2.12.16

Poisoned Fruit in the Walled Garden - Part I

WARNING: The views & statements reproduced in this series of articles may be offensive to some readers.

Twenty-sixteen was probably the worst year for online hate speech to date: a year when a grassroots network known as the alt-right managed to overwhelm many online forums and comment boards.

Mobilizing small battalions of sock puppet  (fake) accounts, members of this loose network stormed popular comment sites such as Disqus and Twitter, flooding them with hateful posts on a wide range of global issues: Brexit, Trump, immigration, Islam and a so-called Jewish 'conspiracy'.
It seemed like a clear attempt to mould a new popular consensus  of open contempt for all minorities, everywhere including Berlin. 

It would probably be more fair to call theirs an 'unpopular consensus', though.  Because, no matter what the alt-right would like us to believe, its views are still in the minority.  It is easy to forget that fact, however, when right wing voices are commandeering an increasing proportion of the online conversation.

How big of a proportion? One study undertaken by the Anti-Defamation League to look into antisemitism on Twitter, found that 2.6 million hateful tweets had been posted by just 1,600 individuals in 2016.  (By way of contrast, the writer of this piece has only sent 1,300 tweets  of any kind, within the last five years). Together, these anti-Semitic tweets were seen around 10 billion times in total.

The study's authors wrote that, 'Waves of anti-Semitic tweets tend to emerge from closely connected online “communities.”  These aggressors are disproportionately likely to self-identify as Donald Trump supporters, conservatives, or part of the “alt-right."'

Alt-right websites like Breitbart have been instrumental in mobilizing right wing trolls to carpet-bomb social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Disqus with hate speech, so as to engineer phoney "public outcries" over current issues. These issues can be as trivial as the new Ghostbusters film, or as big as the Brexit.  

On other websites connected to the alt-right, such as 4Chan and Daily Stormer, one can find the same trolls openly organizing "troll raids" and "twitter storms". Site readers are encouraged to forge an array of bogus identities (black people, asians and women seem to be popular choices) from which to post hate speech. They do this with the express intent of normalizing bigotry and dividing groups that would otherwise stand together in the face of right wing hate. 


Above: Troll raid callouts on the neo-nazi website Daily Stormer



Above: alt-right trolls swap strategies for turning blacks against Jews

So what does any of this have to do with Berlin? 

Well, the alt-right now seems to be targeting English language sites in Germany like TheLocal.de. It seems to be doing this in the hopes of drumming up enough hatred against refugees and immigrants to secure a win for one of Germany's far right parties in the next elections.  

And this is anything but a "local" phenomenon: one needs only enter "thelocal.de" + "[any white nationalist website]" into a search engine to see how often articles from The Local are being reposted in the extremist backwaters of the internet - many of which reputedly originate in the American deep South.

The number of extreme right-wing comments on The Local began to rise starting in 2014. Interestingly, this was the same year that the Christian Democratic Union announced its open-borders policy, which was quickly commended by President Obama.  It seems that this move was enough to kick the neo-nazi troll machine into action - possibly due to fears that Obama might try to emulate Germany's open-doors refugee policy.  

Alt-right trolls are easy to identify: they seem to spend most of every day and night posting hateful comments and scouring the internet for scare stories that they can connect refugees or Islam in some way... no matter how tenuous that connection may be. But they don't reflect the views that are actually held by most English-speaking German residents, anymore than they reflect the views that are held by most Americans, when they invade overseas websites. 


Right-wing commenters have become ubiquitous on TheLocal.de
It's true that far-right membership in most Western countries has increased somewhat (a fact which should not be ignored), but there is still a noticeable gap between the proportion of bigoted views one sees online, and the proportion of those same views one sees in real life.

Distorting the online mirror to make one group seem bigger than another is simple, funhouse trick that anyone with enough money or the time can pull off, it seems.
But w
hereas Twitter and Facebook can be manipulated to push one agenda over another, government studies and other social barometers of are less easy to fool.


In the 2015 World Values Survey, one of the biggest studies of its kind, only a relatively small percentage of respondents revealed a bias that was in any way similar to those held by the alt-right. When asked which kind of people they would prefer not to live next to, only 5% - 22% of respondents revealed a bias against people of colour, immigrants, women, queer people, etc. Below is a sample of those results:

Does not want a multiracial neighbour: Germany 14,8%, United States 5.6%

Does not want a migrant neighbour: Germany: 21.4%, United States: 13.6%

Thinks that a woman's rights to work comes second to a man's: Germany 15.5%, United states: 5.7%
 
So clearly, the levels of casual racism, sexism and overall bigotry are far lower in society than a glance at Twitter or Disqus would seem to suggest. One can see a mirror image of the alt-right effect in the German groups Pegida.  Despite claiming to speak for some sort of silent majority, the protest group rarely seems to get more than a couple of hundred people to their events, outside of the mostly-white east.  (This writer once saw a demo of theirs which consisted of a dozen people, with nearly half that number again made up of press trying to cover the event).

The German  Verfassungschutz's 2015 publication also indicates that membership in far right parties in Germany totals just 11,800 people. Yet, until very recently, almost 100% of views expressed on English language sites in Germany have been far-right. This is why it's dangerous
for social media users to view their platforms as an honest reflection society's views: because groups like the alt-right are all too happy to manipulate that perception.

It's not hard to foil the alt-right's insidious plot to fool the people, though, since it openly announces its intentions to do so on its key websites. There, right wing trolls can be seen discussing ways to mislead people by planting faked news items; organizing Twitter raids; harassing journalists; etc. And since unofficial alt-right leader Andrew Anglin has admitted to owning sock puppet accounts and The Daily Stormer has a [now private] section for organizing troll raids (TRS).

How can the alt-right afford to be so open about its activities? Simply put, it knows that no one is looking... not even journalists, it seems. This may be why it was possible for one "news clip" about a pro-Trump student getting beaten up at school to viral without anyone realizing that the clip - shot on a smartphone and circulated via YouTube - did not contain a single word about Donald Trump or the election. 
 

The alt-right is counting on internet users who are in a hurry and are willing to go glomming after the most shocking snippet they can find, and pass it on without taking time to check its authenticity. It's a tendency that all internet users eventually fall victim to eventually, though, however intelligent they may be.  So in this one sense, the alt right is teaching us 'normies' an important lesson: shock-trolling only works when internet users prioritize shock value. Instead of banning fake news websites, perhaps Facebook would be better offer reminding its users to 'Question Everything'.

However high profile the alt-right may be, though, it hasn't managed to commandeer the internet's discussion platforms all by itself. In the next of three posts, find out what the alt-right has in common with government troll operations from both the East and the West.    

Part II will be published next Wednesday, December 14th

Like this piece? Check out "Populism by Unpopular Demand" on Fleeting Reams 

© A. E. Elliott 2016

This series of articles are taken from an upcoming book by the author. Any attempt to republish or re-use this work without accreditation and/or the author's consent will constitute a breach of copyright. 
 

No comments:

All writing & images © A. E. Elliott (unless otherwise specified)

Search This Blog

My photo
Berlin, Germany
...is NOT a fashion blogger! I write about underground music, streetart, left-wing activism, social media trends and green issues. Other publications that I have written for include: Urban Challenger Blog, Siegesaeule, Shlur, Alternative Berlin, Sensanostra.