Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, January 3, 2017 7:18 pm

Lindy West, Gamergate, and the alt-right Nazis

Feminist writer and educator Lindy West quit Twitter today because Nazis:

Twitter, for the past five years, has been a machine where I put in unpaid work and tension headaches come out. I write jokes there for free. I post political commentary for free. I answer questions for free. I teach feminism 101 for free. Off Twitter, these are all things by which I make my living – in fact, they comprise the totality of my income. But on Twitter, I do them pro bono and, in return, I am micromanaged in real time by strangers; neo-Nazis mine my personal life for vulnerabilities to exploit; and men enjoy unfettered, direct access to my brain so they can inform me, for the thousandth time, that they would gladly rape me if I weren’t so fat.

 

That wasn’t why she quit though, or wasn’t what prompted her to pull the trigger. No, that was something rather more than personal:

I hate to disappoint anyone, but the breaking point for me wasn’t the trolls themselves (if I have learned anything from the dark side of Twitter, it is how to feel nothing when a frog calls you a cunt) – it was the global repercussions of Twitter’s refusal to stop them. The white supremacist, anti-feminist, isolationist, transphobic “alt-right” movement has been beta-testing its propaganda and intimidation machine on marginalised Twitter communities for years now – how much hate speech will bystanders ignore? When will Twitter intervene and start protecting its users? – and discovered, to its leering delight, that the limit did not exist. No one cared. Twitter abuse was a grand-scale normalisation project, disseminating libel and disinformation, muddying long-held cultural givens such as “racism is bad” and “sexual assault is bad” and “lying is bad” and “authoritarianism is bad”, and ultimately greasing the wheels for Donald Trump’s ascendance to the US presidency. Twitter executives did nothing.

On 29 December, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted: “What’s the most important thing you want to see Twitter improve or create in 2017?” One user responded: “Comprehensive plan for getting rid of the Nazis.”

“We’ve been working on our policies and controls,” Dorsey replied. “What’s the next most critical thing?” Oh, what’s our second-highest priority after Nazis? I’d say No 2 is also Nazis. And No 3. In fact, you can just go ahead and slide “Nazis” into the top 100 spots. Get back to me when your website isn’t a roiling rat-king of Nazis. Nazis are bad, you see?

Well, yes, Nazis* are bad, and Twitter isn’t the only medium or social medium wrestling with what, exactly, to do about that. Still, Twitter has been almost unique in its ratio of encouraging talk to gross inaction. And I suspect that, as with most problems, it probably comes down to money.

What I mean by that is this. I’ve been online in various ways for going on 30 years, and in all that time I have yet to see an online community that wasn’t ruined by, for lack of a better term, trolls in the absence of moderators. (For the first decade or so of my life online, I wasn’t convinced moderators were necessary; not for the first time, I admit I was wrong.) But moderating takes time, and time takes money, and over its life as a public company (i.e., since late 2013), Twitter has, per generally accepted accounting principles, never made money. Since its 2006 founding, it has burned through more than $2 billion. And its user growth has slowed to the point at which near- to medium-term profits look unlikely.

More to the point, though, CEO Jack Dorsey has never said anything publicly that suggests to me that he truly understands that he has a problem. But he does. As Leigh Alexander (no relation) wrote in the context of Gamergate, “When you decline to create or to curate a culture in your spaces, you’re responsible for what spawns in the vacuum.”

Dorsey, his executives and his board absolutely have a moral obligation to users of their service not to let that service become a sinkhole of Nazi shit. And for a lot of people who don’t look like me — a cishet middle-aged, white, until-recently-Republican male — it already is.

Moreover, I would argue that they have an obligation to their shareholders not to let the service become a sinkhole of Nazi shit, because while that might give you a profitable quarter or two, it spells doom for the business’s long-term financial interests and those of its shareholders.

And, finally, I would argue that they have an obligation to the public in general, in the U.S. and abroad, not to allow their service to become a sinkhole of Nazi shit because Nazi shit is gaining popularity and causing problems around the world. It is competing with Vlad Putin right now as the No. 1 danger to small-l liberal democracy worldwide. And it should be denied any foothold it attempts to seek. Twitter isn’t just a medium anymore; it’s also an organizing and fundraising tool. Dorsey et al. need to deny its benefits to Nazis and their backers.

