Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation by Andrew Marantz really gave me a lot of conflicting feelings. Who is right? How can we adequately starve the trolls? Does the end justify the memes (haha, a pun you will get later)?
In my heart of hearts and my own insulated social bubble, there is a clear line of what is wrong. Ok, maybe not always because I definitely have “liberal” people in my social circle who aren’t as liberal as they congratulated themselves on. However, I don’t typically go to coffee with conservatives, and definitely not MAGA, Trump supporters. Obviously, there is more out there that exist than I want desperately to believe. If they didn’t exist, why is America currently in the sunken place?
In my mind, there is a clear Us versus Them divide, and “them” are the trolls. But after reading this book, I started thinking, maybe we should be more like the trolls.
Think about it. These people know what they’re doing and, although I hate to admit, they’re not dumb. They do the same things as “us,” they just don’t use the same vocabulary. They organize, coordinating social media to spread messages in hopes of drawing attention to the masses to a particular issue in hopes of going viral. They employ “memes” to pick central ideas to spread to larger audiences and sway people on the fence. They protest, boycott, rally against a dominant narrative, wanting people to be “woke”(or take the red pill). They have activists and leaders in their movement. They are radicals fighting for a revolution and fundamental human rights (maybe just for certain humans, though).
None of this is to say that I condone their ideology, theories, or beliefs. On the contrary, I am arguing for learning from them to push our narrative for justice for all instead of justice for some. We need to improve our own “memes”, increase our efficacy for virality, and drive home our narratives to sway people on the fence. People can change, as I have learned from Beyond Hate.
Let me take a pause here to clarify what they mean by memes in this context. I definitely learned that memes did not start in 2012 with words over pictures but were birth from an intellectual conversation. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, a meme is “unit of cultural information spread by imitation. The term meme (from the Greek mimema, meaning “imitated”) was introduced in 1976 by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his work The Selfish Gene.”
The main difference between our efficiency and theirs are our reactions. We interact with their stuff negatively, but it’s interaction, nonetheless. Even when denouncing them, we still give them power. They don’t come after us by spreading our ideas and simply saying they don’t agree with them or that they can’t believe people think this way; they dismiss us and undermine us without continuing to spread our message. They just push their memes harder.
But we are good at showcasing their hate and vitriol and that’s what they want. It doesn’t matter that we say we personally don’t agree. We still say, “look at this!” We really need to say, “look at what we need to focus our efforts on instead.” And I know there is debate about if social media organizing actually works, but it seems to be effective for them, so why don’t use it against them?
And then I think of the Audre Lourde quote: For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Will becoming like the trolls actually free people? Maybe because our ends of justice for all (instead of certain groups maintaining power) justifies the means.