a time, for that matter.

Listen to this interview from September or its follow up from a couple of days ago by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, with journalist Eli Saslow and Derek Black, son of Don Black, the former Grand Wizard of the KKK and founder and current webmaster of Stormfront, who has supposedly disavowed white nationalism. He describes forming rapid-response teams to join any high-profile discussion about race on the internet they found out about to seed propaganda into and influence the course of the discussion. And of course, that's basically the sort of stuff being done at the nation-state level with the Internet Research Agency or some of the things which appeared in the Snowden revelations.

This insistence on making analogies to physical participation in real-world communities is a cognitive skeumorphism or something. There is a speed and fluidity to human interaction online which places it in a fundamentally different category from physical-world interactions, and that's before you even get to the matter of automated “computational propaganda” methods to augment and proliferate the individualized interactions which can be set in motion by a single person: activities which don't currently have any direct equivalent in the physical world.
posted by XMLicious at 8:01 PM on October 31 [2 favorites]


There just really is no substantial barrier where you're trying to assert one, NoxAeternum. The analogy to the physical world is tenuous at best. You can effortlessly be a member of two separate communities on the figurative opposite sides of the world, no need whatsoever to sever all your ties in one place, and you don't have to be rich like a jet-setter or even take time to travel. Or even log out of one of them and participate exclusively in one community at a time, for that matter.

Your definition of effort seems to be overly focused on physical effort, while minimizing other forms. Even online communities take effort to be a part of - it may not be physical, but it is effort. And that effort and the investment it represents is a barrier, and a real one - it's part of how network effects work, and it's why exclusion from a community works as a means of both punishment and a tool for social order in a community - getting banned means having your ties severed, and the work you put into being a member of the community being rendered meaningless.

And yes, I get that you have white supremacists trying to seed hate into discussions, but what I've also seen is that when you have communities that have a principle of not allowing hate in, that shit sticks out like a sore thumb, and gets hammered down hard. Again, this comes back to what I said earlier regarding ideology - a large part of why these assholes can work their way into those conversations without being conspicuous is because a lot of social media communities work from free speech absolutism, which says that hate has a valid part in the discourse.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:07 PM on October 31 [3 favorites]


exclusion from a community works as a means of both punishment and a tool for social order in a community - getting banned means having your ties severed, and the work you put into being a member of the community being rendered meaningless

The way that banning Nazi and fascist symbolism and expression in Europe rendered meaningless the work of Nazis and fascists there? Or the way that legally banning the Klan in the US in 1870 and socially sanctioning it again and again and again since then has?

I have few objections to constraints on speech in general when it's for good reasons and I would be in favor of a regime of censorship and sanctions against racist and ultranationalist ideology as forceful as, say, the present international enforcement of intellectual property law... if it was going to work. (I don't consider IP law a good reason for these sorts of constraints, I'm just using it as an example of forceful and comprehensive controls on communication.)

At this point though I feel like what you're saying isn't congruent to how this stuff works offline: you're proposing an approach which hasn't actually worked in the physical world. IP law ensures that wealth is herded into the pockets of media conglomerates and other potentates but does not actually prevent violations of the laws; in 2007 this guy estimated that he incurs $12.5 million per year of liability for IP infringement just from living his day-to-day life.

Throughout history laws and regimes to prohibit religious heresy, for example, have not effectively mandated orthodox thought or actually prevented heresy from flourishing. In the US we had laws providing the death penalty for written communication and speech which could lead to a slave insurrection but that did not prevent slave uprisings from occurring nor extinguish the abolitionist cause or prevent the spread of abolitionist ideas and literature, or for that matter prevent Christianized African slaves from just really heavily emphasizing the bits of their religion involving Moses freeing the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt.

Yeah, in a homogenous tightly-articulated cradle-to-grave enveloping society like the Amish, shunning can be a virtually-unbeatable trump card (ha) but it depends on there really being no equivalent alternative and it's just not scalable. The Russian Empire made liberal use of exile of the condemned beyond all city limits and exile to the Russian Far East, but that did not prevent all different sorts of malcontents from thoroughly discussing the illegitimacy of the Tsar and coming together to overthrow the old order in the first revolution of 1917. (Just the most successful in a long line of recurrent uprisings and revolutions.)

It's not that we shouldn't apply pressure to social media platforms and payment providers to censure and censor extremist ideologies, it's just that it's an extremely asymmetrical endeavor and we could put in international-intellectual-property-regime levels of effort or even slave-empire levels of effort and still not get very close to eliminating that kind of content in online communication, so we shouldn't regard it as anything like a sufficient approach to countering the resurgence of right-wing extremism.

