Thursday, December 29, 2016

"Normalized bigotry emboldens further bigotry"

Here's the conclusion of a very insightful article from Slate about the way it's easy to confuse satiric stories on the internet with malicious articles on the same subject:
"Regardless of anyone’s self-satisfied “don’t blame me, I was just X-ing,” all actions online have consequences—at least the potential for consequences, intended or otherwise. So for god’s sake, take your own words seriously."
The article, "The Internet Law That Explains Why 2016 Was So Terrible" by Whitney Phillips and Ryan M. Milner begins by citing "Poe's Law" which states that "online, sincere expressions of extremism are often indistinguishable from satirical expressions of extremism." Sometimes, the confusion is even intentional -- and manipulative. I've been very bothered by this exact issue.

The most bothersome example is the claim of some alt-right provocateurs who say they are "just trolling" and that their extremist statements are not somehow serious -- even though they give rise to bigotry, violence, and dangerous laxness about acceptable political speech. The authors state:
"The rise of the so-called alt-right—a loose amalgamation of white nationalists, misogynists, anti-Semites, and Islamophobes—provides a more sobering example of Poe’s law. White nationalist sentiments have metastasized into unequivocal expressions of hate in the wake of Trump’s electoral victory, but in the early days of the group, it was harder to tell. Participants even provided Poe’s law justifications when describing their behavior. A March 2016 Breitbart piece claimed the racism espoused by the 'young meme brigades' swarming 4chan, Reddit, and Twitter was ironic play, nothing more, deployed solely to shock the 'older generations' that encountered it. According to Breitbart, those propagating hate were no more genuinely bigoted than 1980s heavy metal fans genuinely worshiped Satan. The implication: First of all, shut up, everyone is overreacting, and simultaneously, do keep talking about us, because overreaction is precisely what we’re going for."
In other words, they want to have it both ways -- pretending their extremism is just a pose taken to goad people. But actually inspiring belief in the pretend bigotry to the point that gullible people act on the extremist views. Maybe the now-well-known story about child sex-slaves in the basement of a neighborhood pizza place in D.C. began as a joke (or "just trolling") but a weak-brained man with a real assault rifle showed up and started shooting.

The following paragraph from the Slate article summarizes what I've been worrying about without myself being able to frame it so well:
"Perhaps the best illustration of this tension is Pepe the Frog, the anti-Semitic cartoon mascot of 'hipster Nazi' white nationalism. The meme was ostensibly harnessed in an effort to create 'meme magic' through pro-Trump 'shitposting' (that is, to ensure a Trump victory by dredging up as much chaos and confusion as possible). But it communicated a very clear white supremacist message. The entire point was for it to be taken seriously as a hate symbol, even if the posters were, as they insisted, 'just trolling'—a distinction we argue is ultimately irrelevant, since regardless of motivations, such messages communicate, amplify, and normalize bigotry. And normalized bigotry emboldens further bigotry, as Trump’s electoral victory has made painfully clear." (My emphasis.)
Supposedly, Facebook is going to crack down on fake news. I wonder how this challenge of fake fake news will be handled.

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