“This is not who we are,” claims President Joe Biden, in response to the capital riots. Four years ago, Donald Trump assumed power. Today, conspiracy theories about our election process are propagated by mainstream media. Today, Far-Right violence threatens the peaceful transfer of power in the oldest democracy in the world. This is who we are. How did we get here?
In the wake of the attacks, most mainstream social media platforms have banned President Trump, claiming that he has incited violence and may continue to do so through social media.
In response, some Americans cheered, while others expressed reservations about Big Tech censorship. I believe that banning the president will prevent further violence, but I also understand why others are concerned. What happens when private, profit-motivated businesses control public discourse? Who is in charge of our social media feeds, and how can what we see reinforce our existing biases? How do social media algorithms contribute to extremism and Far-Right radicalization?
Although major platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have become arenas of public discourse, they are still private companies looking to make a profit through ad revenue. The goal of social media platforms is to keep their consumers’ attention. Social media algorithms are designed to show consumers more of what they like. If you like President Trump, you’ll only see pro-Trump content. Social media is built to reinforce our biases, and expose us to more extreme versions of our own opinions. It turns out that angry, righteous consumers pay attention. Fervent, radical communities online demand that adherents participate actively and often. (This effect also works in reverse, creating liberal echo chambers. But I don’t see any drag queens resting their stunning heels on Nancy Pelosi’s desk.)
In short, social media platforms benefit from the engagement that angry Alt-Right groups demand. Alt-Right groups benefit from the political bubbles that social media algorithms create for their users. It’s a perfect storm of hate and profit. For those of us not familiar with the Alt-Right (lucky) I’d like to lay down some basic information about its most prominent ideologies.
In the wake of the riots, you may have seen photos of a shirtless, tattooed man in a horned hat and red and blue face paint, parading through the capital building. (Please read this sentence to the tune of Purple People Eater.) Jake Angeli is only one of thousands, if not millions, of private citizens involved with the Far-Right conspiracy theory QAnon. Begun in 2017 by an anonymous reddit user, the core tenets of QAnon include the belief that hundreds of thousands of children are trafficked by wealthy satanists including Hillary Clinton every year. According to QAnon, Donald Trump heads a secret charge to imprison all the baby stealing satanists, and restore peace on Earth. It’s no wonder, then, that some Americans violated the capital to keep Trump in power.
In the past five years, the Far Right has flourished. The Proud Boys, a fascist militia encouraged by President Trump, was founded in 2016. Just that year, when asked if he would reject former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke’s support, President Trump said “I don’t know.” Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacy during his 2016 presidential campaign as well as in office has emboldened the Far Right. By 2018, according to analysis of FBI data, hate crimes were at the highest rate they’d been in more than a decade. As evidenced by the continuing violence, the Far-Right hasn’t since cooled its temper.
Many Far-Right groups are exclusive to men, rising out of pickup artist and antifeminist communities. Informally referred to as the “Manosphere,” a collection of online groups including Incels share the foundational belief that feminism has ruined society. They have their own terminology. Incels, for example, believe that men can be divided into “Chads,” physically superior but stupid men who attract women, and “incels,” men rendered involuntarily celibate by their physical inferiority.
To know the Alt-Right dictionary, you start with the “Red-Pill.” Borrowed from the matrix, and coined in the “Manosphere,” to be “Red-Pilled” means to accept radical conservative world views, particularly the idea that straight white men are under attack.
Like cults, the insular communities of the far right teach followers that no outside media sources can be trusted. When the establishment media is fake news, anonymous Reddit users can be upheld as the arbiters of truth. Like cults, far right communities have their own terminology, which keep outsiders in the dark. Words such as “Femoid,” which means woman, make it easier to dehumanize outsiders.
The Alt-Right is fixated on dehumanization. Even to call them alt is disingenuous. “Jews will not replace us,” comes right out of the Nazi playbook. So too does the notion that the press is full of liars, and that no outsiders can be trusted. Like roaches, these ideas persist and will influence our political discourse for the near future. In writing this article, I hope that at least I’ve expanded your vocabulary, so that you may recognize and understand America’s most dangerous political factions. I also hope that you look out for your loved ones, and challenge them when they echo conspiracy theories. Science, democracy, and facts are under attack, and we need to remain vigilant!