Alt-right and pro-Trump trolls | Media Matters for America

Alt-right and pro-Trump trolls

Tags ››› Alt-right and pro-Trump trolls
  • Gab's new "groups" feature makes it easier to categorize racists

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Gab, a social media platform created to cater to those who find Twitter’s terms of service oppressive, recently announced the launch of a new “groups” feature. A cursory look at the groups created so far helps confirm that the platform deserves its reputation as a “haven for white nationalists” since it is helping extremists get organized and share hateful rhetoric.

    Alongside harmless groups on Gab related to gardening and “doggos,” anyone can find the following enclaves of extremism:

    • A group for the fans of George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi party, known for his blatant racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism.

    • A group for the admirer’s of the literary work of James Mason, an American neo-Nazi. Mason, an admirer of criminal cult leader Charles Manson, started a newsletter by the name of Siege, with which he wanted to spread “Manson’s views as a continuation of [Adolf] Hitler’s philosophy.”

    • A group for the listeners of Radical Agenda, a “live-streamed call-in show” hosted by Christopher Cantwell, also known as “the crying Nazi.” The group is a repository of anti-Semitic content and calls to “downvote” certain YouTube content, a ploy members of the “alt-right” use to game YouTube algorithms and “boost hate videos and bury information they don’t like.” Incidentally, the banner picture for the group currently depicts a scene from the NBC Left Field episode “A mother turns to hate,” which featured white supremacist Jacob Goodwin and his mother, who appear in the picture. Goodwin is currently imprisoned for attacking a counter protester in the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA.

    • The group “Manosphere” for misogynists and other varieties of men’s rights activists. The group especially welcomes those who “loathe feminists.”

    • This anti-Muslim group with a very obvious mission:

    • This group for Nazis and fascists to gather in:

    These group and their content are perfectly normal for Gab where posts on any given day include homophobic statements and defenses of white supremacy. But they contradict the platform’s often-repeated claims -- which it makes via tweets that are routinely deleted -- that it’s “not alt-right” or white supremacist:

  • White supremacists praise John Kelly's disparaging of undocumented immigrants

    The hosts of the white supremacist show Fash the Nation also claimed that appointing Kris Kobach as Secretary of Homeland Security "sounds like a good plan"

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Following White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's disparaging comments against undocumented immigrants, the white supremacist hosts of the podcast Fash the Nation praised his remarks, and added that Kelly referred to people who give their kids "made up bullshit names."

    During an interview with NPR, Kelly claimed that undocumented immigrants are "not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. They’re overwhelmingly rural people. In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English; obviously, that’s a big thing. ... They don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills." On the latest episode of the racist podcast Fash the Nation -- produced by white nationalist podcast hub The Right Stuff -- the hosts (who go by the names Jazzhands McFeels and Marcus Halberstram) agreed with Kelly's remarks and claimed that counterarguments pointing to Kelly's Irish immigrant heritage should be discounted, as "the Irish are European. We're not talking about Europeans. We're talking about third-world primitives who basically are still practicing human sacrifice in many ways."     

    From the May 12 edition of The Right Stuff's Fash the Nation:

    MARCUS HALBERSTRAM (HOST): Reading ahead a little bit, I see this article: "John Kelly says undocumented immigrants don't have skills to assimilate into U.S. society." Now this is obviously true and should be [a] completely uncontroversial statement but -- I'm surprised I didn't hear about this, some screeching about this on like Raw Story or whatever.  

    JAZZHANDS MCFEELS (HOST): Oh, well, this has been at least all of Friday and possibly part of Thursday. This and the White House staffer saying that, "well, McCain is dying anyway," have been like -- have been the premier stories on cable news. MSNBC, Bloomberg, CNN, everything has been wall to wall John Kelly. And of course, they're doing the usual bit of "well, John Kelly's Irish immigrant ancestors weren't welcome here either" and all that, the usual nonsense. And of course, The Washington Post tried to roll out this story. Of course, the headline was "John Kelly disparages rural people in America, Trump's base." That's not who he was talking about, at all. But of course, they run with that to make it seem like, you know -- low info voters will buy into that and think that Kelly's turning his back on white ruralites but that's just not the case, he's talking about --

    HALBERSTRAM: Dude, if anyone ever busts out the "mah Irish" argument, you just respond by saying, "yeah and if the Irish still -- didn't speak the correct language and wore garish, outlandish clothing, and gave made up bullshit names to their children, and bastardized the language completely when they did learn it, everybody would still hate them.”

    MCFEELS: Yeah.

    HALBERSTRAM: End of story.

    MCFEELS: Yeah. and the Irish are European. So, we're not talking about Europeans. We're talking about third-world primitives who basically are still practicing human sacrifice in many ways, heads on spikes on the border and stuff like that.

