New Zealand Mosque Shooting: Our hearts go out to the families of the dead and wounded, to the Muslim community in New Zealand and Muslims around the world. If you’re looking for context, HOPE not hate has compiled everything we know about the attack. I’d also suggest this analysis from HOPE not hate’s executive director Nick Lowles. We also have an article in this newsletter with a few more resources and ways to stand against hate.

No doubt you’ve heard a lot by now about how the shooting was live-streamed and the existence of a so-called manifesto. It’s important to know that the shooter had a cross-platform digital strategy plan. He gamed social and traditional media to drive the narrative, spread his extremist Islamophobic views, and glorify his actions in order to recruit more extremists. His plan worked.

If you want to understand how extremists spread hate online and in the media, and how media helps them do it, Data & Society’s Oxygen of Amplification report is the best starting point. If you want to recognize the particular rhetorical tricks the far right employs to mainstream the ideas the Christchurch attacker subscribed to, read HOPE not hate’s A New Threat report. If you’re looking for concrete ways to take action, Muslim Advocates is a good organization to support and follow for advocacy purposes.

With love and solidarity, Melissa & Simon


That time 4chan Gamed the Democratic Primary

by Melissa Ryan

I’ve spent much of this week fascinated by the sudden emergence of Andrew Yang, a tech entrepreneur running in the Democratic presidential primary. Yang made news this week for hitting the 65,000 individual contribution threshold that the Democratic National Committee had set for candidates to appear in the first primary debates. Yang’s campaign caught fire after appearances on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show and Joe Rogan’s podcast last month, and his campaign has masterfully tapped into that momentum for their own fundraising efforts.

Who exactly are Yang’s supporters? Given his two biggest media hits it’s a question worth asking. As Sam Stein and Will Somer point out in the Daily Beast, in addition to an army of meme warriors, Yang’s campaign has attracted support from some of the worst corners of the Internet, the same online forums that were early supporters of Trump 4 years ago. Yang is not a white supremacist, his campaign has said they don’t want support from the chans, and much of the support from the 4chan crowd would probably fall into the trolls being ironic category but it’s important to remember that early support for Trump from these online communities looked and felt the same way initially.

Andrew Yang is a legitimate candidate running for President but there’s no doubt that his supporters have crossed the line from digital organizing to digital weaponization. You can see it in the #YangGang hashtag on Twitter, where there’s some evidence that bots and automation are being deployed to boost it. From March 6 to March 13 the hashtag was tweeted 33,483 times receiving 73,881,279 impressions. The top users of the hashtag are accounts that suggest inauthentic activity AKA bots/cyborgs. They’re tweeting and retweeting at a high volume and the branding of most of these accounts doesn’t even attempt to seem like they’re actual people. A few examples:

Did 4chan game the Democratic primary debates? It’s a question Democrats have to ask themselves.

Unfortunately, there’s no clear cut answer. Yang’s supporters donated real money to help him cross the threshold set by the DNC, and as far as I’m aware there’s no rule in place saying online antics from trolls could disqualify a campaign from the debates. Yang isn’t even the first example of inauthentic activity boosting a Democratic campaign this cycle. Just last month NBC News reported that the Kremlin was amplifying Tulsi Gabbard’s own campaign via inauthentic content as well. (Gabbard, interestingly enough, also appeared on both Carlson and Rogan’s shows and received similar interest from the chans after her appearances.)

One good thing about trolls supporting Yang is that it does offer potential for Frog Squad in-fighting. Allegedly, moderators at /r/The_Donald are permabanning pro-Yang messages from the notorious subreddit, and right-wing social network Gab is already exploiting this rift to market their own Internet comments product. Additionally, not all of 4chan is on board with Yang as their campaign learned the hard way this week when one of their staffers was doxxed. It remains to be seen whether there are enough disaffected pro-Trump trolls seeking an exit ramp to have an impact on the coalition overall but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Cristina Lopez G. provided research for this piece.


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After Christchurch: Ignore the bait, understand the threat, then call it out

By Simon Murdoch

Poring over the details of the material that extremists who carry out attacks publish is unwise, least of all when that is part of their plan for controlling the narrative after the fact. As Melissa and I detail above, instead you should school yourself on how media manipulation works and look into what you can do to take action to help others.

One area where these combine is in calling out the ideas that are propagated by the far right for what they truly are. This can help undermine efforts to radicalize others and seep hatred into the mainstream by removing any veneer of normalcy these ideas have been allowed to accumulate. One far-right ideology which has made extensive, deliberate efforts to cloak its extreme positions in recent times is ‘identitarianism’, which essentially calls for racial separatism. You may not have heard of it, but I’m quite sure you will have come across some of its tropes in recent years, as it has spread from its origins in Europe to across the globe.

Away from the internet culture references and trolling found in the Christchurch murderer’s screed, were numerous implicit and explicit references to this ideology (its very title comes from one of its central ideas). Whilst it is by no means the only kind of far-right view he appears to have absorbed, he frequently drew on its tropes yet never mentioned its name.

This subtlety of influence is crucial for its activism’s success. Core to identitarianism is a prioritizing of slowly changing culture over engaging in electoral politics. Moreover, many of its adherents claim they are non-violent and that their ideas, if enacted, would be peaceful, further assisting their insidious mainstreaming. It’s racial separatist worldview and the violence it necessarily demands should be plain as day, yet repeatedlycoverage of those espousing identitarianism has fallen for activists’ deliberate framing of its ideas as having no logical, inevitable connection to violence. This was not true before Christchurch, and is not true still.

Calling out hate for what it is is integral to fighting it. Identitarian ideas continue to gain ground, but the tide is turning as people are becoming more aware of the tactics used to spread them and the violent ends they necessitate. The growth of identitarianism in the UK has been stemmed by exposing their extreme links and their tactics. Just last week Identity Evropa, the key US identitarian group, attempted a rebrand, though their efforts seem unlikely to help their image. New Zealand’s own fringe identitarian street movement – which has claimed it has no association with the Christchurch killer – announced after the murders that it is dissolving. We must continue to recognize these hateful, violent ideas for what they are and call them out.


Research/Projects

    • Clint Watts is out with the second part of his research on Advanced Persistent Manipulators for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. This month’s contribution outlines the evolution of trolling from hostile actors as well as where we’re likely headed next. “An examination of where online manipulation emerged and the actors advancing each innovation in tradecraft and technology suggests the dominant manipulators of the future will seek to take open systems and make them closed. ”

ICYMI

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Coda

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