Any strategic long-term solution needs to harmonize with the technological enhancements to speed and frequency of communication and information flow, not struggle to implement strategies that historically haven't even worked very well against mostly-illiterate populations who can only get hold of paper with difficulty.

I would think the difficult and tedious work which has always sustained progress even though we repeatedly falter on the large scale of time—deeply convincing people that freedom and prosperity for their fellows is genuinely in their own best interest and creating and maintaining and strengthening institutions of society in support of that—will need to be where the mass of our effort goes.

Strident force and political gains and seizing the commanding heights in the economic and technological worlds will be necessary all the way along but if victory in WWII didn't produce a particularly substantial or lasting result against fascism I can't believe that those sorts of efforts will be the decisive ones even if they're a necessary part of the anti-fascist project. Before we know it the identities of political parties will flip around again and whiteness will be redefined in spite of demographic shifts and mechanisms to comprehensively control speech, and other things which can be turned to the service of fascism, will be.
posted by XMLicious at 11:38 PM on October 31 [1 favorite]


in 2007 this guy estimated that he incurs $12.5 million per year of liability for IP infringement just from living his day-to-day life.

Sorry, I misread: he actually said $12.5 million daily and gave the figure of $4.5 billion per year. Though that was before the copyright on “Happy Birthday” fell apart.
posted by XMLicious at 11:49 PM on October 31


Deplatforming works. If the barriers to moving from one online community to another were as insignificant as is being proposed in this thread, it wouldn't. But it does.

And like, even if you think it's not going to be effective, why oppose it? Why not go for it, and see. It's not like it can do any harm.
posted by Dysk at 5:20 AM on November 1 [4 favorites]


The socialist podcast Chapo Trap House has the second highest grossing Patreon page on the site, bringing in $109,000 a month.

Fuck Chapo. I'm not interested in any movement that models itself off their misogyny and homophobia.
posted by PMdixon at 6:30 AM on November 1 [6 favorites]


If we declare “We defeated fascism, because we deplatformed the fascists! You're welcome, future generations!” and leave it there we'll be just as full of crap as the last people who declared that they defeated fascism. Like I said above: necessary but not sufficient.

There's no reason for anyone to feel opposed because these things are being discussed, though. @deplatformhate's success is spectacular and inspiring and should be supported in every way and the same goes for the other deplatforming efforts, it just shouldn't be equated with having tamed the Wild West or having occupied Berlin or any other geographical thing which would translate into the internet version of having eliminated fascism by leaving fascists with nowhere else to go.
posted by XMLicious at 6:52 AM on November 1


Well no, literally nothing will eliminate fascists entirely in that way. What we can do is marginalise them, and remove them from broader public influence and acceptability. You can't make all the fascists disappear forever, so holding that as the standard of defeating fascism is somewhat ludicrous. If we can remove them from being politically relevant, that's enough. Deplatforming is a great place to start with that. I don't think anyone here is saying that we'll deplatform them and call it done, so I'm not quite sure why you're arguing against that? But like let's start by deplatforming them and see how far toward removing the threat of fascism that gets us.
posted by Dysk at 7:18 AM on November 1 [5 favorites]


People are quite aware that pushing back against hate is an ongoing task, and requires building communities where hate is not tolerated - something that the tech industry has failed horribly at, in large part due to ideological reasons where you have the people running these systems openly arguing that they have to allow hate because that is what freedom requires.

This whole tangent began with a push back on the idea that changing communities online is effortless, which is patently untrue from a number of views - building oneself up in any community is effort, and creating new communities online is even more so, especially when you have to build a platform in doing so. Again, look at what happened to Alex Jones - being removed from the major social media platforms has significantly cut his reach, and banning hate subreddits weakens those communities, even if they form new subreddits. And this idea of "effortless switching" is another tech myth that's really problematic, because it's too often used as an argument for not dealing with the issues at these companies because "if they're bad enough, we can just switch."
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:33 AM on November 1 [5 favorites]


Overlapping threads on seemingly very different topics is always fun! This article I just found on Witches and Class Struggle (relevant to the thread on gothic Marxism) describes the organization and coordination of witch hunts in the 1500s and 1600s in terms that come across as very similar to our discussion here about rising fascism and far right ideologies currently:
Before neighbor accused neighbor, or entire communities were seized by a “panic,” a steady indoctrination took place, with the authorities publicly expressing anxiety about the spreading of witches, and travelling from village to village in order to teach people how to recognize them, in some cases carrying with them lists with the names of suspected witches and threatening to punish those who hid them or came to their assistance.