    HALBERSTRAM: People who never achieved any sort of civilization. It's the most like -- if society weren't all so like Jew-deized, this is just common sense, like people who can't form the basis of civilization on their own, it's like yeah, sure, they can come here, perform some sort of function and perhaps even flourish in the system that we have built, but you can't have too many of these people here because then their civilizational inability starts to manifest itself.

    MCFEELS: Yeah and with the way that the judicial system has been set up and the legal system, and the laws and legislation, you can't have any of them here because you get one in here and then that's like the anchor to get like all the rest of them with chain migration and everything else. And it's just a terrible thing, and of course, the other thing is and the argument we've made many times and others have made this argument as well, is that not only are these people not compatible with modern society, is that they're about to be made obsolete by automation. So the last thing, and this is looking far down the road but, 20 years from now when a lot of this stuff, farming and everything else becoming automated ... These people are gonna be -- what is their purpose here?

    HALBERSTRAM: One more scheme to get a little cheap labor and then you end up with this seething underclass of like, alien peoples. Gee, why does this sound so familiar?

    MCFEELs: Yeah, obsolete farm equipment is not what we need. Now, this is the quote from John Kelly. Now, he sounds "cucky" at first but you'll see what he really means here. … [reads quote of John Kelly] ... I mean, you can't really argue with that, and actually, a high number of them are criminals. Even if they're not in MS13, they're stealing identities, they're doing all manners of things before they even get to the United States. And by virtue of the fact that they're not sending their best, we're getting the worst people. So the ones that Mexico wants to keep are the ones that work hard and that pay their taxes and that don't commit crimes, so most of those people, whatever number there are of them, are staying in Mexico. The worst ones are coming here.

    [...]

    HALBERSTRAM: Yeah, I'm not on Twitter right now, otherwise I'd track that dude [Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post] down and have juxtaposed like, a normal looking guy in a plaid shirt and a trucker hat versus some like squat Indian, like, this is what we're talking about bro, and you know it as well as I do.

    During the show, the white supremacist hosts floated making Secretary of State of Kansas Kris Kobach Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Kobach, an anti-immigration activist who is also a Breitbart columnist, has a history of criminalizing immigrants and has ties to white supremacy.

  • Infowars’ attempt to hijack and exploit the wild conspiracy theory that is QAnon is backfiring

    Alex Jones fed a growing monster. Now the monster is trying to eat him.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Alex Jones’ attempt to hijack and exploit the crackpot pro-President Donald Trump conspiracy theory known as #QAnon or #TheStorm in order to capture its audience has backfired, as its followers turned on Jones, his QAnon correspondent Jerome Corsi, and his media enterprise Infowars.

    The QAnon conspiracy theory holds that Trump’s cryptic October 2017 comment about the “calm before the storm” was a hint at a master plan he is setting in motion to kneecap members of the “deep state” and dismantle pedophilia rings supposedly tied to powerful celebrities and politicians. The name refers to an anonymous poster who goes by “Q,” who is credited with setting “The Storm” in motion and who claims to be, as New York magazine put it, a “high-level government insider with Q clearance.” “Q” began posting on online message board 8chan “intel drops” that the pro-Trump crowd claim are clues informing the public of Trump’s plan, shared this way in order to circumvent what they believe is mainstream media’s anti-Trump agenda.

    The posts quickly captured the imagination of the pro-Trump internet, including celebrity Trump supporter Roseanne Barr. It spread more from there.

    Speculation and attempts to “decode” what “Q” means by connecting the cryptic posts to current events have become a YouTube genre all their own, with videos on the topic garnering hundreds of thousands of views. There are 4chan and 8chan boards devoted to conversations around the cryptic “crumbs” that “Q” leaves (a compilation of all posts signed by “Q” can be found here) and a subreddit with thousands of subscribers dedicated to the defense of what they call the “Q Movement.” The “movement” has also transcended online boards by showing up in the streets of Washington, D.C., in April in an effort to show real-life support for “Q” and on a billboard in Oklahoma in May.

    Alex Jones, being the “unwavering professional conspiracy theorist” that he is, hopped on the QAnon train. He decided to go all in, assigning Infowars Washington correspondent and notorious nutjob Jerome Corsi to the QAnon beat and claiming later that “the White House [had] directly asked” for coverage of QAnon.

