Thursday, April 6, 2017

Alt Right Alt Wrong?

Never confuse postings from teenagers and Russian troll farms with a "movement"!

A lot of digital ink has been spilled lately about the "Alt Right" with a lot of people not even knowing that the term means or where it came from.

To begin with, if you are a fossil like me, who started using the Internet in the 1980's, you realize that the term "Alt" is a holdover from the days of Usenet and the "Usenet News Groups".   Back then, people would "go online" using primitive PCs and dial-up modems (1200 Baud - whoo-hee!) and type out ASCII characters and commands.   Mostly it was a waste of time - one computer nerd arguing with another computer nerd over who was cooler, Spock or Kirk?

This should give you a hint as to what sort of people are in this "movement" - fat old white computer nerd guys.  Gaming teens.   Russian trolls.

The news groups morphed into Aol groups, into Websites, into 2Chan, 4Chan, Reddit, and social media.   Today, trolling has gone mainstream and gone pro.   The Russians use "troll farms" - buildings with dozens if not hundreds of employees whose job it is to go on every site from YouTube to Facebook to comments on blogsites (which is why my comments are disabled) to insert snide and snickering comments that incidentally mention how great Russia is, or what a nice guy Vladmir Putin is.   Nice guy who kills people, that is.

The media fails to get this, however.   They think that "Alt.Right" is some sort of political movement that has dues-paying members and followers, and represents a resurgence of a vast amount of misogynist, racist, homophobic, and fascist thinking.  The reality is, of course, something different.

This relatively new invention called "the Internet" - which has had near 100% penetration only the last decade or so - is turning out to have a number of quirks.   Social media and search engine algorithms have resulted in people being "steered" to content similar to content they've clicked on.   Click on one car video or article on YouTube or Yahoo! and the algorithm thinks all you care about is cars.   Click on one racist or neo-nazi video or article, the same thing happens.

Some marketers call it "chasing the tail" - creating niche markets for every demographic, instead of marketing to the center or "norms" of society.  And the Alt.Right folks even call people who don't subscribe to their philosophy "normies" - as in the statistical sense.   These alt.right folks realize their opinions and actions are more than two standard deviations from the norm.

The second aspect of the Internet - or more specifically social media - that has emerged in the last decade is how the Internet acts as a megaphone for marginal interest groups.  The news loves sensationalism, and the media has long known that oddball and outrageous stuff generates eyeballs and today, clicks.   But in the past, when networks had to cater to the great masses - the normative base of American society - such outrage was tempered by the clear indication that what they were reporting on was outside the norms of society.

A news station would generate ratings by reporting on some pathetic "Neo-Nazi" rally where a dozen ill-informed losers would show up to wear Nazi uniforms.  The mainstream media would report on this, but from a disapproving attitude.  The normative cue was that this was wrong.

I hate Illinois Nazis!

(Of course, by clicking on that video, my YouTube feed will be full of Nazi-related videos.  The faulty premise of modern social media is that if you like something once, you must want it all the time.)

Today, with social media, you might get the impression that these fringe movements were larger than they in fact are.   And maybe they have gained some traction - mostly among the mentally ill.   In the typical scenario where someone is "indoctrinated" into ISIS, neo-nazism, alt.right theology, or pizzagate conspiracy theories, the common denominator is that it is usually a young man, in their late teens and early 20's - the age when schizophrenia sets in - driven crazy by the first ten hits of Google.

This isn't so much a "movement" as a bowel movement.   It is a few fringe groups using the incipient schizophrenia of young men along with the power of the Internet to warp minds.   It hardly represents mainstream thought.

So what is this "alt.right" nonsense, anyway?   Well, it is a bunch of people on the Internet, is all.   Some are Russian trolls, who are not even in America and don't represent American opinions.   They may pose as Americans (their poor English is usually a tip-off) but they are paid by Putin to disrupt our society by sowing dissent - starting flame-wars and idiotic things like "gamer-gate" and "pizza-gate" which have no basis in reality but start shit-storms on the Internet, that sadly, sometimes overflow into real life. 

Yes, the Internet is not real life.  Never confuse the two.

There are others who are Americans.   Teenagers and even pre-teens, some college students, with lots of time on their hands.   Often they don't believe in this alt.right philosophy, but like to be snarky and disruptive.   Trolling people and starting flame wars, is, in their mind, funny.   You know, like fart jokes.  Pull my finger.   That sort of thing.   It is adolescent humor.

Others are a little older.   Usually men, like the one illustrated at the top of the page, who bears a scary resemblance to Steve Bannon.  These are computer nerds with a lot of time on their hands.  Sad, lonely middle-aged men whose only contact with women is through online porn.   These are basically the teenagers who never grew up.   Again, it is hard to tell if they are serious about their opinions or just think that being disruptive is being funny.

Beats me.  One thing is for sure, the joke has gone on for far too long and stopped being funny a long time ago.  It is one thing to start an online flame war or troll some unsuspecting poster on 4chan.   It is another when people actually act on this nonsense and shoot up a pizza shop, gun down parishioners at Bible study, or run off to join ISIS.

And it is all part of the same machine - the megaphone that Google and Facebook have given to the fringe in our society.