But it was the jurists, the magistrates, and the demonologists, often embodied by the same person, who most contributed to the persecution. They were the ones who systematized the arguments, answered the critics, and perfected a legal machine that, by the end of the sixteenth century, gave a standardized, almost bureaucratic format to the trials, accounting for the similarities of the confessions across national boundaries. In their work, the men of the law could count on the cooperation of the most reputed intellectuals of the time, including philosophers and scientists who are still praised as the fathers of modern rationalism.

There can be no doubt, then, that the witch hunt was a major political initiative.
(To be clear: the parallels I see are between those who participated in the persecution of accused witches and those who are drawn to fascism and the far right currently.)
posted by eviemath at 7:59 AM on November 1 [3 favorites]


Look, I'm no Chapo sympathist, call yourself the dirtbag left and I'll treat you like it, but I think the left does an awful lot on social media.

Young people who I talk to, they're been informed by social media. Yeah maybe they read some other stuff once they get involved, and that's necessary, but when I talk to potential contacts, they know about white supremacists, they know about capitalism, and what they know they know through social media.
You can criticise it all you like, but when we're not face to face that's how we interact, and how we learn.

I believe y'all when you say that there's reactionaries all over your feeds, but that's not the case for me.
Then internet has exposed and allowed me to be part of a vast international leftist movement. I would agree with onceuponatime that while there's plenty of conservative social media, it also noticeably has the political support. It's not that there's not radical socialist politics all over, it's that they are people organising because they're broken because of one oppression or another, and they're limited in capacity by their lack of access to capital and "mainstream media".

I love MetaFilter, sure, but it's not what I'd call an example of the new left social media. We make our guillotine jokes, but that's a serious step away from what left social media discusses as far as I see things. The base assumptions of socialist spaces still need to be argued over and over here.

If you want to know why I think the 'liberal left" does badly online, it's because they're selling watered down fascism, with none of the promise and all of the bigotry, rather than actually challenging the arguments reactionaries make. So it's intellectually weak and morally bankrupt and that shines through clearly.

#resistance is a joke all of its own. It's a byword for clueless liberals who don't know what they're resisting and think this is a twitter beef against rudeness, breaking tradition and if you're lucky, "authoritarianism", which includes student protest. I know it as a term of derision.

I always remember a David Klion tweet sesh about how, even if you can prove one candidate is not technically corrupt and the other is, you're not going to get anywhere if your methods don't point out that as holders of capital, they're both shameless monsters. People don't understand why some exploitation is legal and fine and it undermines arguments about who is "better' if you're not challenging capitalism as well as your opposition.

I'm not convinced any of this is down to the platform, it seems like the same arguments the left has always had. Yeah there's a little more mass access, and there's some specific new types of casualties, but what's significantly different? Economic trouble, fascists spread racist propaganda and shift focus to demonised group from failures of capitalism. Rise of nationalism, organic purity of the fascist social whole must not be violated. What's new and different about that?
posted by AnhydrousLove at 9:19 AM on November 1 [2 favorites]


Fuck Chapo. I'm not interested in any movement that models itself off their misogyny and homophobia.

I don't think that's really a fair characterization of that podcast, but whatever your view of them, they're not a model for any movement. I mentioned them because they're extremely popular, not because they're some kind of standard bearer for the left. I've seen a ton of critiques of Chapo and the "dirtbag left" from other prominent socialist individuals and publications.

Your portrayal of Chapo as the model of the entire left movement just seems to me like you've got an axe to grind against the left and you're using any mention of one podcast to try and discredit the entire range of left-of-center ideologies. Which goes back to the point I was actually making in my previous comment, about how much liberals hate the left in a way that the center right will never hate the far right.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 9:20 AM on November 1 [1 favorite]


So, this Slate piece on rights of students had a bit in it that illustrates what I mean by ideology enabling hate:
In California, students wearing the American flag were told to turn their shirts inside out. This was on May 5, 2010—Cinco de Mayo—and Mexican American classmates confronted them. To diffuse the conflict, school officials told the students to remove the American-flag clothing or go home. I understand the frustration that Mexican American students felt. Yet this is a classic heckler’s veto. That is, particularly sensitive listeners can, if they object vociferously enough, silence otherwise legitimate speech.

In another lawsuit, a student was pulled from class for wearing a shirt with “Homosexuality is shameful” and “Be ashamed” to protest his high school’s day of silence, intended to promote gay equality and draw attention to the violence that is often visited upon sexual minorities. I personally detest that message, but I think that he should have been able to wear that shirt to school.
(Emphasis mine.)

