Our latest guest, Alexandra Minna Stern, is an expert on the alt-right and other white supremacist offshoots currently plaguing our political and cultural landscapes. Her alarming book Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate chronicles their tactics and beliefs. Once you listen to her talk with Mila, we highly recommend buying her book for a closer look.
During her interview, Mila asked what the rest of the FH team—and our listeners—were thinking: how do we stop white supremacists from ruining America? Stern gave us a few ideas, including one we weren’t expecting. Since the alt-right and white nationalists are so concerned with a rigid gender binary, supporting trans rights is an easy and visible way to undo their cultural agenda.
Additionally, she pointed out that most of the modern white supremacy in America is online. If we want to end this scourge, we need to make sure internet giants like Facebook and Google are holding them accountable for the hate they spew.
“We need to support democratic uses of social media and continue to pressure companies like Facebook and YouTube to have transparent and thoughtful community standards, and to call out hate when they see it in overt or coded form,” she said.
One part of democratizing social media is a trend to silence some of the racist dog-whistles and outright shouting coming from white nationalist corners of the web: deplatforming.
Deplatforming the Alt-Right
Deplatforming refers to the deletion of alt-right, white supremacist, and Neo-Nazi accounts and channels across popular social media networks. The alt-right fundamentally believes politics is downstream from culture, and so changing the way discourse works on the internet is one of their cornerstone philosophies. They were also able to garner massively outsized influence on their channels, spreading hate, lies, and sinister propaganda at a rate unmatched even by established political parties. Their manipulation of algorithms and social media trends like memes created a seeming explosion of internet extremists. Their strategy of “red-pilling” “normies” targets young, disenfranchised white men, and can be alarmingly effective.
Since the alt-right proliferates on social media, the easiest way to relegate them back to the dark corners of the internet they’ve always lurked in is to ban them. Private companies like Facebook and Twitter don’t need to adhere to the Constitution’s First Amendment, and can place any limits they desire on the kinds of speech they allow. Thankfully, starting in 2018, they started an earnest crackdown on the most malignant aspects of the far right.
Does Deplatforming Work?
Simply put: yes, it totally works.
“Being canceled by Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and/or YouTube has stark consequences for the maintenance of a fan base, following, and revenue stream, as has been reported. Migrating to alternative social media may not offer as much,” reported the European Journal of Communication in a recent report.
Hate can gain a lot more traction on a popular website like Twitter than it can on a notoriously racist site like 8chan. For example, the far-right group Britain First was at one time the second-most popular political page in England, only topped by the royal family. They boasted 1.8 million Twitter followers, and 2 million Facebook likes, and served daily doses of racist, Islamophobic content. Twitter booted them in December of 2017, and Facebook in March of 2018. They moved to “alternative” online spaces like Gab and Telegram but never recovered. Today, their Telegram account has just over 16,000 followers.
Another prominent example is alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulis. After getting deplatformed for defending pedophilia, he has been unable to match the success he formerly enjoyed. He lost a book deal, has nearly $4 million of debt, and no longer reaches audiences anywhere near the millions he had on Facebook and Twitter.
Twitter recently took other, less drastic steps against one of the most prolific (and flagrant) tweeters of all time: Donald Trump when it flagged one of his especially outrageous tweets for “inciting violence.” Users could still see the tweet, but only after clicking a “view” button. Even more recently, Twitch suspended Trump’s account.
Another prolific alt-right figure, and founder of the Proud Boys, Gavin McInnes, faced suspension on YouTube, and hundreds of his supporters’ accounts vanished from Facebook in recent days. Hopefully, these deletions and suspensions will further curtail the spreading of hate online and have a chilling effect on others who use their accounts and audiences to promote bigotry.
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“Deplatforming Works: Let’s Get On With It.” HOPE Not Hate, 26 Nov. 2019, www.hopenothate.org.uk/2019/10/04/deplatforming-works-lets-get-on-with-it/.
“Get to Know the Memes of the Alt-Right and Never Miss a Dog-Whistle Again.” VICE, www.vice.com/en_us/article/ezagwm/get-to-know-the-memes-of-the-alt-right-and-never-miss-a-dog-whistle-again.
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Kraus, Rachel. “2018 Was the Year We (Sort of) Cleaned up the Internet.” Mashable, 26 Dec. 2018, mashable.com/article/deplatforming-alex-jones-2018/.
Lecher, Colin. “First Amendment Constraints Don’t Apply to Private Platforms, Supreme Court Affirms.” The Verge, The Verge, 17 June 2019, www.theverge.com/2019/6/17/18682099/supreme-court-ruling-first-amendment-social-media-public-forum.
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“Normie.” Know Your Meme, 11 May 2020, knowyourmeme.com/memes/normie.
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Rozsa, Matthew. “YouTube Suspends Gavin McInnes’ Account.” Salon, Salon.com, 24 June 2020, www.salon.com/2020/06/24/youtube-suspends-account-of-proud-boys-founder-gavin-mcinnes/.
Times, Tiziana Celine Tech. “Facebook Removes More Far-Right Group Accounts Planning to Bring Weapons to Protests.” Tech Times, 17 June 2020, www.techtimes.com/articles/250379/20200616/facebook-shuts-down-hundreds-of-far-right-accounts-associated-with-proud-boys-american-guard.htm.
“What Does Red Pill Mean?” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/e/slang/red-pill/.
Wong, Julia Carrie. “8chan: The Far-Right Website Linked to the Rise in Hate Crimes.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 5 Aug. 2019, www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/aug/04/mass-shootings-el-paso-texas-dayton-ohio-8chan-far-right-website.