The poisoned well of social discourse

I don’t have the balls to be a woman. Not on Twitter. Not with all the bile, and loathing that put up with, day-after-day. Thankfully, I’m a middle-aged white male and my twitter mentions are generally untroubled by anyone. I like it that way, but I’ll happily take on a troll. If I were a woman, I wouldn’t have the courage the to use it and it often surprises me that the 52% of humanity do not leave social media en masse – and leave one giant global sausage party in their disgust.

Twitter has gone from a being a global chatroom and information source, to being a giant sewer – and women having an opinion do pay the heaviest price. It’s truly horrifying how the baseline of acceptable behaviour in public discourse has changed over the years, since our ‘real’ lives became enmeshed with our digital identities. Bigotry and anger are on the rise.

On Monday a black British woman who is currently guest-posting on the @ireland account on Twitter received a constant slew of racist and sexist abuse from right-wing, men’s rights/white power activists who took exception to an ethnic minority being a representation of Ireland. Most of the trolls were US-based and use the #altright hashtag, which is fascism by any other name.

Yesterday, actor Leslie Jones had her website hacked and had personal photos hacked from her iCloud account, posted onto her website by hackers, after receiving widespread abuse from trolls on Twitter simply for daring to be part of a re-make of Ghostbusters, and being, of course black.

Now that sex, drugs and rock n roll have been commodified, it seems that being a woman and having an opinion on the internet is the most subversive thing that one can do in 2016, unless of course you’re a beach-going muslim woman in France.

The causes in the rise in misogyny (and racism) are complex and understated. Male privilege has been eroded by growing acceptance of the rightful need for gender equality; more opportunities for women pose a threat to those who assume that the only place for a woman is in the kitchen and the bedroom. Bigots, fascists and alt-right-ers surely live in mother-less and sister-less vacuums of existence.

Late capitalism and globalization have been the vectors of a feminized workforce and transient populations, leading to widespread immigration in the industrialised world.  The losers in this have been white males, who have seen their seat at the top of the table jeopardised. The labour market has opened up, and the competition is now fierce. Free market and competition lie at the heart of right-wing thinking, yet only applies in certain contexts, and is only open to a particular demographic.

The third factor that fuels the alt-right trolls is their self-appointed role as guardians of freedom of speech; the ‘right to be able to offend’ is one of central tenets of their philosophy, so enshrined is it to the core of freedom, democracy and liberty.

This guardianship of free speech (and white culture) is a counter to the rise in political-correctness, which in theory, demonstrates a starting point of respect for interlocutor(s). Public discourse should be enjoyed without shaming, embarrassing or belittling members of society who don’t fit into ‘normative’ preconceptions. Political correctness is sometimes used a form of censorship which has also poisoned the well of social discourse, no less than the hateful trolls who victimise and attack; it stokes the burning fire of alt-right injustice. The ‘social justice warrior’ is a slur justly pinned to those who wish to see respectful civic principles and parameters applied to social discourse, as well as those who wish to take offence for the sake of it.

The insult of choice for this group ‘cuck’ – the emasculated man, quietened by what they see as the rampant spread of feminism – and is discussed by Dana Schwartz in this excellent article. Yet for people who are so passionate about freedom of speech and placing value in vocalising ‘real-men-stand-up-to-feminism’ machismo its surprising that so few are willing to come out from underneath their online handles and their symbolic avatars to show their real identities.

To assume that the likes of Donald Trump are the cause of it all, is to look through the wrong end of the microscope. Trump, and to a lesser extent Nigel Farage in the UK, have identified a segment of the population that is disenfranchised and disempowered with politics and the opportunities that are now available. The demand was already there – the uber-wealthy demagogues are the effect, not the cause.

All three are astute businessmen and entrepreneurs: they have chosen their markets wisely and researched the demand for their wares, their brand. Trump and Farage have tapped into an older, working-class segment of their markets. Milo, has chosen a different one but no less important; a younger demographic, using technology journalism.

This is a phenomena that has been gestating for a long time: the slow death of the industrial and manufacturing base of western economies, flatlining wages and job insecurity, the flow of immigration to wealthy economies, and the death of communities and civic pride; real estate as a significant economic driver, the threat of terrorism and of course, the internet have all created this heady concoction – the trio have exploited these factors to the max.

The real winners are of course, white men. Not all white men, no matter how much privilege white males enjoy in this world. It’s the white men who travel in entourages, wear expensive (pin-stripe) suits, whose everyday milieu is the boardroom, the conference, and the front page. It is they who have a far larger platform than a social media website and it is they who ultimately gain from the hatred.

 

 

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