Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. —Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today’s pictures are only there to get your attention. They have nothing to do with the topic.
Okay, that statement’s not completely accurate. We have a picture of an ass. If you are a racist, bigoted, xenophobe who spreads hate, then you are an ass. So, I guess there is a distant relationship to the topic. Sort of.
Nonetheless, it appears that America is number one in yet another area of distinction: spreading hate online, specifically on Twitter. The research done by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism was released yesterday. I had planned to write this article then and was too ill to do so. This much hate makes me sick to my stomach.
We’re not especially surprised by the outcome of the study. At least, we’re not surprised that Americans spew more extremist views than anyone else. We’ve been watching the mountains of filth grow from the moment President Obama was elected to office in 2008. Every neanderthal in the country suddenly felt a need to go online and express their rage, ignorance, and outright stupidity. Half the time the statements don’t even make sense.
The numbers are higher than we expected, though. Much higher. Even that Mid-East terror fountain we refer to as Daesh (because it’s insulting and they really have nothing to do with Islam) doesn’t put as much hate online as do Americans.
Numbers Difficult To Count
Just how proliferate is the extremism we’re talking about?
“White nationalists and Nazis outperformed [Daesh] in average friend and follower counts by a substantial margin. Nazis had a median follower count almost eight times greater than [Daesh] supporters, and a mean count more than 22 times greater.”
Concrete numbers are difficult to come by because Twitter, which the report specifically targets, is constantly doing its best to eliminate accounts known for producing hate speech or content that incites or encourages violence. However, that effort has been very lopsided. While the social media company has shut down, by its own account, over 360,000 accounts “for threatening or promoting what it defined as terrorist acts,” those efforts have been directed specifically toward Daesh. Nazis and white supremacists, on the other hand, have gotten by with saying just about anything they want.
What’s important to realize is that it’s not just the number of accounts but the number of followers that matter. A group might post a racist statement and be largely ignored if they have a low follower count. But when one has a following the size of the white nationalists and Nazis studied for the report, nothing gets ignored. Instead, the hate gets liked and retweeted over and over, spreading its vile poison around the globe. The final reach by these mostly American-based hate groups is in the millions.
Everyone Gets A Chance To Speak
Remember that point in Plato’s Republic, along about Book VII I believe, where he uses the allegory to describe why Democracy fails? He might as well have been looking right at us when he wrote that passage. For democracy to work, there must be learning, understanding, and reasoning across the board. Everyone must have a base level of intelligence if everyone is going to get a vote. Otherwise, the system fails.
The great promise of the Internet was that it would “level the playing field” by giving everyone a voice. Sure, the big corporations would have the biggest and flashiest websites, but that wouldn’t prevent Joe Redneck over there from creating his own website as well. Freedom of Speech. First Amendment. Rah, rah, rah. We were so convinced this w as a good thing and in many ways it has been. Then, along comes social media like Twitter and its ability to amplify all those millions of voices. Everyone gets 146 characters, no matter who you are. Equal footing for everyone. Sounds great.
And then the hate begins. Small at first, more of an annoyance than anything. But the hate grows. People start following the hate. They start retweeting the hate. Suddenly, extremists groups we thought had all but disappeared are popping up with huge audiences. They play to the fears and the lies and the misinformation of an under-educated and largely ignorant populace. The extremism spreads from Twitter to real life as the number of Klan and Nazi rallies increase. The next thing we know, not only is hate back stronger than ever, but it’s running for President!
Shutting The Barn Door
Ask the good folks at Twitter what they’re doing about the problem of extremist hate speech and they’ll direct you to their terms of service. They try to emphasize the parts that “prohibit promoting terrorism, threatening abuse and hateful conduct such as attacking or threatening a person on the basis of race or ethnicity.” The rules are there. The problem is getting anyone to follow them. Twitter, like Facebook and other companies. relies on users to report inappropriate activity. However, one cannot report activity they don’t see.
There has been a lot of discussion over the past few years as to how we create “echo chambers” with our social media accounts. We like, friend, and follow those people and organizations that hold values similar to our own. When someone repeatedly makes statements that we don’t like, things that we find offensive, we unfriend or unfollow them. Problem solved, right?
Not exactly. If offensive hate-filled behavior isn’t reported, then it continues whether we see it or not. When everyone following a hate group agrees with that point of view, nothing gets reported. Instead, the hate is shared, re-distributed, turned into a meme and shared again. The very systems that allow us to choose what we see and who we follow end up allowing the hate and the extremism to grow.
Complicating matters even further is the fact that, unlike Daesh, American-branded extremism isn’t cohesively organized and planned. Individuals are as likely to make offensive statements as are known hate groups. Shutting everyone down becomes difficult.
Finding A Solution
The report states that its data represents only a subset of all the extremists and hate-based groups on the Internet. They are legion.
Where we begin turning the tide against hate is first by filling Twitter and other social media with more love. Support those who fight against injustice. Demand equality for your Muslim neighbor, your Latino neighbor, your black neighbor. Fill your life, and your friends list, with those who are the targets of hate. Show more kindness and generosity toward those most likely to be the subject of online trolls and bullies.
Then, when you see injustice and hate, put it down. Don’t merely unfriend someone. If what someone is saying threatens another person or group, speak up. Report them. No, you’re not being mean or vindictive. You’re sending a message that hate and extremism are not tolerated.
Hate kills. No one has a right to kill. Stop the hate. Embrace your brother and sister. Spread the love.