Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Election 2016 Fallout Part 8: On Internet Culture and Privacy

(8) On Internet Culture and Privacy.

Today's I consider how Trump's Electoral College win was a victory for the very worst of Internet Culture.

First, we have the man's social media presence itself. He was (is) notorious for taking to Twitter at all hours to peck out insults, demeaning nicknames he's bestowed upon people, and counter-attacks to any real or perceived slight against his eggshell-thin ego.

About a year ago, The New York Times ran a profile of how Trump had "mastered" Twitter. Twitter was (is) the means by which he tapped into many people's basest, cruelest selves, as the Internet is wont to do. Through the expression of aggression, braggadocio, and misinformation, he constantly made (makes) headlines.

People who've been in contact with Trump suggest that he craves attention. And, a characteristic of retweets and Twitter trends is that they are attention, no matter whether people are agreeing or not (He grabs them by the what? Wait, now David Duke is applauding him? Wait, what happened at Hamilton?). In fact, it's almost better for Trump if something is "controversial." Clickbait, as we know, pays in Internetland (both financially, to the media that support it - and to Trump's hunger for attention). What seems to matter to Trump is that Trump never stops trending.

We have to develop better strategies for covering Trump in the Internet age.

His Twitter feed, especially during the election, was a constant stream of content for us to be outraged by, distracting from the previous outrage of five minutes ago, so nobody seemed to notice that he is never, ultimately, held accountable. We stay in a constant state of outrage, with no relief.

Trump is not one to apologize, even in that mealy-mouthed non-apology way that's so common for deplorables. In true "alpha" form, at least as the "manosphere" understands these things, he doesn't correct misstatements. He flounces from one outrage to the next, and the press (and his followers) follow him because everything's about his ego and displays of dominance.

That needs to stop. We, and people with platforms in the media especially, need to disrupt the outrage-outrage-outrage cycle.  I'm not sure how, but awareness seems to be a critical component here, because it seems many people are lacking even that.

Example strategy I use in blogging: From time to time, a Trump-like commenter will venture here to engage in outrage-outrage-outrage agendas of their own. One time many years ago, an anti-gay man was promoting at his own blog false anti-gay propaganda published by a hate group. He then began commenting here. So, I wrote a blog post (probably too earnestly, given who I was dealing with) addressing the falsehoods in the propaganda piece and invited him to address my commentary. He never did.

I then articulated a specific condition for him: If he wanted our conversations to continue at my blog, he had to first answer for his complicity in spreading anti-gay propaganda.  Instead of doing so, he kept trying to comment here, jumping from one outrageous anti-gay tirade to another, hoping I'd be so offended-distracted that I wouldn't notice he was violating a boundary I had set for him and hoping people wouldn't notice that he never answered for his role in spreading anti-gay propaganda. (I didn't ban him. When I set the boundary and he violated it, I would simply delete his comments that didn't address the propaganda. He eventually slunk away.)

Trump needs to be treated in a similar way, I think, however the fuck we do that to a President.

Who or what will be the voice that repeatedly says, "Wait, let's back up to this pussy-grabbing, shall we?" or "Please clarify this Muslim registry plan." A major media outlet or website should keep a tally of his lies and offenses, as well as what, if anything, he has done to apologize or atone for them. We cannot stay in this cycle of escalating, continual outrage.

Secondly, on the misinformation front, a Buzzfeed analysis showed that fake news generated more engagement on Facebook than did news from mainstream sources. And, look, I get it. We're in "anti-Establishment" times. People distrust the mainstream press, and often for legitimate reasons. When that happens, they turn to alternate sources, no matter their political beliefs. People get "had" by both conservative- and left-leaning articles.

Here are my strategies for dealing with this issue (which Facebook claims to be addressing): (a) If I notice someone posting fake news, I will let them know (sometimes with a link to Snopes, if available); (b) I check Snopes or Politifact; (c) I check other news sources by doing a "Google News" search for the topic at hand; and (d) if I'm reading what is clearly clickbait (and you can often tell from the title and/or content) I don't share it, because sharing monetizes it.  As Internet users, many of us can take active roles in confronting fake news and propaganda when we see it in our social networks.

Third, we saw the proliferation of white nationalist, racist, xenophobic, anti-feminist, and misogynistic online communities, serving as outlets for white male aggrievement regarding their perceived loss of status in a "PC world gone mad." Now commonly (euphemistically) called the "alt-right," Echidne (are you reading her? you should) documents the alternate set of "facts" under which denizens of these forums operate.

One of the alt-right's leaders, Steve Bannon, is a right-hand man to Trump. I will discuss this in a forthcoming post, but remember: many of these misogynistic white supremacists do not live the same reality as liberals and progressives and they are beholden to no rules of civility that are purported to exist in civil society. When they go low and we go high, they count on that and exploit it.

They harass and threaten women and minorities online. They "troll for the lulz." They largely aren't ashamed if they're called bigots, even if their "cuck" allies might be. They'll leave flaming piles of dog shit in your comment sections and, if you ban them, call you a liberal coward who "can't handle dissenting views."

These are also, likely, people who seem "normal" in their everyday lives. They wear the Internet like a white robe to spread hatred, intimidation, and threats of violence toward women and minorities. These are the people who are now even more emboldened. Be aware of who and what we're dealing with and give them your "empathy" with caution. Their goal is rarely, if ever, civil debate with us, even if they fake it at first. Most often, the goal is dominance posturing through harassment and intimidation.

But also know this: the weak point, like Trump's, are their delicate egos. In the way that Trump will pick Twitter fights with Rosie O'Donnell instead of domestic and international terrorists, know that "Social Justice Warriors" get under their thin skin like almost nothing else, precisely because we seek to marginalize their views as unacceptable in society.

Lastly, Wikileaks. In acts also cheered on and condoned by some on the left and right, we learned via hacked and shared non-public emails that Hillary Clinton likes The Good Wife and creme brulee. I hope that learning this information was worth the erosion of public/private boundaries.

Curiously, thousands of non-public Trump emails did not surface and were not posted. Which, seems fine. He seems like he'd have super good judgment about email security and also like he's really easy to work with, so I'm sure nothing embarrassing would have surfaced anyway.

On a serious note, going forward, I guess we will see for whom this standard for such invasions of privacy applies with Trump in charge. Perhaps the security of his private information will be safe. At least until he pisses off the wrong hacktivist.

Perhaps his seeming-ally Assange will provide a check on Trump's power, should he abuse it. That is, if we trust that Wikileaks is actually a non-partisan group. Which I don't.

What I think more likely is that it will primarily be Trump's political opponents and unempowered, marginalized folks who experience an increase in invasions of privacy.

AND ALSO, IS IT WEIRD THAT THE HACKED EMAILS AND WIKILEAKS INVOLVEMENT IN OUR ELECTION ARE NOT BIGGER STORIES?  The media wrote 50,000 articles a day about the security of Hillary Clinton's emails so I thought they were super interested in the topic of information security BUT I GUESS I WAS WRONG.

(See above, re: cycle of outrage)

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