And it’s especially important to do so here in the U.S., where an illegitimate president-elect is backed by Nazis. As an article a month ago in the Guardian by Matt Lees explains, what happened in Gamergate absolutely predicted what has happened in the past year, and is happening now, with Donald Trump:

The similarities between Gamergate and the far-right online movement, the “alt-right”, are huge, startling and in no way a coincidence. After all, the culture war that began in games now has a senior representative in The White House. As a founder member and former executive chair of Brietbart News, Steve Bannon had a hand in creating media monster Milo Yiannopoulos, who built his fame and Twitter following by supporting and cheerleading Gamergate. This hashtag was the canary in the coalmine, and we ignored it. …

n 2014, the media’s reaction was often weak or overtly conciliatory – some sites went out of their way to “see both sides”, to reassure people that openly choosing to be affiliated with a hate group did not make them in any way responsible for that hate. Olive branches were extended, but professional lives continued to be ruined while lukewarm op-eds asked for us to come together so we could start “healing”. The motivations may have been sound, but it’s the language Trump and his supporters have used post-election to obliterate dissenting voices.

In 2016, new wave conservative media outlets like Breitbart have gained trust with their audience by painting traditional news sources as snooty and aloof. In 2014, video game YouTube stars, seeking to appear in touch with online gaming communities, unscrupulously proclaimed that traditional old-media sources were corrupt.

Everything we’re seeing now, had its precedent two years ago. …

Looking back, Gamergate really only made sense in one way: as an exemplar of what Umberto Eco called “eternal fascism”, a form of extremism he believed could flourish at any point in, in any place – a fascism that would extol traditional values, rally against diversity and cultural critics, believe in the value of action above thought and encourage a distrust of intellectuals or experts – a fascism built on frustration and machismo. The requirement of this formless fascism would – above all else – be to remain in an endless state of conflict, a fight against a foe who must always be portrayed as impossibly strong and laughably weak. This was the methodology of Gamergate, and it now forms the basis of the contemporary far-right movement.

We have no idea where this will lead, but our continued insistence on shrugging off the problems of the internet as “not real” – as something we can just log out of – is increasingly misled. 2016 has presented us with a world in which our reality is being wilfully manipulated. Fake news, divisive algorithms, misleading social media campaigns. The majority of people who voted for Trump will never take responsibility for his racist, totalitarian policies, but they’ll provide useful cover and legitimacy for those who demand the very worst from the President Elect. Trump himself may have disavowed the “alt-right”, but his rhetoric has led to them feeling legitimised. As with Gamergate, the press risks being manipulated into a position where it has to tread a respectful middle ground that doesn’t really exist.

Prominent critics of the Trump administration need to learn from Gamergate. They need to be preparedforabuse, for falsified concerns, invented grassroots campaigns designed specifically to break, belittle, or disgrace. Words and concepts will be twisted, repackaged and shared across forums, stripping them of meaning. Gamergate painted critics as censors, the far-right movement claims critics are the real racists.

Perhaps the true lesson of Gamergate was that the media is culturally unequipped to deal with the forces actively driving these online movements. The situation was horrifying enough two years ago, it is many times more dangerous now.

Obviously, Jack Dorsey and Twitter aren’t responsible for all of this. But within his own lane, Dorsey and the organization he leads have an obligation to the service’s users and their fellow Americans to run a service that, if it doesn’t facilitate the best that America on the Internet can be, at least doesn’t allow the worst to prey on everyone else.

 

*In this post, and on this blog generally, I do not use the term “alt-right.” That’s Orwellian nonsense. These people are Nazis, just as their dads were when I was covering the Klan and other right-wing white-nationalist groups back in the ’80s. They’re not even “neo-Nazis”; there’s nothing neo- about them.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 5:58 am

DIAF, Wall Street Journal

Filed under: Evil,Journalism — Lex @ 5:58 am
Tags: , , ,

Well, we know one thing, Jim: They were worthier than you. Jackass.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011 8:08 pm

“If Ebay replaced the classifieds and Craigslist replaced the want ads, this showed what might replace the funny pages.”*

Filed under: Fun,Geek-related issues — Lex @ 8:08 pm
Tags: , , ,

Most days, The Atlantic and Twitter are alike in all the wrong ways — shallow, repetitive, largely irrelevant. Recently, though, a pseudonymous artist created a Twitter feed that, within the 140-characters-per-tweet constraints of the medium, achieved, I would argue, the status of literature: @MayorEmanuel, a satiric take on the real-life Chicago mayoral campaign of foul-mouthed former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

Moreover, in this article, The Atlantic not only outs (with his consent) the creator of @MayorEmanuel, it also shows how the feed’s creator both used and transcended the medium, as Frank Sinatra did with the 45, Pink Floyd did with the LP and Bruce Springsteen’s “Live 1975-85” did with the CD, to provide insight into Chicago electoral politics, satire, a rich and highly developed character arc and a well-deserved dopeslapping of Michelle Malkin, capped with an ending worthy of Arthur C. Clarke. A reasonably high percentage of comments (including the one that provided the title for this post) further enrich our understanding and enjoyment of this phenomenon.

