A couple years ago, I started more intentionally broadening who I follow on social media. In particular, I’ve followed more people who aren’t just other white guys. It’s nice – I recommend it.
However, this approach highlighted a problem. As I started to follow more diverse people, I noticed that Twitter’s “who to follow” suggestions were fighting back. This is the default behaviour of recommendation engines: the mathematically “best” suggestions are the stereotypical ones. Thus, if you try and leave your bubble, it will recommend you get back in.
This is kind of annoying, so a couple years ago, I did what you do: I complained about it on Twitter:
I hate how recommenders blindly fight attempts to diversify. “People like you follow more white guys. Have you tried following white guys?”
My comment got some replies, including a sarcastic quip from friend and fellow white guy Boris Smus:
white guys are the worst!
It was a joke, from one white guy to another.
It was also true. As I would find out two years later, white guys are the worst.
Last Friday, I started getting some unusual Twitter notifications.
From “Zombie of some kind”:
woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof
Reported for racism.
From “Haul Paller”
Always. I feel my testosterone dropping by just looking at this pussy.
Oh no. The clown cavalry has arrived, and they’re in my mentions.
The alt-right internet trolling apparatus consists of many different warrens and tentacles. One recent tentacle to burst out of the goo is a Twitter account called “Blue Check Watch”. Its MO is to look for old tweets by verified accounts that are “racist against whites”, and brigade them.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that a white male president who was objectively bad by almost every measure was elected with only 46% of the vote, driven primarily by white male voters. In such a circumstance, a frustrated white male might say something like “White males suck”, on account of white males having just collectively done something that sucked.
Fast forward a few years, and trolls dig up said tweet. They publicize it as if it’s some kind of dark secret, attach it to the author’s photo and place of employment, and summon a brigade of locusts. They descend, harassing people, reporting them, attempting to get them fired, sending anti-Semitic comments, and generally behaving like a classic mob of alt-right bot-children.
And so our weekend went. We were called cunts, which hasn’t happened to me in a while. One response informed me that if I was a white guy who hated white guys so much, I could go kill myself. Which is good to know, that’s a helpful tip.
The problem is though, I don’t want white people to die. I just want them to stop being the worst.
As the brigade got bored and moved on to the next target, I had many questions. Boris summarized his thoughts on being targeted, along with a reflection on whether Twitter is worth trying to participate in anymore. My friend Christina Warren, who was targeted by the brigade earlier in the month, responded with cheery gifs and remarkable patience.
Myself, I was motivated to learn more about some of the bizarre rhetoric within the chaos. In particular, I read up on:
- “Reverse racism”, the idea that white people suffer from racial discrimination in the same way that actual oppressed and underprivileged groups do.
- “White pride”, a framing device white nationalists and neo-Nazis use to spin racism and racial division as if it was a positive attitude.
- “White genocide”, a conspiracy theory that claims minorities and the government are intentionally shifting demographics over time with the goal of systematically eliminating white people.
Learning about these rhetorical devices is kind of like learning about common confidence scams. It’s both morbidly fascinating and good mental preparation. Out of context, the term “white pride” might not immediately trigger alarm bells for everyone. With some thought though, it’s pretty easy to connect it to some of the worst tendencies in humanity.
So, it’s worth reading up a bit and becoming aware of the tricks white nationalists try to use to divide people. That way, if these ideas do leak beyond the troll cages and infect anyone we know personally, we’ll be prepared to discuss it, and help make things less bad.
The power is in us. We can stop being the worst.