First and foremost, knowing that The Guardian isn't immune to hyperbole, is this blurb a pretty accurate picture? I literally knew nothing about these people until I read this, so I have nothing to gauge this article against.
Concepts such as isolation and disenfranchisement tend to be at the core of a lot of extremist beliefs and behaviors. Whether we're talking in a social sense, an economic sense, a political sense, what have you. Are we as societies, both big and small, really doing our best to combat isolation? It feels like there are so many organizations and programs out there to try and reach people, but these problems keep popping up again and again. What could we be doing better to help people, both as individuals as well as collective groups?
It seems to me that humor and memes, when used in a hateful manner, have a toxic effect. They often blur the lines of morality and in effect normalize and seemingly validate dangerous thoughts and ideas. Words lead to thoughts, thoughts lead to behaviors, and what people read often have an impact on them whether they realize it or not. Knowing this, are forums like the ones described in this article an example of free speech and anonymity going to far? Can anything really be done about it while still respecting the rights of individuals?
Are there questions I'm not asking? Things I should be thinking about?
I see reflections of these issues time and time again, as a result these questions and variations of them are things I think about a lot. I know we've talked about similar issues here on Hubski before, and I'd love to hear some of your guys' thoughts.
With that, keep in mind this is a sensitive issue, so please, be thoughtful, be respectful.
Read this article and report back. It's now more than ten years old. Go ahead. I'll wait.
kk. Back? Confused as to why I linked it? That's okay, hang with me for a minute.
This article was written before SomethingAwful came up with /r/ShitRedditSays. If you look at it, though, SRS was exactly the paradigm of Habbo Hotel, was exactly the paradigm of the Cult of Geno. It's not like SA came up with the paradigm: a small operation of insurgents with good propaganda infiltrating and infecting a vulnerable community. The basic play probably got into collective consciousness from William Gibson's Neuromancer, a book much loved by computer nerds. SomethingAwful owe a lot of their culture to the Panther Moderns. But then, the Panther Moderns owe a lot of their culture to the Nazis, a small group of disenfranchised militants able to take seed in a damaged culture. The Nazis owe their success to the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks owe their success to the Protestants. The Protestants owe their success to the Christians. Turtles all the way down.
The difference is that the Panther Moderns were the first insurgent force in fiction to do it "for the lulz" whereas SomethingAwful were the first insurgent force on the Internet to do it for for the lulz. And the whole goal is that if you can stand up a simulacrum of a real thing, it will become the real thing.
SRS existed for years after SA bailed. The initial Trump insurgents on Reddit were doing it for the lulz. Incels can trace a direct lineage from this guy:
This, really, is exactly what Dawkins meant when he coined the word "meme." It's a granular piece of an idea that reproduces and mutates. Culture is made up of these memes. If you can create and disseminate these memes successfully, they will self-perpetuate, self-correct and self-reinforce.
/r/ForeverAlone started as a place to commiserate about being a loser through humor. However, it became a place to celebrate being a loser. When you get reinforcement points for debasing yourself, the greatest debasers become the greatest heroes. And when the basic thread is "I can't get laid because women hate me" there will be a mirror response of "so I hate women." Obviously this grows until it's "I hate anybody having sex (because I'm not)" until you're at "my identity is defined by not being allowed to have sex." When you have an entire "community" (nameless, faceless thoughts unanchored to individuals) reinforcing this worldview without any accountability, the individuals without any positive influences in their lives will accept that culture as their native and only.
Suicide cults are now a click away. That's something new under the sun. If you have no friends, no social support group, no purpose in life and no ambition, you can find belonging amongst a group whose principal affinity is self-destructive hatred.
And as SomethingAwful, the Panther Moderns, the Nazis, the Bolsheviks, the Protestants and the Christians will tell you, once you've got someone feeling oppressed they pull in. There's a reason the Mormons send their impressionable young adults out on Mission. It's not so they'll convert more people to the church... it's so those impressionable young adults can see that even if you spend half a year going door-to-door spreading the gospel, the outside world does not want you.
One of us.
One of us.
One of us.
SRS got "interviewed" by PBS. Once that happened it was all over. Trolls could get media coverage for trolling and a new high score was set. And here we are, with every major media outlet losing their shit over the fact that woman-hating psychopaths have a home on the Internet.
The real question is whether anything will change.