Let's be blunt - this is a law professor saying that schools should be forced to allow hate to be espoused against students in their care by another, because otherwise you're limiting the free speech of students. And the reporter doesn't even bat an eye at this argument, doesn't say "wait...aren't you saying there that hate has a place in schools?"

This is the mentality that I've seen get espoused over and over again by the people running social media, and it's what enables hate to be pushed that we've legitimized it by saying it has a place in our discourse.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:19 AM on November 1 [4 favorites]


This article I just found on Witches and Class Struggle (relevant to the thread on gothic Marxism) describes the organization and coordination of witch hunts in the 1500s and 1600s in terms that come across as very similar to our discussion here about rising fascism and far right ideologies currently

That was really interesting and thought-provoking piece. I would have loved to see some citations or at least like a bibliography down at the bottom, though, because there was a lot of stuff asserted with conviction that would be more convincing with some reference to prior work.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:33 AM on November 1


Your portrayal of Chapo as the model of the entire left movement just seems to me like you've got an axe to grind against the left and you're using any mention of one podcast to try and discredit the entire range of left-of-center ideologies
.


My preferred system is far more orthodox Marxist than anyone in the actually existing world is advocating. Please try again.
posted by PMdixon at 6:42 PM on November 1 [2 favorites]


In that case, here's an example of a successful leftist engagement with the internet that might be more to your liking:

The Discourse Collective did a fantastic "theory" series intended to introduce listeners to important concepts in Marxism by presenting and discussing various Marxist texts in an accessible way while relating them to present day circumstances. It taught me a lot when I was first learning about the left.

They've unfortunately gone on hiatus, but I think they still stand as a useful testament to the fact that the left is working hard to use the internet to their advantage.

Also worth mentioning is Revolutionary Left Radio, which is a fantastic educational resource for learning about the history of various left movements and figures. The host is a Maoist, but he brings on guests from every tendency and he's all about left unity. Just don't listen to the Stalin episode, I heard the guests on that one are total apologists. I loved their episode on the Spanish Civil War.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 9:12 PM on November 1 [1 favorite]


You can't make all the fascists disappear forever, so holding that as the standard of defeating fascism is somewhat ludicrous.

How about just having a standard of doing more than last time fascism was declared defeated?

Thanks to Simon Wiesenthal &co. we know that even complete military defeat and territorial occupation of fascist polities, followed in Europe by legal prohibition of many sorts of fascist and right-wing extremist discourse in public, in pre-Internet circumstances for that matter, was not adequate. I guess this is why I'm fixated with a bit of apprehension on the “great place to start” part of deplatforming and what seems to me hyperbole about how much the difficulty for individuals living under their real identities online to create new accounts and move some things will impair the fascist cause.

I don't think anyone here is saying that we'll deplatform them and call it done, so I'm not quite sure why you're arguing against that?

I'm similarly not sure why you keep trying to position my attempt to discuss goals slightly further along in the campaign against fascism as opposition to or arguing against deplatforming.

The effort level involved in switching online communities should not be an acceptable excuse on the part of tech companies to accede to and tolerate hate speech and harassment and fascist propaganda. I just think that it should be that we don't tolerate these kind of activities even when they require minimal efforts, rather than exaggerating the effort necessary to evade a tech company's mass-production-level operations to disrupt public communications with particular content.

Compared to the effort levels which have allowed successful evasion of even physical-world government-backed sanctions against propagandizing fascist and racist goals and movements, limiting an online fascist's participation in or even a banning them from particular online communities still seems to me equivalent to something like a twentieth-century fascist temporarily misplacing their Rolodex. After however many warnings or time-outs or whatever.

If some twentieth-century project could have developed a technique to remotely vaporize the Rolodexes of all fascists it would have been totally awesome and worth every bit of support put towards it, it just would've been very preliminary. The disruption of payment processing and revenue streams is even better but—in a post-Citizens-United world where in the U.S., at least, a billionaire can twitch his pinky finger and a firehose of cash starts building up on James O'Keefe's doorstep and we only find out because of people boasting about it, and when elsewhere to my knowledge Panama-Papers-type surreptitious shifting of funds is not much more inhibited—anti-fascist campaigners should still be crowned with laurel for striking these blows but we shouldn't rest on those laurels.
posted by XMLicious at 3:47 AM on November 2


I'm similarly not sure why you keep trying to position my attempt to discuss goals slightly further along in the campaign against fascism as opposition to or arguing against deplatforming.

Because you spent like a quarter of this entire thread saying that changing communities online is effortless, to which the fact that deplatforming works was brought up as an argument against. It's a little bizarre how you're trying to change what you've been doing and saying in this thread right from the start.