    Corsi got to work immediately, writing unhinged analyses of “Q’”s messages and uploading to his YouTube channel hours of livestreams dedicated to the beat. His channel’s popularity (as measured by views) skyrocketed, undoubtedly helped by his guest appearances on other YouTube channels popular with the QAnon crowd. As his star grew, so did his ability to make an income from the QAnon audience. His videos, which earn money by displaying ads, always linked to his Paypal account, and through YouTube’s Super Chat feature during livestreams, viewers could pay for their messages to stand out in the live chat. Corsi’s ability to profit seemed threatened when, on March 1, YouTube terminated his account for violating terms of service, but the platform later reinstated Corsi’s account -- providing no explanation -- after he appealed and made a move to “white nationalist havenGab. Throughout the entire saga, Corsi never failed to plug his widely advertised book on the “deep state” threatening the Trump administration:

    However, after Trump’s decision to intervene militarily in Syria triggered a profanity-laced meltdown from Alex Jones, the Trump-loyalist QAnon crowd started souring on Infowars for having “flipped sides.” For his part, Corsi started criticizing “Q” on social media, claiming “the identity of #QAnon was changed”:

    Increasingly, QAnon devotees began attacking Corsi by enumerating what they saw as “red flags” and calling him out as a “blatant profiteer.” A damning post on the main subreddit for The Storm threw Corsi under the bus, and another one “exposed” Jones and Corsi for waging an “info war” against QAnon and for exploiting “the movement” by joining it opportunistically, comparing them to a Trojan horse:

    Jones decided to confront the attacks head-on on May 11. He claimed “Q” had been compromised and said  he had talked by phone with “folks who were out playing golf with people that have been involved in QAnon” and say “that’s been taken over.” He also said he had personally “talked to QAnon” and that it’s “no longer QAnon.” Corsi appeared to say that while “the White House for a long time did support QAnon,” the identity was “now completely hijacked,” and bemoaned his attackers as trolls.

    “Q,” who followers for some reason assume is male, responded to Jones and Corsi in the usual cryptical fashion, perhaps effectively ending Jones’ ability to profit from the batshit conspiracy theory.

    The cryptic nature of the message board posts are acting as a catchall to explain away the news cycle and the failures of the Trump administration as the fault of  the “deep state.” Along the way, they are providing an avenue for YouTube profits to countless homemade pundits. Not even pro-Trump Alex Jones can stand in the way.

  • Alex Jones and his co-hosts have a misogynistic obsession with lesbians

    Alex Jones: “All they want is for us to submit to them”

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Anyone watching Infowars long enough would notice host Alex Jones’ remarkable obsession with a very specific subset of the global population: lesbians. Jones’ unhinged tirades about innumerable topics have rightfully made him a target for online mockery and the protagonist of numerous internet memes. But there’s something more sinister than funny in the way that Jones and some of his guest co-hosts depict, mock, and dissociate from lesbians to Infowars’ hundreds of thousands of viewers.

    Jones’ guest co-hosts -- including Gavin McInnes, founder of the chauvinistic fraternal organization Proud Boys, Infowars contributor Owen Shroyer, and anti-feminist troll Milo Yiannopoulos -- mimic his hateful rhetoric. That treatment ranges from sexist, sophomoric mocking of lesbians for their supposed appearance to the dangerous perpetuation of the absurd idea that lesbians are depressed because they need a man or have turned to women after having a “bad experience with men in their life.”

    Jones shows no qualms about trivializing traumatic issues like child abuse when he asserts that women become lesbians because “daddy beat her up.” He has also used violent imagery to describe romantic and sexual relationships between women, including saying, “If they can’t find a man to smack them around, well, they found them a girl going to do it real good, knock them upside their head.” Jones has even openly suggested he could be personally violent against lesbians too:

    ALEX JONES (HOST): We could take on 500 of you in physical combat, but see, that isn’t what matters -- they’ve got the media and they’ve got our good will and they’re gonna program us. All they want is for us to submit to them.

    Beneath his rhetoric lie toxic elements of misogyny and male supremacy. Jones claims that lesbians “want all the women for themselves,” which both implies that men are entitled to women and that women are not autonomous beings with the capacity to make their own decisions about which individuals they choose as partners. He also claims lesbians “want to be the guy smacking the hot chick around,” reinforcing erroneous assumptions that lesbian relationships follow heterosexual gender roles while trivializing violence against women by saying “some women like it.”  

    Jones’ rhetoric could have the effect of poisoning his audiences’ perceptions of the queer female community, by directly pushing for the further marginalization of a minority that continues to fight for equality under the law.

    Video by John Kerr.​

  • NY Times writer Bari Weiss’ “intellectual dark web” isn’t dark or intellectual -- it's just plain bigoted

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    In a May 8 column that lionized the members of the so-called “intellectual dark web,” New York Times opinion columnist Bari Weiss misled her audience by portraying commentators known for inflammatory rhetoric about oppressed minorities as intellectuals exiled into the “dark web,” a name for the hard-to-reach areas of the internet. The cast of characters she profiled is far from being exiled to the dark web. In fact, they profit from broadcasting bigoted ideas on platforms that reach massive audiences.

