December 9, 2018

Milo Drops

By Ctrl Alt-Right Delete

Like news about the downfall of Milo Yiannopoulos? Then you’ll love this! HOPE not hate has a series of three articles out this week detailing Milo’s finances thanks to “an extensive cache of documents, including hundreds of items of his private correspondence, most of which relate to his aborted Australian tour, [that] shed light on Yiannopoulos’ narcissistic personality and numerous interesting schisms amongst key international far-right figures.”

They’re juicy fun reads! Enjoy the schadenfreude below.

On Wisconsin (And France)!

By Melissa Ryan

Two threads on my mind this week that feel related even though on the surface, they might not seem to be: the GOP’s latest anti-democracy power grab in Wisconsin and Michigan and the Yellow Vest protests/riots in France. Specifically, it’s made me think about online activities and how they fuel political movements.

This week, as expected, the Republican-controlled state legislatures in Wisconsin and Michigan took a page from North Carolina’s book, and are doing one final smash and grab to deny the newly elected Democratic Governors as much power as they can get away with. As Charles Blow noted “Republican power is increasingly synonymous with white power. The party’s nationalist tendencies are increasingly synonymous with white nationalism.” In other words, expect this kind of thing to keep happening — no matter who won the election.

I have a long history with Wisconsin politics so I watched these events more closely, mostly via trusted sources on social media. Progressives in Wisconsin have a stronger than usual local online progressive infrastructure born out of a progressive blogosphere that developed in response to the dominance of local right-wing talk radio and greatly expanded via social media during Scott Walker’s tenure as governor. The 2011 #WIunion protests were the first time I experienced the power of social media as an organizing tool in action. Progressives organized in real time on Twitter and Facebook, and that activity helped turn #WIunion from a local protest into an international news story.

The #WIPowerGrab protests unfolded in much the same way, with many of the same voices organizing and amplifying content online, and gaining national press attention as a result. Meanwhile, on the right, there was little oxygen in support of the power grab in Wisconsin or #MAGA social media as a whole. Conservative media’s support generally was tepid. Republicans might have won this round but it was clear that there was no grassroots support whatsoever for the bill. It was completely driven by the party elites who didn’t even bother to hide their reasons for ramming the bills through. Legacy media were too busy covering #WIPowerGrab as some kind of normal partisan squabbling (as opposed to an anti-democracy power grab) to notice the discrepancy.

I’ve been thinking about Wisconsin and the other grassroots political protests that occurred in 2011 a lot this week, especially as the narrative has emerged that Facebook is somehow entirely responsible for what’s happening in France. The Verge’s Casey Newton wrote a piece with the headline “How Facebook Groups sparked a Crisis in France” blaming Facebook for the violence while also admitting that “Of course, at this point, we lack the evidence that Facebook caused the Yellow Vests to organize. But we can say that what we saw over the weekend is consistent with other angry populist movements that we have seen around the world — many of them violent, and many of them organized on social media.” Buzzfeed’s Ryan Broderick followed up the next day with his own article making a similar argument, Broderick’s piece included more data but still didn’t convince me that Facebook was entirely or mostly to blame.

For me, the line between organizing and weaponization online has always been pretty clear. Since I don’t speak French I can’t follow the online activity in the way that I can with American political protests, but based on the information I have I don’t feel comfortable putting the blame entirely on Facebook for how quickly the protests spread or for the violence. Further, I worry that where we’ll eventually land is that protests we like are because of people using social media, whereas protests we don’t like or find harmful are all social media’s fault — with no consideration of the political environment. I’m always up for holding the tech companies accountable for their many sins, and we might learn that weaponization played a larger role, but until we have more comprehensive data, I’m not ready to say this one is all Facebook’s fault.

Social media alone can’t destroy democracy, but it can be a powerful tool for those who want to break it. The same is true in reverse. Social media won’t save democracy but I still believe it has a crucial role to play in mobilizing grassroots movements.

As information warfare evolves it’s going to become even more difficult to separate weaponization from authentic online activity. Renee DiResta wrote about this problem for Wired earlier this year reminding us to ask “who is saying this? Why? And how is the message being spread?” Facebook’s role in the how is pretty clear. The who and why are more ambiguous.

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The Far Right Target the UN Migration Pact

By Simon Murdoch

On 13 July 2018, following 18 months of consultation and negotiation, UN member states finalized the text of a comprehensive, non-binding migration pact which is due to be formally adopted on 10-11 December at a meeting in Marrakech, Morocco.

The pact has shown how the contemporary far right mobilize across borders around issues that they see as of common interest, combining online and offline tactics and reaching out to sympathizers around the globe to spread disinformation that suits their narrative.

Read our analysis of their activities here.

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Research/Projects

Wanted to alert readers to a fantastic podcast from Molly Conger, The Trial of James Alex Fields. Molly is a Charlottesville resident and citizen journalist who’s been covering local proceedings in Charlottesville since the Unite the Right rally in 2017. The podcast is her daily recap of Fields’ trial for the murder of Heather Hayer. Fields was found guilty on all counts and his sentencing begins Monday. Molly’s recaps will continue through the duration.

You can also follow Molly on Twitter @socialistdogmom.


ICYMI


Coda

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Until next week!