Thanks to Simon Wiesenthal &co. we know that even complete military defeat and territorial occupation of fascist polities, followed in Europe by legal prohibition of many sorts of fascist and right-wing extremist discourse in public, in pre-Internet circumstances for that matter, was not adequate.

Actually it was perfectly adequate, right up until the point where we stopped actively shunning and ostracising them, and instead started asking them to come on TV panel and new shows. When we stopped with the ongoing marginalisation, they stopped being marginalised. Who knew!?
posted by Dysk at 4:11 AM on November 2 [4 favorites]


Because you spent like a quarter of this entire thread saying that changing communities online is effortless, to which the fact that deplatforming works was brought up as an argument against. It's a little bizarre how you're trying to change what you've been doing and saying in this thread right from the start.

At around the 90th of 118 comments I responded to a statement dismissive towards the distinction between the physical world and the online world, when it comes to where fascists “live”, by pointing to the vanishingly smaller effort involved in moving around the online world and making my own characterization that epidemiologically the internet will be equivalent to an infinite population density. I made four subsequent comments in which the word “deplatform” did not appear, nor did it appear in NoxAeternum's replies quoting me, until you introduced it Dysk.

I think that it very emphatically makes a difference in the capabilities of fascist ideologies to spread when it's online instead of mimeographed paper copies of Klan newsletters, even if for example they were to be restricted to distributing glossy PDFs to their adherents like ISIS did. My impression was that ISIS's social media accounts getting continuously deleted did not impact their activities greatly in and of itself. I think it's unwise to label this difference as a myth.

If the period you're indicating as one when fascists were marginalized describes Europe accurately, I find that heartening. But in the U.S. it describes the period when Jefferson Beauregard Sessions—who is now the chief law enforcement official of the federal government after his enthusiastic support of Trump—had a career as a U.S. Attorney, was nominated to be a federal judge, was the Attorney General of Alabama, and became a United States Senator. (Unless you're talking about the 1970s, so for the U.S. a period of about ten years plus after the Civil Rights Era?)

If I'm causing friction by making statements ignorant of the environment in Europe during the late 20th century, I apologize: I've been inferring that things like the Jean-Marie/Marine/Marion Le Pen lineage in France indicated similar intrusions into mainstream culture and government.
posted by XMLicious at 5:03 AM on November 2


I made four subsequent comments in which the word “deplatform” did not appear, nor did it appear in NoxAeternum's replies quoting me, until you introduced it Dysk.

Yeah, if you go back and look, you were arguing against the usefulness of shutting down online communities because of it being effortless to shift communities. In a "well actually, technically" kind of way, I guess you could see that as not arguing against deplatforming, but I don't think hairs split quite that finely.
posted by Dysk at 5:09 AM on November 2


If the period you're indicating as one when fascists were marginalized describes Europe accurately, I find that heartening.

Yeah, we've been over how the religion of Free Speech in the US is awful and has had awful consequences for a long damn time many times in these threads. I reiterate: when you don't keep up with the ongoing marginalisation...
posted by Dysk at 5:11 AM on November 2 [2 favorites]


I consistently argued that the difference between online and offline is not mythological, in response to repeated insistence that it is. If you see this as mere hairsplitting I can understand why it all seems like an argument against deplatforming efforts to you.

I explicitly said that I support direct government suppression of speech, if it's going to work. I think that posturing about supposed reverence of Free Speech is complete bullshit too
posted by XMLicious at 5:22 AM on November 2


I explicitly said that I support direct government suppression of speech, if it's going to work.

I just want to state that I emphatically do not support this, considering who is in control of our government right now, and whose speech they are going to want to suppress.

I think people have the right to express offensive opinions, and the rest of us have the right to decide we want nothing to do with them as a result. Like that xkcd strip says.

And "the rest of us" includes social media companies, employers, private schools and private clubs, etc.
posted by OnceUponATime at 6:19 AM on November 2 [1 favorite]


All of which points to the Internet and social media maybe being the method, but not the actual reason. They're the how, but not the why. There is a social and political dimension in play here, which people seem to want to ignore in favour of "oh no Facebook!" when that cannot be the whole explanation.

The Supermanagerial Reich
POPULAR CULTURE IS REPLETE with cartoonish depictions of Nazism. Hitler seems to emerge suddenly, as if he had been waiting in the wings as a fait accompli. One moment it’s Weimar decadence, really good art, and Stormtroopers and communists fighting in the streets. The next, Hindenburg is handing Adolf the keys to the kingdom and it’s all torchlight parades, Triumph of the Will, and plaintive Itzhak Perlman violins. Hitler rises above a reborn Reich as a kind of totalitarian god. All aspects of life come under his control through the Nazi Party’s complete domination of German life. Of course, this is not really how it worked.

