Humanity as a privilege
The right’s closing argument for the midterms comes down to humanity, specifically humanity as a privilege. Trump’s Army are doing everything they can to paint others: Immigrants, people of color, progressives, as not human or deserving of humanity. It’s presented as a zero-sum game: if you allow the others humanity they’ll come for yours. If you allow the others their humanity, the mob will take over. Only Trump can save you from them.
The far right’s NPC meme made a lot of news this week. It’s been around on the Chans for a while but has broken through as a Frog Squad political rallying cry. NPC stands for “non-playable character”, a common trope in video games. The joke is that people on the left are all pre-programmed characters simply reciting the talking points they’ve been programmed to say. This week Twitter purged hundreds of NPC accounts created by Trump supporters to own the libs by mocking them with these accounts online.
Lost in most of the coverage of NPC’s is the dehumanization, which is pretty explicit: people who disagree with us aren’t human. They’re not even bothering with symbolism anymore. I’m not a gamer but even I know that abusing NPC’s is a trope of video game culture. Defining the left as “non-playable” and not human also justifies cruelty and abusive behavior.
Meanwhile, traditional media continues to give the far right a cushy platform. NBC News went all in on Thursday, first giving white nationalist group Identity Evropa a free five-minute infomercial packaged as an interview on network television. That afternoon NBC’s Left Field re-released an infomercial packaged as a short documentary about Western chauvinist group, the Proud Boys. Both pieces provided a largely uncritical platform for far-right groups, one of which has been in the news all week for violent attacks in NYC and Portland! Not to be outdone, the New York Times ran a profile of Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes calling him a “Brooklyn hipster” and describing his racism and calls for violence as “darker views.” As my Media Matters colleague, Cristina Lopez G. points out, “extremists are ascendant on the right, but legacy media are too often playing catch-up.”
Extremism is on the ballot this year. It will be in 2020 as well. That’s not hyperbole but the reality of living in a nation where our President has never met an autocrat he didn’t like and his party embraces violent far-right groups like the Proud Boys. Trump’s GOP is fighting for the right to assert who is worthy of humanity and who isn’t. They’re not trying to hide that fact, and multiple media outlets are giving them a platform to present their extremist views as normal.
- Stop Online Violence Against Women is out with a new report on Facebook’s cache of Russian ads finding that “the race-based focus of the Russian-purchased ads, which has been acknowledged in some reporting and previous studies, were in fact majority-focused on the themes of Black Identity and culture. The Black Identity ads were used in two-fold purpose, to engage in voter suppression of Black voters, while boosting voter turnout of White voters.”
- The Anti-Defamation League and the New America Foundation have released a dashboard that monitors online hate via Twitter.
- JM Berger’s newest research, The Alt-Right Twitter Census from Vox Pol is out. It “defines and describes the alt-right audience on twitter, and identifies the top ten most influential Twitter accounts for the alt-right online.”
- An interesting new paper from Northeastern University, Linguistic Signals under Misinformation and Fact-Checking: Evidence from User Comments on Social Media, looks at how people react to fact checking on social media. You can read an accessible summary on Medium. It’s handy for anyone who struggles with whether or not to offer unprompted corrections on our family and friends’ social media feeds.
- According to this latest study from Pew Research Center, most Americans know about bots on social media but not how to spot them online.
- A new report from Data & Society, Weaponizing the Digital Influence Machine: The Political Perils of Online Ad Tech, examines “the technologies, conditions, and tactics that enable today’s digital advertising infrastructure to be weaponized by political and anti-democratic actors.”
- The Japanese Man Who Saved 6,000 Jews With His Handwriting (New York Times)
- Donald Daters, a dating app for Trump supporters, leaked its users’ data (TechCrunch)
- Facebook to ban misinformation on voting in upcoming U.S. elections (Reuters)
- A Genocide Incited on Facebook, With Posts From Myanmar’s Military (New York Times)
- Twitter will soon indicate when a reported tweet was taken down (The Verge
- Patriot Prayer Members Had ‘Cache’ of Guns on Rooftop Before August Protest (The Daily Beast)
- Women’s March target of elaborate Facebook scam run from Bangladesh (CNN)
- A Botnet Used By Russian Trolls Is Still Sitting Dormant On Twitter, And It Promoted Taco Bell And Coachella (Buzzfeed)
- Army Veteran Wages War on Social-Media Disinformation (Wall Street Journal”)
- Turning Point USA Members Joked About Muslim Refugees Raping White Women (The Daily Beast)
- Fighting disinformation with media literacy—in 1939 (Columbia Journalism Review)
CARD Across the Pond
Next week I’ll be in London. On Wednesday afternoon I’m co-facilitating a workshop for Media Matters at MisinfoCon London.
On Saturday, HOPE not hate and Media Matters are presenting a workshop at Mozfest: Going Global: Let’s build a transnational coalition to fight online toxicity and extremism.
If you’re attending either one of these events I hope you’ll come to our workshops. I love meeting readers so don’t be shy and say hello!
No newsletter next week. Talk to you again in November!
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