(Did you notice my characterization of Rahm Emanuel above as “foul-mouthed”? Both @MayorEmanuel and the Atlantic article contain oh, so-NSFW language. You’ve been warned.)

True, 99.99% of what you read on Twitter, including my stuff, is crap. @MayorEmanuel makes all the rest worthwhile, and maybe it will inspire others to do more with the medium. And maybe The Atlantic will realize more of its potential and stop wasting electrons on worthless hacks like McMegan.

OK, I made up that last part. It’ll never happen. But a guy can dream.

Friday, December 17, 2010 8:37 pm

Blog OS weirdness; or, Dude, where’s my Twitter link?

Filed under: Housekeeping — Lex @ 8:37 pm
Tags: , ,

John Cole at Balloon Juice has a special tag, FYWP — if you know what that means and I think  you do — for problems caused at that blog by the WordPress blogging system, which is the same one I use. Now, Balloon Juice’s traffic is orders of magnitude higher than mine, so I would not be surprised if that traffic creates occasional problems, some bordering on existential.

I switched from Blogger to WP several years ago because Blogger had been having what I thought were way too many outages, even for a free service. There was one significant tradeoff: the ability, at no charge, to change the RSS in your blog. The payoff was far more reliable service — I think this was back in the days before Google had bought Blogger.

All of which is just me indulging a bit in what’s left of my memory and has nothing to do with my main point, which is: When you call up a post on this blog as its own page (if you’ve never done that, you do it by clicking on the title of a post), you see a bunch of “sharing” widgets at the bottom that allow you to do such things as tweet about the post, post it to your Facebook account, e-mail the link to someone and so forth. For the past couple of days, the Twitter widget has been disappearing and reappearing without obvious explanation. Any other WordPress users know what’s up with that?

Thanks.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 8:26 pm

History: Not always written by the winners

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 8:26 pm
Tags: ,

The Library of Congress acquires Twitter’s archives. All of them.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010 10:49 pm

Odds and ends for 1/6

Wall Street vs. Main Street: Despite record profits and record bonuses on Wall Street, overall U.S. payroll withholdings and corporate tax payments in December were down 8.2% (to a multi-year low) and 61.5%, respectively, from December 2008. If you still need proof that the banksters are feasting on the rest of us, well, I’m sorry, you’re just going to have to accept at this point that the sky really is blue, not pink with purple polka-dots.

With sepsis, we can at least hope he suffered some: James von Brunn, the white supremacist who shot and killed a guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington last June, died today in prison of congestive heart failure and sepsis. Saving the taxpayers the expense of a trial, appeals and execution, von Brunn’s death appears to have been the first considerate thing the 89-year-old ever did in his life.

No matter where in the U.S. you live, one Texas wingnut creationist is deciding which textbooks your kids will use in school. Maybe we should let ’em secede; the national IQ would probably go up 30 points.

Speaking of wingnuts, Allen Quist is right. Just not in the way he thinks he is.

But … but … but … Democrats are dropping like flies! ABC said so!: As of today, more Republican than Democratic U.S. representatives, U.S. senators and governors are retiring than Democrats. But ABC says Democrats are dropping like flies. This is why I told my reporters not to use subjective terms when objective ones will do.

Speaking of the media, it’s only Jan. 6 and we’ve already had the best media criticism of the year, from commenter PeakVT at Balloon Juice, on why things like Travelgate and Filegate seem to get more media attention than, say, torture and other war crimes: “Republican scandals tend to involve the press corps. For instance, starting an unnecessary war under false pretenses was immensely helped by stenographers like [The New York Times’ Judith] Miller. Democratic “scandals” are limited to Democratic politicians, which makes them a lot more fun for the press.”

I’ll believe it when it happens: According to one report, White House anonymice are claiming President Obama will re-nominate Dawn Johnsen to run (and, please God, clean up) the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Good news, if true.

I would watch this on pay-per-view: MSNBC’s liberal talk-show host Ed Schultz may run to succeed retiring N.D. Sen. Byron Dorgan. Republicans, who are confident of picking up the seat, think of Schultz as just another Al Franken, and they say that like it’s a bad thing.

Jogging bores me to tears, but I will read any jogging blog that regularly uses lines like this: “I’ve been needling my 67-year-old friend Jim to run the half-marathon with me just so I don’t come in last. What kind of friend exploits a slow-moving retiree? I’ll tell you what kind: the kind who doesn’t want to come in last. ”

The legal group that worked hardest to create the modern system of capital punishment now says its efforts have been a failure. Given the risk at which it places innocent defendants, it’s hard to argue otherwise. (And yet I find a way, sort of.)

Quote of the day, via Maru:  “What happens if Rush dies in Hawaii? Will anyone believe the death certificate?”