...for all this talk of fascism in the air, it’s remarkable how much we have come to accept predominantly ideological and psychological — as opposed to formally political and economic — frames for our arguments. Few people want to talk about how fascist societies like Nazi Germany actually functioned, how they were built, who made them work, and why. But when we do, a much sharper image emerges, in which an idiosyncratic economic and political structure is more clearly visible.

In Nazi Germany, economic history shows us a rapid change in the distribution of income and the emergence of a managerial elite who obtained an outsized share of national income, not just the now-proverbial one percent, but the top 0.1 percent. These were Nazi Germany’s equivalent to today’s so-called “supermanagers” (to use Thomas Piketty’s now-famous term). This parallel with today’s neoliberal society calls for a closer examination of the place of supermanagers in both regimes, with illuminating and unsettling implications.
also btw...
-The Alternative to Ideology
-"Facts take a back seat to emotional responses most of the time."
-"The platform's design encourages negativity, abuse and harassment. That needs to change."[?]
posted by kliuless at 6:28 AM on November 2 [3 favorites]


I think people have the right to express offensive opinions, and the rest of us have the right to decide we want nothing to do with them as a result.

Please stop with the weasel wording. When someone says that homosexuals should be ashamed in response to them asserting their dignity as human beings (to refer to an earlier example), that is not an "offensive opinion".

It's homophobia. Bigotry. Hate.

And that is the heart of why we struggle to combat hate - because we're not willing to even call it what it is, instead letting it be cloaked in euphemism.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:39 AM on November 2 [2 favorites]


I consistently argued that the difference between online and offline is not mythological, in response to repeated insistence that it is. If you see this as mere hairsplitting I can understand why it all seems like an argument against deplatforming efforts to you.

Here's what you originally said:

An approach analogous to controlling the characteristics of communities and imposing laws on them may not be effective when changing communities is no more difficult that clicking on a different link or maybe as hard as installing a different app.

To which I pointed out that this argument was false because it ignored that online communities do ask for emotional and mental labor from their participants, which does actually impose real barriers to entering or changing online communities - it's why lurkers (community members who only passively participate) exist, it's what makes network effects happen, and as Dysk pointed out, it's why deplatforming works. As for mythos, my point is that the idea that people can simply "jump into" new communities with ease stems from a myth that I've seen in the tech community that because there are no physical barriers, users can easily switch to new services, ignoring the human aspect. That is a myth, and one that needs to die.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:57 AM on November 2 [1 favorite]


As for mythos, my point is that the idea that people can simply "jump into" new communities with ease stems from a myth that I've seen in the tech community that because there are no physical barriers, users can easily switch to new services, ignoring the human aspect. That is a myth, and one that needs to die.

Isn't at least some of the disagreement here over what is being characterized and what kind of switching is being talked about? It sounded to me like Once was originally talking about groups of people leaving en masse when new rules are applied to a site as has happened a number of times when sites are acquired by new ownership and dramatically change the site's operating methods. That's something different than people leaving without pressure of some external force causing disruption, where individuals choosing to change is more constrained by their personal networks and their relationship structures. Saying people can switch is true and will happen in some circumstances that effect entire communities, saying people could switch but won't is also true when speaking of users as individual actors.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:56 AM on November 2


Saying people can switch is true and will happen in some circumstances that effect entire communities,

Can it really though? Like, has this ever actually happened? The closest I can think of is Livejournal spawning Dreamwidth, but the latter never had the success or userbase of the former, so even there it's not like an entire community just switched platforms. I just don't think it's ever actually happened.
posted by Dysk at 8:10 AM on November 2


The entire community of course doesn't pick up and move together, but in thinking of things like Flickr, StumbleUpon, Photobucket, MySpace, and some lesser sites the dynamic seems to be there is something that causes general community unrest which is followed by some significant number of important members of the community switching sites all around the same time frame which increases the feeling of drama on the site spurring further departures and an indication of some new community the old members have flocked to leading to something like site collapse, even if it still technically continues to operate. A flood of new members all moving to a new site can lead that site to take on significant characteristics of the old, or the members just adapt their methods to the new while keeping old connections.