    In her column, Weiss glorified Jordan Peterson, the “alt-right’s” favorite professor who has repeatedly appeared on Fox to push anti-trans myths, and praised former Breitbart writer Ben Shapiro, without disclosing his history of bigotry. Instead, Weiss portrayed them both as martyrs for the criticism they get for voicing bigoted opinions. The term “intellectual dark web” is a useful branding ploy for bigoted commentators and far-right figures, as, according to Right Richter’s Will Sommer, “They’re appealing to this kind of forbidden nature of the knowledge they're discussing.” Weiss went on the May 8 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe to promote her piece, where the hosts did not push her to address any of the valid, thoughtful criticisms of her piece many journalists have shared on Twitter:

  • On TMZ Live, Kanye West and Candace Owens discuss free thought and call slavery “a choice”

    West called slavery “a choice,” while Owens minimized fatal police brutality, claimed neo-Nazis have “a right to ... not want a statue pulled down,” and called Christine Teigen “the most hateful person” on the internet

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Rapper Kanye West brought along Talking Points USA’s Candace Owens for an hour-long interview on a special edition of TMZ Live. Owens is a far-right commentator who’s frequently appeared on conspiracy theory site Infowars and has made a career out of berating Dreamers -- people protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program -- and other immigrants, as well as dismissing the real dangers of white supremacy.

    During the interview, West told host Charles Latibeaudiere that because slavery lasted 400 years, at some point it had become a choice for those enslaved:

    KANYE WEST: But when you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years? That sounds like a choice. You were there for 400 years and it is all of y'all? It is like we are mentally in prison. I like the word prison because slavery goes too direct to the idea of blacks.

    TMZ’s Van Lathan called out West for his comments and said he had “morphed into something … that’s not real”:

    During the interview, Owens discussed white supremacy with Latibeaudiere and remained consistent to her past dismissals of neo-Nazis as a narrative created by the media. She claimed that the protesters at the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, had  “a right to show up and say they do not want a statue [of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee] pulled down”:

    Owens also pushed the debunked right-wing media myth of the “Ferguson Effect,” which claims that cops are scared to do their jobs following Black Lives Matters’ protests, and that that has caused an increase in criminal activity. She went on to dismiss fatal police brutality as one of “the tiny issues” impacting the black community.

    Toward the end of the hour, West accused former President Barack Obama of influencing an ongoing class war by being “so high-class that [he] stopped speaking to the middle and the lower class.” And Owens dismissed the hateful rhetoric among President Donald Trump’s supporters by claiming model Christine Teigen is “the most hateful person” she’s seen on the internet.

  • Infowars expands its anti-globalism crusade to Europe

    Infowars’ new European bureau has praised nativist identitarians and relies on the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim dispatches of a correspondent who used to spread the "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Infowars is expanding its empire of conspiracy theories and anti-immigrant fearmongering to Europe, launching a site that claims to give audiences “the full details of European news” that “European media outlets leave out … to keep its (sic) European audiences from knowing the truth.” A far-right conspiracy theorist is producing content for Jones' new site.

    In the midst of fearmongering rant about an immigrant “takeover” of Spain during the April 30 broadcast of The Alex Jones Show, Infowars host Alex Jones announced the launch of an Infowars European bureau, which seems to be a one-stop shop for the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim narratives Jones has branded with the “anti-globalism” euphemism.

    The site started posting content on April 3, and as of this writing, nine out of its 12 pieces push anti-immigrant and/or anti-Muslim narratives. 

    One of the articles praises the construction of a small fence on the Italian/French border, a stunt put together by Defend Europe and Generation Identity activists, a white supremacist "identitarian" movement with ties to far-right YouTube commentators Brittany Pettibone and Lauren Southern. Defend Europe is perhaps best known for its anti-immigrant antics, like a failed attempt to disrupt humanitarian rescue missions looking for stranded refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. Southern, Pettibone, and Pettibone’s boyfriend, Martin Sellner, the “de facto spokesperson” for Generation Identity, were recently banned from entering the United Kingdom for presenting a “serious threat to the fundamental interests of society."

    All of the content on the Infowars Europe site appears to have been penned by “foreign correspondent” Dan Lyman, an American linked to a pro-Trump site that pushed the debunked “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory back in 2016, claiming high-profile Democrats were running a “pedophile syndicate” in a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant. Inspired by such claims, a shooter entered the pizzeria to self-investigate in December of that year.

    Lyman also pushed the conspiracy theory on Twitter:

    Lyman has also:

    • likened feminists to terrorists:

    • and accused Muslim men of being rapists:

    In 2017, Breitbart announced plans to expand its European content from the U.K. to Germany, France, and Italy. As Breitbart's traffic has recently collapsed following the ouster and excommunication of Steve Bannon, Infowars is evidently setting out to follow in Breitbart's footsteps.

