Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Apropos of the last post about the Yellow Jackets, here’s BuzzFeed News’s Ryan Broderick on How We Radicalized The World:

Chances are, by now, your country has some, if not all, of the following. First off, you probably have some kind of local internet troll problem, like 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.

Then far-right influencers start appearing, aided by algorithms recommending content that increases user watch time. They will use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to transmit and amplify content and organize harassment and intimidation campaigns. If these influencers become sophisticated enough, they will try to organize protests or rallies. The mini fascist comic cons they organize will be livestreamed and operate as an augmented reality game for the people watching at home. Violence and doxxing will follow them.

Some of these trolls and influencers will create more sophisticated far-right groups within the larger movement, like the Proud Boys, Generation Identity, or Movimento Brasil Livre. Or some will reinvigorate older, more established far-right or nationalist institutions like the Nordic Resistance Movement, the Football Lads Alliance, United Patriots Front, or PEGIDA.

While a far-right community is building in your country, a fake news blitz is usually raging online. It could be a rumor-based culture of misinformation, like the localized hoaxes that circulate in countries like India, Myanmar, or Brazil. Or it could be the more traditional “fake news” or hyperpartisan propaganda we see in predominantly English-speaking countries like the US, Australia, or the UK.

Typically, large right-wing news channels or conservative tabloids will then take these stories going viral on Facebook and repackage them for older, mainstream audiences. Depending on your country’s media landscape, the far-right trolls and influencers may try to hijack this social-media-to-newspaper-to-television pipeline. Which then creates more content to screenshot, meme, and share. It’s a feedback loop.

Lest you thought the problem with social media began and ended at Facebook, Broderick’s platform-agnostic 350-word synopsis of our ongoing epistemological crisis is probably the best and most concise one I’ve read. He’s got an interesting perspective on this stuff. In 2015, I started listening to Broderick’s “Internet Explorer” podcast, in which he and co-host Katie Notopoulos shared the weirdest and darkest internet memes they could find. They described their show as covering “things like subreddits where men ejaculate on anime figurines, dragon-shaped dildos, and the adult baby fetish community.” It’s like when the guy who plays Captain America in the movies gets into real-life Twitter beefs with neo-nazis: that’s a career arc that somehow makes perfect and zero sense simultaneously.

There’s also this story from Andy Kroll in Rolling Stone, on the way John Podesta had his life turned upside-down by the Pizzagate conspiracy. I liked this nugget from the middle of Kroll’s article, in which the owner of the pizza parlor at the center of Pizzagate is trying to get social media companies to stop pushing conspiracy theories to their billions of users. At this point, one conspiracy theorist has already walked into the pizza parlor with a rifle and started shooting:

The response from the social media companies ranged from helpful to utterly dismissive, [Comet Pizza parlor owner James] Alefantis recalls. Even before he’d hired lawyers, Alefantis had gotten Yelp to suspend Comet’s page after his staff had reported the abusive reviews. Facebook was responsive to Comet’s complaints. YouTube, however, refused to so much as acknowledge its role in amplifying Pizzagate, saying they were just a platform, that they weren’t an arbiter of truth and falsity and told Alefantis to get back in touch if and when he could get a court order finding the videos that promoted Pizzagate to be defamatory.

“YouTube is a platform committed to allowing a wide range of free expression, but it is not and never has been anything goes,” a YouTube spokesperson tells Rolling Stone, adding that in the first half of 2018 the company removed more than 17 million individual videos that violated its policies.

YouTube’s first response (to the guy who owned the shot-up pizzeria) was basically “hey, it’s not our job to figure out whether the conspiracy theory is true.” It’s cool, I’m sure it’s someone else’s job to moderate the thing you built. Don’t sweat it. And then, when the Rolling Stone reporter got in touch with YouTube for his story, YouTube’s second response was essentially “we kick stuff off our platform all the time but only when they break the rules.” I feel like there’s a possibility that YouTube missed their window to play the ‘we moderate our platform real good’ card in this case.

Here’s hoping the big social media platforms figure this stuff out sooner rather than later.