What makes it interesting is that it is, essentially, the same thing as an individual moving in terms of difficulty of action, but it's made easier by being done as part of a larger movement. How you get from one state to the other, that is from individuals moving to that of a large portion of the active members departing is a bit mysterious to me. Where is the tipping point? Is it just in certain more popular or active members leaving is it a numbers thing? It's hard to know, but site "death" by abandonment is fascinating.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:54 AM on November 2


How easily that could happen to Metafilter, for example, is kinda fun to wonder about, as long as it really doesn't happen. I mean if Cortex traded the site for a satchel of magic beans to a Magahatter who, as their first official move, turned the front page red, the site would empty of its current user base in no time even if there wasn't someplace else lined up to go. Some people would build or find a new site and try and run it as something like Metafilter most likely, and it may or may not draw back some of the old crowd.

But how much individual user loss could Metafilter take and still feel the same? How many users are their who make FPPs and how many make up the bulk of the comments? How much change in members would their have to be before it felt like the site was dying and people started to act as if that was the case and stopped using it regularly?
posted by gusottertrout at 9:04 AM on November 2 [2 favorites]


Thing is, if metafilter got shut down tomorrow, someone would spin up a new one. It might even recapture a good portion of the userbase or community. From there, it could grow with new users, perhaps even eclipsing metafilter itself with time.

But, initially what you'd have is a new metafilter, with a smaller userbase - free fraction of the original. It would be a weakened and smaller community. And if, a few months in, you shut that down, and then did the same with the third iteration a few months later again, etc, etc, it would be practically impossible to maintain the community in any meaningful way.

Because it isn't possible to migrate an entire community. Every migration is a blow. You just gotta keep the blows coming fast enough (and which is often not that fast at all - lots of communities have fallen apart at the first move).
posted by Dysk at 9:46 AM on November 2 [2 favorites]


But, initially what you'd have is a new metafilter, with a smaller userbase - free fraction of the original. It would be a weakened and smaller community. And if, a few months in, you shut that down, and then did the same with the third iteration a few months later again, etc, etc, it would be practically impossible to maintain the community in any meaningful way.

Because it isn't possible to migrate an entire community. Every migration is a blow. You just gotta keep the blows coming fast enough (and which is often not that fast at all - lots of communities have fallen apart at the first move).


And this is because keeping communities cohesive is work. It may not be physical, but it is labor, and disrupting it does harm communities online. If you remove the hateful from your community, it does a lot to push back against hate there.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:55 AM on November 2 [2 favorites]


And for all the "it's just a click", think how many times you've landed on an article from a link, only the site wanted a free account to view it, just register here! where you've done it, versus just given up on that article. I obviously can't speak for everyone, but in my case I don't think I've ever registered anywhere like that, despite it literally being a few clicks, keystrokes, and a new tab with tempmail if I don't want to give up any actual details and they verify email. Every little bump in the road will dissuade some portion of users, as any decent UI/UX or Web front end dev will tell you. There's a reason Amazon has one click ordering, and it's because along for a few more clicks actually does present some kind of barrier when you're dealing with real people in the real world.

All of which is on top of everything NoxAeturnum has said about the human community side of things, which is almost certainly a much bigger barrier.
posted by Dysk at 10:26 AM on November 2 [2 favorites]


Everything you're saying is true, it's just that similar speed bumps directed towards pornography, for example, still left pornography as the reigning highest-profit sector of the internet for most of online history and as an industry which drove the technological leading edge of payment processing and streaming video and stuff like that.

All while the current channels through which pornographic media files flow abound with the output of (or watermarks of, at least) organizations and web sites and Tumblr blogs which ceased to exist millenia ago in internet time and were buried beneath encroaching dunes of pornography-sand like the mighty works of Ozymandias.

The measures which allow some space online for children whose parents and guardians don't want them exposed to pornography to say hello to grandma on Facebook, are still quite important and worthwhile and valuable. My apprehension is at characterizing these types of measures as “big barriers” when what the barriers are protecting us from is one of the causes of genocide and all the major state-level actors have been developing novel technologies and methods for monitoring and propagating and surreptitiously altering opinion en masse on social media for a decade-plus.
posted by XMLicious at 5:34 AM on November 3


They're not big barriers on their own, but they are meaningfuk. Combined with actually actively shutting things down (and not just user friction) then it starts to become significant. The friction inherent in changing communities (where things are shut down suddenly and you may not even know where other people are decamping to) are significantly higher than the friction to accessing porn. Like, incomparably so.
posted by Dysk at 5:40 AM on November 3


They are certainly meaningful—expressing the consensus together in a chorus of voices is probably more impactful on the public mentality even than top-down compliance-enforcing regulation from a 21st-century fragmented-constituency government would be—and I agree that, if participating in fascist discourse is more like severing all your social ties and changing your online home than it's like seeking out a shifting menagerie of free pornography-friendly communities on a part-time basis, getting major platforms to be as intolerant of fascist discourse and dogwhistles on their own services as they are of pornography will have a greater suppressing effect than is produced against pornography.
posted by XMLicious at 6:37 AM on November 3


What a great thread!