  • Alleged Toronto attacker has confirmed links to misogynistic online communities

    While misogynistic online groups praised the attack and called for an uprising, right-wing conspiracy theorists and prominent far-right trolls blamed Islam and the alleged perpetrator’s ethnicity

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On April 23, Alek Minassian allegedly drove a van into a crowd of pedestrians in Toronto, Canada, killing 10 and injuring 15. In posts on Facebook that the social media company has confirmed as his, Minassian alluded to online message board 4chan’s women-hating “involuntary celibate” community (whose members call themselves “incels”). The "incel" community, part of the broader "men's rights" community, has cheered the attack, while right-wing conspiracy theorists and far-right trolls have blamed it on Islam.

    In his social media posts, Minassian also used the terms “Chads” and “Stacys,” which are often used by online “incel” communities to mean “attractive popular men who are sexually successful with women” and their female partners.

    In the same post, Minassian praised Elliot Rodger, who went on a killing rampage in Isla Vista, CA, in 2014 that Rodger described in a note as a “Day of Retribution” for his virginity, which he attributed to “the cruelness of women.” The incel community often celebrates and discusses Rodger, and in his post, Minassian wrote, “All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”

    The “incel” community celebrated Minassian online

    Sites linked to the “incel” community responded to Minassian’s attacks with violent memes, celebratory postings, and called for “More Trucks of Peace,” in apparent reference to the use of heavy vehicles to attack pedestrians. The most popular post had memes calling for a “Beta uprising” saying, “It’s now or never.” In the message thread, one poster complained about not having a “good enough weapon,” to which another member replied, “Get a car you cuck.”

    Far-right figures immediately connected the attack to Islam

    In the aftermath of the attack, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones scrambled to connect the attack to Islam during his live show. In a later video titled “Reporters Face Ten Years In Prison For Covering Islamic Truck Attack In Toronto,” Jones claimed that such truck attacks were “part of radical Islam” and said that the accent of the killer “sounds Islamic, sounds Middle Eastern.”

    Even after learning of the alleged killer’s ties to women-hating groups, Jones continued to link the attack to Islam during his April 24 broadcast, claiming that “he has an Islamic-sounding last name” and that “he’s a foreigner” and attributing the misogynistic aspects of the “incel” movement to Islam.

    Like Jones, prominent far-right internet trolls used the attack to smear Muslims and Islam on Twitter, mirroring conversations taking place on internet message boards Reddit and 4chan.

    Gavin McInnes, founder of the male chauvinist fraternal organization Proud Boys:

    Conspiracy theorist and online troll Laura Loomer:

    Infowars host Paul Joseph Watson:

    Leading anti-Muslim voice Pamela Geller:

    Troll account "Alba_Rising:"

    In a since-deleted Facebook post, the Canadian chapter of McInnes’ Proud Boys chimed in with anti-immigrant sentiments, stating, “The blood may be directly on the hands of the Trudeau regime for this latest terror attack.”

    Anti-Muslim and racist messaging quickly spread

    Fox News’ line of questioning suggested the attack had connections to ISIS. Immediately following a press conference in which authorities explained that the identity and motives of the attacker were still unknown, guest Howard Safir and host Maria Bartiromo discussed strategies to combat ISIS, suggesting to audiences a motive and connection that had not been confirmed by authorities.

    A Reddit thread connected the attack to Islam: “It's such a sad thing that civilized western nations are allowing this to happen. There's a reason why Islamic nations are in a constant state of tyranny or chaos”:

    A 4chan thread linked the tragedy to the QAnon conspiracy theory: A thread in the “politically incorrect” 4chan message board connected the attack to the Alex Jones-endorsed far-right conspiracy theory known as “The Storm” or QAnon. The conspiracy theory posits that President Donald Trump has a master plan to kneecap members of the “deep state” and that an intelligence officer with the highest clearance level is keeping people informed by posting anonymous messages and signing them as “Q.”

    4chan users called the attack “a government orchestrated false flag.”

    On YouTube, the channel ThePureVeritas claimed that the attacker was a “MUSLIM man.” The video is still up and has over 9,000 views.

    Hyperpartisan website Conservative Daily Post  also blamed Muslim immigrants for the attack:

    “While police have yet to reveal the motive behind the attack, the timing of the incident coupled with the cultural shift in Canada raises serious questions. … It also comes as Canada has become a hotbed for radical Islamic terrorism. Canada has not only allowed tens of thousands of Muslim migrants to assimilate to the nation, there has also been a dramatic uptick in crime against civilians. … [Trudeau’s] allowing Sharia Law to overtake Canada, and now innocent civilians aren’t even safe to walk down the street any longer.”

    Natalie Martinez and Alex Kaplan contributed research to this piece.