Another Quote of the Day, from Paul Volcker to BusinessWeek, via Goddard Taegan’s Political Wire: “The American political process is about as broken as the financial system.”

And why not one more Quote of the Day, this one from Jason Linkins at HuffPo on the Apple iSlate and its ilk: “… the short-term ‘end of print’ apocalypse will not be felt by people clutching pricey panes of glass, but by a forgotten class of people who need quality journalism as a stopgap against a whole range of societal ills.”

And James Fallows, for the win: “That is the American tragedy of the early 21st century: a vital and self-renewing culture that attracts the world’s talent, and a governing system that increasingly looks like a joke.”

He says he’s only a sportswriter, but Mike Lupica of the NY Daily News says it all with remarkable economy: “Cheney used to be a much better liar than this.”

Cue the “Applachian Trail” jokes. And worse: U.S. Rep. Joe “You Lie!” Wilson, R-S.C., Tweets about hiking through Panthertown National Forest with an “expert hiker” who also happens to be a babelicious congressional intern. (Although I’ll grant that if he’s dumb enough to Tweet about it, he’s probably guilty of nothing more than bad judgment.)

When Guantanamo inmates get transferred to Illinois, will torture come with them? It’s entirely possible.

I’d just like to say that my friend Andy Duncan rules. Yes, he does. And we’re really looking forward to lunch with him and Sydney on Saturday.

Out of the box. WAY out: As America struggles with an Afghan insurgency and the Center for a New American Security prepares for its June convention, Spencer Ackermann proposes what would be a fascinating keynote program: Gen. David Petraeus … and Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap.

Geoffrey Chaucer, who hath a blog, now also hath a forthcoming book, “a solid volume the which ye kan underlyne and spille egg-salad upon and take yn to yower jacuzzi whanne the mood stryketh yow.” Huzzah!

Those of us who don’t work for the MSNM see this as a feature, not a bug: Time’s Mark Halperin whines, “… politically and personally, the First Couple and their top aides have shown no hankering for the Establishment seal of approval, nor have they accepted the glut of invitations to embassy parties and other tribal rituals of the political class.” That would be because they have a mess to clean up that you pretty much ignored for eight years, jackass.

Charmed life: Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the only person known to have survived both U.S. atomic attacks on Japan, is dead at the age of 93.

Better the devil you know than the other devil you know: Sen. Christopher Dodd’s retirement is coming only because of the virtual certainty that he would be unseated in 2010 because of his coziness with banks. But his successor as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee will be even worse.

What part of “public” were you lying about?: C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb, bless him, reminds Congressional Dem leadership of their promise to have House/Senate reconciliation of health-care reform out in the open.

And yet I languish without, probably because of a relative lack of explosives: The demolition of Texas Stadium now has an official corporate sponsor.

Twitter through history. “Too soon? In the Twitter Era it is probably already too late.” And more.

Thursday, June 18, 2009 8:56 pm

Yeah, it’s almost EXACTLY like that …

I don’t know much about Rep. Pete Hoekstra, but this Twitter message of his doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in his analytical abilities.

Apparently I’m not the only one.

And, via Facebook, my friend Carroll comments: “Feeling Pete Hoekstra’s pain. I used a neti pot this a.m., which is JUST LIKE waterboarding yourself.”

And, wow, this didn’t take long.

UPDATE: John Culberson also boards the Stoopid Train.

Friday, November 7, 2008 9:54 am

I feel like this sometimes

Filed under: Odds 'n' ends — Lex @ 9:54 am
Tags: , , , , ,

“What the world needs is ‘antisocial media,’ sites where people who aren’t comfortable with others can get together and ignore each other.”

— Kevin Horrigan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, on Twittering.

I Twitter, although almost exclusively for work and not as often as I should. I update my Facebook status more often, but not necessarily every day. I’m on LinkedIn, again for work, and I’m on MySpace, although I haven’t logged in in weeks. (I’m not a big fan of MySpace — the search function is atrocious. Also, there’s another Lex Alexander there — a Christian rapper, apparently.)

I understand the importance of social media, but — and I know this is both heresy and completely uncharacteristic of how I’ve lived the last 14 years of my life — I’m not looking for more reasons/ways to spend time online. You may now commence hurling pixelated tomatoes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008 8:10 pm

A Twitter feed … of braaaaaaiiiiiiinns

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 8:10 pm
Tags: ,

I Twitter, although almost exclusively for work and not as often as I should. I also follow a few friends and co-workers who Twitter, and courtesy of John Newsom, here’s what a Twitter feed might look like during a zombie attack. Because, and I think Ginmar would agree (although she’s even more partial to werewolves), you can never blog, or Twitter, too much about zombies.

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