I've lately come to think that most social internet communication is designed in such a way as to promote mob-like discussion. In a mob, at least in cartoons, movies, etc. someone yells something, a bunch of people cheer or boo, someone else yells something topping the previous yell, more cheering, and then everyone goes out and lynches someone or burns something down in fairly short order. It's highly emotional, not particularly rational, not really that open to disagreement or careful analysis, not particularly informative, and highly emotional and focused on carrying out performative justice.

One of the very first studies on internet communications was done at a university with professors discussing academic subjects on bulletin board threads. Within a short period of time, the experiment was ended, because nearly all the subjects had begun to engage in behavior that, in the real world, would have gotten them fired. This included name-calling, making threats, fanning flames, untrue statements, etc. All the behavior you see regularly today nearly 30 years later. This leads to me believe the problem is primarily structural, and exists regardless of the content of the discussion.
posted by xammerboy at 7:29 AM on November 3 [2 favorites]


There's often a big difference between participation in a community (Metafilter, Reddit, etc.) and consumer behavior in purchasing a product (such as pornography). Consumer behavior can be socially driven - people don't go out to eat or to bars as much alone as they do with company - but a lot of consumer behavior is motivated more by the combination of advertising and individual consumer desire for a product. Individual desire for a product is often socially constructed, of course, but the relevant step to our discussion is the consumer experience in seeking out and purchasing a product. Consumption of pornography is more often individually driven rather than socially driven, as I understand it - while people do watch porn with their sexual partners or sometimes in groups (eg. I've heard of it as a young make bonding experience), my impression is that most porn consumers would still watch porn on their own if they didn't have a partner to watch with, and that porn viewing as larger group social activity is relatively rare. So other porn consumers' behavior is not a huge factor in most individual porn consumption behavior. Also, due to general constraints on the market for porn, the "advertising" that reaches people is probably more just a general sense of what porn is and what its role in their life could or should be, not as much advertising for specific products. Porn consumers who have gained knowledge about specific actors or studios or whatever probably have reached a level where their consumption is more self-motivated. So porn consumers are likely in the situation of other more individually motivated consumers where, although they have consumer preferences and loyalties, if their favorite supplier or (web-)store closes, then they will find another supplier or store if one is available - regardless of the behavior of other consumers of the same product. That is, again, their experience as a consumer depends very little on the behavior of other consumers, and almost entity on the availability of a supplier (which is related to overall demand of course, but that's not a direct impact on the individual consumer's experience of the consumption interaction).

Contrast this with participation in a community, such as a social network, where other users'/participants' behavior is the defining feature of each individual participant's experience.
posted by eviemath at 5:34 AM on November 4 [1 favorite]


I guess there's probably enough cross-site analytics data at this point to examine the question experimentally (a passive experiment that is, setting up a protocol and analyzing an already-recorded dataset) and see whether, when discourse on one particular topic of conversation ceases within a given online community for whatever happenstance reason, former participants in conversations on the topic simply cease discussing it or if they seek similar discussions out elsewhere on the internet on a different platform or medium as consumers do in your behavior model for porn consumption.
posted by XMLicious at 6:50 AM on November 4


This leads to me believe the problem is primarily structural, and exists regardless of the content of the discussion.

The medium is the message.
posted by LooseFilter at 7:09 AM on November 4




Judge rejects neo-Nazi’s First Amendment argument in harassment case
Victim was flooded with hundreds of violent and anti-Semitic messages.
On Wednesday, a Montana federal judge dealt Anglin a significant setback, holding that the First Amendment does not protect Anglin's right to publish Gersh's personal information and encourage his legion of anti-Semitic followers to harass her.

But this legal battle isn't over yet. The judge's ruling allows the lawsuit to go forward, but Gersh's lawyers will still have to prove Anglin liable for invasion of privacy and other harms.

Still, the ruling could prove significant for other victims of online harassment. Anglin argued that he was just publishing information—like Gersh's home phone number—and couldn't be held responsible for what his readers did with that information. But the judge pointed to clear evidence Anglin knew exactly what readers would do with the information and egged them on at every step.

That could give the targets of other online harassment campaigns a legal basis to file lawsuits of their own. It's not the most effective remedy against online trolling—Gersh's lawsuit has dragged on for 18 months and isn't close to being finished. But it could provide a way to combat the most obnoxious online harassment campaigns.
posted by XMLicious at 2:41 AM on November 16 [2 favorites]




Of course TechDirt would be championing the cause of dude process.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:51 AM on November 16 [1 favorite]






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