  • Lack of diversity is at the core of social media's harassment problem

    Right-wing figures and far-right trolls mocked questions to Facebook's Zuckerberg about diversity. But it's crucial to understanding how platforms enable harassment.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was questioned on racial diversity within his company as he appeared before House and Senate committees to address Facebook’s handling of user data. Facebook -- and more generally, the tech industry -- has often been criticized for its lack of diversity, an issue that, as members of Congress pointed out, can hinder the platform’s ability to respond to discrimination against African-American users and fake news.

    Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) discussed the relationship between Facebook’s fake news problem and lack of diversity within the company itself:

    Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) asked Zuckerberg about racial discrimination enabled by Facebook and indicated a "growing distrust ... about Facebook's sense of urgency” in addressing such discrimination:

    Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) questioned Zuckerberg on Facebook’s lack of diversity:

    REP. G.K. BUTTERFIELD (D-NC): You and your team certainly know how I feel about racial diversity in corporate America, and [Facebook Chief Operating Officer] Sheryl Sandberg and I talk about that all of the time. Let me ask you this, and the Congressional Black Caucus has been very focused on holding your industry accountable -- not just Facebook, your industry -- accountable for increasing African-American inclusion at all levels of the industry. And I know you have a number of diversity initiatives. In 2017, you’ve increased your black representation from 2 to 3 percent. While this is a small increase, it's better than none. And this does not nearly meet the definition of building a racially diverse community. CEO leadership -- and I have found this to be absolutely true -- CEO leadership on issues of diversity is the only way that the technology industry will change. So, will you commit, sir, to convene, personally convene a meeting of CEOs in your sectors -- many of them, all of them perhaps, are your friends -- and to do this very quickly to develop a strategy to increase racial diversity in the technology industry?

    MARK ZUCKERBERG: Congressman, I think that that's a good idea and we should follow up on it. From the conversations that I have with my fellow leaders in the tech industry, I know that this is something that we all understand, that the whole industry is behind on, and Facebook is certainly a big part of that issue. We care about this not just from the justice angle, but because we know that having diverse viewpoints is what will help us serve our community better, which is ultimately what we're here to do. And I think we know that the industry is behind on this.

    Right-wing media figures and far-right trolls scoffed at the idea of questioning the tech industry’s lack of diversity

    Right-wing figures and far-right trolls scoffed at these questions on different social media platforms -- including Gab, an alternative to Twitter that has been called a "haven for white nationalists" and has on occasion served as a platform to coordinate online harassment -- dismissing them as “insane” and describing efforts to increase racial diversity as discrimination “against white people.” 

    But experts have criticized Facebook and other platforms for the lack of racial diversity within their ranks and explained that diversity is at the core of social media’s harassment problems

    Members of Congress were not alone in their concern that Facebook’s racial homogeneity might diminish its capacity to create a safe environment for every user and protect user data. Bärí A. Williams, formerly a senior commercial attorney at Facebook, explained that racial diversity specifically would improve the platform’s ability to respond to data breaches, “fill blind spots,” and improve “cultural competency” through “lived experience.”

    While Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s intention to rely on Artificial Intelligence (AI) to adress many of the social network’s shortcomings, Molly Wood, host of the Marketplace Tech radio show, pointed out that AI is not a substitute for a racially inclusive workforce:

    A lack of racial diversity in companies’ ranks is at the core of the harassment problem on their social media platforms, as online harassment disproportionately targets minorities of color. According to Pew, “harassment is often focused on personal or physical characteristics; political views, gender, physical appearance and race are among the most common,” with African-Americans experiencing more harassment because of their ethnicity than other groups, and women experiencing more harassment than men:

    Some 14% of U.S. adults say they have ever been harassed online specifically because of their political views, while roughly one-in-ten have been targeted due to their physical appearance (9%), race (8%) or gender (8%). Somewhat smaller shares have been targeted for other reasons, such as their religion (5%) or sexual orientation (3%).

    Certain groups are more likely than others to experience this sort of trait-based harassment. For instance, one-in-four blacks say they have been targeted with harassment online because of their race or ethnicity, as have one-in-ten Hispanics. The share among whites is lower (3%). Similarly, women are about twice as likely as men to say they have been targeted as a result of their gender (11% vs. 5%)

    During a conversation with Wired about how Silicon Valley can address harassment in social media platforms, Black Lives Matter’s Chinyere Tutashinda talked about her experiences online as a black social activist, confirming Pew’s findings by remarking on the ways that people of color are targeted disproportionately online:

    CHINYERE TUTASHINDA: I work within the social justice movement, and there’s no one, especially in the black community, who doesn’t expect harassment online. It’s just replicating what happens in the real world, right? How do we make other people know and care?

    [...]

    There is a lack of diversity in who’s creating platforms and tools. Too often it’s not about people, it’s about how to take this tool and make the most money off it. As long as people are using it, it doesn’t matter how they’re using it. There’s still profit to earn from it. So until those cultures really shift in the companies themselves, it’s really difficult to be able to have structures that are combating harassment.

