How White Nationalists Use Our Medium Comments Sections to Recruit
Let me start by saying, this isn’t about Medium.com. The recruitment process I describe here is happening across social media. Any form of media that allows comments is vulnerable to white nationalist recruitment. Medium is simply one example, based on what happened yesterday in my comments thread. It can happen anywhere. It can happen in a U. S. Senate hearing.
My background in dealing with volatile online dialogues goes way back. I have been writing about fatherhood and manhood for the Good Men Project for nearly ten years. The Good Men Project remains one of the leading voices in the conversation about manhood. Millions of men and women are there every month, having “the conversation no one else is having.” When I first starting writing there, the conversation now one else was having often got very binary and very nasty.
As early members of the GMP writers community, we cut our teeth on responding to the comments of rageful people, men and women alike. We spent our days in the binary crossfire of the gender wars. Many of us carry a form of PTSD, having been accused, attacked, and threatened by the most aggressive voices the net has to offer for years on end. To this day, whenever I see a new comment on my posts, I reflexively steel myself for a possible onslaught. Writers for the GMP, especially women, often got burned out, drawing back from the public conversation about masculinity, leaving when they could no longer take anonymous online abuse that often included threats of rape and assault against them or their families.
Fast forward to now. Things remain pretty volatile. I am not without my own sins and my own expressions of rage. But while my expressions of rage have typically been spontaneous outbursts, generated in the back and forth heat of the moment, there is something new going on these days. Something much more calculated.
As of the last couple of years, the GMP no longer allows open commenting. If you want to join the conversation, you have to become a member. You have to be an identified participant in the conversation. And… eureka, the nasty, abusive, threatening voices are gone. As if they never existed.
When I asked GMP publisher Lisa Hickey about the choice to end open commenting, she told me something interesting. She said that she no longer wanted to provide a platform where white supremacists could come and recruit. “They look for angry male voices in comment threads and then white nationalists reach out and say, ‘yes, you should be angry and here’s some other things you should be angry about,’” she said.
For me, this casts a new light on the angriest voices commenting on my own articles. When they call me a cuck, a traitor, a liberal pussy and what not, I raise my eyebrows, aware now that they either may be at risk for being recruited, or, depending on how the comments are worded, they may be baiting a hook for others.
Sometimes, I’m not always sure what’s going on when someone is melting down online, but other times it is quite clear. This comment I am about to share with you, which arrived as a result of an article I wrote about mansplaining? This right here? This is boilerplate white racist recruitment.
I’m posting this person’s comments as a jpeg so it won’t come up in text searches. I will restrict myself to my comments, not posting any pull quotes. But I am going to share this person’s words in this limited way. I think it is important for us to deconstruct how calculated performances of anger (right down to all caps) are used as a recruitment tool everywhere from our social media streams to our U. S. Senate hearings.
Here is the post.
I would like to make a few observations about this post.
- My article, the article they are responding to, never mentions white men. Not once. Nor do I mention privilege or structural inequality. But this author does.
- My article explains how our culture of manhood trains boys and men into validating themselves via their competencies vs. their authentic selves. It does not mention racism, nor does it refer to men as nazis, rapists or killers. But this author does.
- This author refers to non western countries, listing Asia, Africa and South America as places where people live in “dirt shacks.”
- The author makes it a point to speak to and for all white western countries.
The author doesn’t acknowledge the theme of my article at all. It’s likely they didn’t read it. What they do is use what seems to me to be a boilerplate, angry, emotional message to deliver in a very calculated way, themes of white nationalism.
- White man are under attack
- If we offer equality and access to a western standard of living, we will all end up living in “dirt shacks”.
What we have here is a calculated performance of rage, designed to create the impression of a deeply personal emotional response while delivering talking points that are coldly calculated. This use of emotion to invite assimilation of political ideology is nothing new. We’ve seen it before. Always in totalitarian states. Always from tyrants. Here’s the screen grab of my commenter’s profile on Medium.
They have zero followers and are following no one. They had only two comments, one directed at me. Perhaps they came and started a new account just for little old me? This commenter is clearly advocating for the very issues which drove the election of Trump and the approval of Brexit, thus improving the likelihood that this voice could be associated with a foreign power who is seeking to destabilize western nations by stoking racist sentiments against immigrants.
I have blocked this person from my Medium account. According to Medium “If you block the author of a response, it will not be linked from anywhere on your post, for anyone.”
Twitter says, “Tweets from blocked accounts will not appear in your timeline.” More importantly, when we block angry voices, we insure we won’t be tempted to respond, spreading them into our stream.
Facebook has plenty of tools for managing rageful voices. Hide is one of my favorites block is even better.
My growing awareness today is how the performance of male rage around issues of masculinity, gender and equality is tied to racist recruitment across social media. Racists are casting a net for those who might be susceptible to recruitment into white nationalism, their vulnerability fostered by uncertainty, anger and fear. As of the 2016 election, the performance of rage is being mirrored by politicians in ways unthinkable three years ago. When we look at the Kavanaugh hearings, we see a stark division between the measured tones of those testifying about their own abuse, those questioning the nominee, and the rageful response of some on the Senate committee and Kavanaugh himself.
Survivors of long term abusive relationships often witness this kind of rageful performance by their abusers, either just before acts of violence or when their abusers are being challenged in any way. Ramping up and then performing their own rage is the drug of choice for all abusers, the terrifying narcotic they use to leverage their position and engage the dark side of others. In what I believe was a very calculated way, Kavanaugh himself, along with his allies on the committee used displays of anger and contempt to overwhelm the news cycle, pulling focus from testimony and questions delivered by calmer more civil voices in the room. When this tactic is intentionally used by presidents and supreme court nominees, we have stepped into a whole new level of disruption and manipulation.
Along with the press and the larger media, we all have to be very mindful when rage and anger are being used in calculated ways to suppress more civil discourses or to co-opt the news cycle. We have to understand how abusers rely on public displays of anger or contempt to exhaust and deplete those around them. To get us to say, “oh the hell with it, I don’t want to challenge that guy any more.”
Meanwhile, the next time you’re tempted to engage a troll on the internet, ask yourself, am I talking to a white nationalist recruiter? Am I talking to a Russian operative seeking to grow divisions in America? What is the best strategy I can employ right now to block their influence?
We have to use our judgement in terms of who we engage and who be block. I spend a lot of time engaging on the net in an attempt to create a better conversation about manhood, but when someone comes at me with no interest in dialogue, clearly just performing rage and anger?
I think block is the gold standard for those folks. Don’t feed the trolls is actually don’t feed the white nationalists. Don’t feed the Russians. Because every raging voice is an opportunity for recruitment.
It’s us to us to protect our social media streams from becoming recruitment tools for racists. It is crucial that the messages of White Nationalists are not given any additional oxygen.
They’re already getting plenty.