    [...]

    Diversity plays a huge role in shifting the culture of organizations and companies. Outside of that, being able to broaden the story helps. There has been a lot of media on cyberbullying, for example, and how horrible it is for young people. And now there are whole curricula in elementary and high schools. There’s been a huge campaign around it, and the culture is shifting. The same needs to happen when it comes to harassment. Not just about young people but about the ways in which people of color are treated.

    Experts have weighed in on the specific implications of social media platforms lacking racial diversity among their ranks. As Alice Marwick, a fellow for the Data & Society Research Institute, pointed out on Quartz,“the people who build social technologies are primarily white and Asian men” and because “white, male technologists don’t feel vulnerable to harassment” in the same way that minorities or people of color do, they often fail to incorporate protections against online abuse in their digital designs.

    To illustrate Marwick’s point, take Twitter’s mute button, a feature that can filter unwanted content from users' timelines, making it easier for users to avoid abusive content directed at them. As Leslie Miley -- a black former engineering manager at Twitter who left the company specifically because of how it was addressing diversity issues -- told The Nation, the feature wasn’t perfected until a diverse group of people worked together to fix it:

    [Leslie] Miley was a part of a diverse team at Twitter that he says proves his point. His first project as the engineering manager was to fix Twitter’s “mute” option, a feature that allows users to filter from their timelines unwanted tweets, such as the kind of harassment and personal attacks that many prominent women have experienced on the platform.

    “Twitter released a version in the past that did not go over well. They were so badly received by critics and the public that they had to be rolled back. No one wanted to touch the project,” says Miley. So he pulled together a team from across the organization, including women and people of color. “Who better to build the feature than people who often experience abuse online?” he asks. The result was a new “mute” option that was roundly praised as a major step by Twitter to address bullying and abuse.

    The blind spots caused by racial homogeneity might also delay platforms’ responses to rampant harassment. As documented by Model View Culture magazine, far-right troll and white nationalist sympathizer Milo Yiannopoulos was allowed to rampantly harass users for years on Twitter before getting permanently banned for his “sustained racist and sexist” harassment of African-American comedian Leslie Jones. As Model View Culture points out, racial diversity could be extremely helpful in addressing the challenge social media platforms face in content moderation:

    From start to finish of the moderation pipeline, the lack of input from people who have real, lived experience with dealing with these issues shows. Policy creators likely aren’t aware of the many, subtle ways that oppressive groups use the vague wording of the TOS to silence marginalized voices. Not having a background in dealing with that sort of harassment, they simply don’t have the tools to identify these issues before they arise.

    The simple solution is adding diversity to staff. This means more than just one or two people from marginalized groups; the representation that would need to be present to make a real change is far larger than what exists in the population. Diversity needs to be closer to 50% of the staff in charge of policy creation and moderation to ensure that they are actually given equal time at the table and their voices aren’t overshadowed by the overwhelming majority. Diversity and context must also be considered in outsourcing moderation. The end moderation team, when it comes to social issues specific to location, context and identity, needs to have the background and lived experience to process those reports.

    To get better, platforms must also address how user-generated reports are often weaponized against people of color. Although there’s nothing that can be done about the sheer numbers of majority-White users on platforms, better, clearer policy that helps them question their own bias would likely stop many reports from being generated in the first place. It may also help to implement more controls that would stop targeted mass-reporting of pages and communities by and for marginalized people.

    Ultimately, acknowledging these issues in the moderation pipeline is the first step to correcting them. Social media platforms must step away from the idea that they are inherently “fair,” and accept that their idea of “fairness” in interaction is skewed simply by virtue of being born of a culture steeped in White Supremacy and patriarchy.

  • Far-right trolls launch harassment campaign against judge who upheld assault weapons regulations

    On harassment-enabling sites 8chan and Gab, pro-gun trolls publish Judge William Young's information to "show him what we got"

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Far-right trolls are using harassment-enabling platforms like 8chan and Gab to encourage threats against a federal judge for recently upholding a Massachusetts ban on assault weapons. The trolls published what appears to be Young’s home address and phone numbers and claimed that Young had signed his “death certificate” by ruling to uphold existing gun laws.

    On Friday, U.S. District Judge William Young issued a decision upholding Massachusetts’ ban on assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines, declaring -- in line with other federal courts -- that they are not protected under the Second Amendment. Pro-gun trolls took to online message board 8chan and social media platform Gab to doxx Young, posting without his consent what they claim is the judge’s personal contact information, in clear efforts to target him for harassment. The 8chan post showing the judge’s information invited trolls to “show him what we got”:

    On Gab, the same contact information appeared under search results for Young’s name:

    Anonymity and lack of oversight on online message boards 4chan and 8chan have long made these sites enablers of illegal activity and ideal places for trolls to coordinate harassment campaigns. Gab, a Twitter alternative that has become a “haven for white supremacists” and allows users to regularly post extremist content with no consequence, has clearly become another enabler of harassment. Despite Gab CEO Andrew Torba recently announcing that the site had banned “alt-right” congressional candidate Paul Nehlen for doxxing a white nationalist online troll by supposedly revealing his true identity, Gab's community guidelines appear to extend the courtesy of protecting private information only to other Gab users. This policy makes the site, similar to 8chan, an ideal hub for white supremacists, anti-Muslim extremists, and now, pro-gun trolls, to coordinate the harassment of their political opponents.

    Dina Radtke contributed research for this piece.

  • Xenophobic German campaign #120dB says domestic abuse by Europeans is less harmful than sexual violence by migrants

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Despite claiming to advocate for victims of sexual misconduct, anti-immigrant campaign 120 decibel (#120dB) will do anything to scapegoat migrant men for sexual violence -- even downplay domestic abuse.

    In an April 2 interview with far-right activist and YouTuber Brittany Pettibone, a “German identitarian” activist named Annika argued that domestic abuse by German-born men is different from sexual violence against women by migrant men because “most women” who are victims of domestic abuse “don’t really defend themselves” and “are quiet” while abuse against women in public places by refugees is “really torturous.”

    Annika (who is often referred to by her other name, Franziska) is a spokesperson for #120dB. As documented previously by Media Matters, #120dB is a digital movement attempting to spread a xenophobic, anti-feminist message by riding the coattails of the #MeToo movement. #120dB, which has been heavily promoted by white supremacist “identitarian” group Generation Identity and its European leaders, claims sexual violence by refugee and migrant men is being ignored for fear of offending these communities and calls itself the “true #MeToo.”  

    In the interview, Annika conceded that incidents of sexual violence allegedly committed by migrants are overreported in comparison to domestic abuse because law enforcement “can't just go to a private place and do something in there, but the state can go to a public place and work against the rape there.” In doing so, she unwittingly undermined her movement’s reliance on the assumption that elites are covering up what they characterize as a wave of sexual assaults that they allege are disproportionately committed by refugees and migrants.

    The reality is that migrants and refugees are disproportionately accused of violent crime, both in reports to law enforcement and in online news. In Germany, "foreign-looking suspects" are twice as likely to be reported for violent crime. In Sweden, that rate is 2.5 times. A January 2018 analysis by Germany newspaper Der Spiegel found that of 450 online news reports about 291 “purported sex crimes alleged to have been committed by asylum-seekers and immigrants,” the perpetrator was actually a refugee in only 95 cases, many of which occurred in refugee camps.

    In their effort to scapegoat black and brown men for violence against women, Annika and her colleague Ariane dismissed Germany’s significant issue of domestic abuse, the vast majority of which targets women. That's not a great look for a movement that advertises itself as the “voice of forgotten women.”

    Annika, who considers herself a “right-wing woman” and “anti-feminist,” has appeared in several interviews with Pettibone and her boyfriend, Austrian “identitarian” Martin Sellner. At least two of Pettibone’s videos on the subject appear to be monetized on YouTube. Pettibone and Sellner were both detained at the U.K. border and denied entry in March based on their plans to meet far-right activist Tommy Robinson and the likelihood that their extremism would “incite tensions” in the country.

    From the April 2 YouTube video:

    ANNIKA: It's different because the most rape in Europe from German people or from Swedish people, they take place at home, so in a private place. And there's no violence. The most women don’t really defend themselves. They are quiet and most times they know the rapist, so it's the husband or the father, or someone else related to them. So, they don’t really -- you just can't tell the truth afterwards because you don't have any evidence of it because you don't have blue arms [bruises] or someone heard you scream or something. But the other rapes --  from refugees -- these are really torturous. So you can see those girls are stabbed and they have blue arms and they screamed, and it's in a public place, so you have to go after them but in another way because the state can’t just go into a private place and do something in there, but the state can go to a public place and work against the rape there. So, it's both rape, but it's not the same, because there’s a huge difference [in] how the rapists are doing this.

    ARIANE: And again, there is an enormous difference between engaging into sex with someone to have a higher position into your career, you can -- you still can say no. You can say no and then don't take this path, but if you're forced on the street like we already know about those things that happened. They are so just, just, just totally new. We didn't have that before that things like this went public.

    [...]

    Like domestic violence, which is also often done by women, just to mention that.

    BRITTANY PETTIBONE (HOST): Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

    ARIANE: And so many of those cases are not reported. And yeah, they happen in quiet and the state can't do much about it.

    PETTIBONE: It’s very obvious, and it’s just a case of them underreporting. A lot of people don’t know that it’s even happening, and they’d be shocked to hear of the amount of girls and the ways in which they are being raped and murdered and abused.