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<nettime> Phillips/Beyer/Coleman: "false assumption that alt-right 'trol
Florian Cramer on Sat, 25 Mar 2017 13:40:20 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Phillips/Beyer/Coleman: "false assumption that alt-right 'trolling'


   This collectively authored piece by Whitney Phillips, Jessica Beyer and
   Gabriella Coleman is worth reading and, perhaps, debating:

   https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/trolling-scholars-debunk-the-idea-that-the-alt-rights-trolls-have-magic-powers

   The authors make important points concerning the use of the word
   "trolling" to trivialize racist and sexist campaigns and providing
   (just as, btw., the word "lulz") "bigots [with] an easy way to deflect
   personal responsibility for hateful action".

   The section that begins with the headline "Communities Change",
   however, strikes me as much less differentiated. In it, Phillips, Beyer
   and Coleman argue against

   "the false assumption that alt-right 'trolling' is equally
   interchangeable with 4chan and Anonymous, an assumption that posits
   static, ahistorical framings of both. Making this claim, either
   explicitly or implicitly, obscures the one basic, unifying fact of
   4chan and Anonymous: that they _change_, both in terms of demographics
   and ideologically."

   This argument is, first of all, a red herring. Taking to its logical
   consequence, it would mean that no community could be critically
   analyzed in a historical frame.

   The question is ultimately not one of 'either/or' - respectively
   radical identity versus radical non-identity of 4chan in whatever
   historical phase -, but rather: How could it happen that a community
   transformed this particular way? Which factors preexisted that enabled
   this transformation. The same question have been routinely asked, for
   example, by historians researching the transformation of 1920s Weimar
   Republic Germany into the 1930s Third Reich. Discrediting such a
   perspective with the argument that "communities [or individuals]
   change" would be absurd.

   Phillips, Beyer and Coleman argue that the assertion "that there exists
   a fundamental continuity between the 4chan and Anonymous of today and
   the 4chan and Anonymous of ten years ago is complicated by just how
   much progressive activism has been undertaken by Anonymous since
   2008".

   This once again presents the issue in an over-simplistic way; as if the
   lines between "progressive activism" and "alt-right 'trolling'" could
   be clearly drawn. For example, the Anonymous movement always involved
   vigilante rhetoric and a visual aesthetic that even sympathizers - such
   as my fellow panellists at the Networked Disruption conference at
   Aksioma, Ljubljana in 2015 - characterized as "fascist". Conversely,
   memes such as the pejorative "SJW" (for "social justice warrior")
   pre-existed the present-day "Alt-Right" for years and have been equally
   popular in parts of hacker culture that identify as left-wing.

   The authors of the article actually have the best examples of blurry
   lines and transititions between the two seeming polar opposites of
   "Anonymous" and "Alt-Right". A key figure and source in Gabriella
   Coleman's 2014 book "Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces
   of Anonymous" is the troll/hacker Andrew Auernheimer/weev. In
   2015/2016, he was a key figure in the openly Neonazi part of the
   "Alt-Right", being involved - among others - in the blog The Daily
   Stormer and several other related sites and meme campaigns. His name is
   absent from the article. Wouldn't Coleman's book, too, benefit from a
   critical postscript?

   In any case, I hope that here on this list and in related discourses,
   we're beyond a discursive mode where "net culture", "hacker culture"
   and "communities" are seen as something in need of fundamental defenses
   against fundamental attacks, as if this was a binary issue.

   (There was, btw., a closely related discussion concerning the role of
   pop-, sub- and underground culture in early 1990s Germany Neonazi
   movement. Analyzing the pop cultural fashion of racist arsonists,
   Diedrich Diederichsen wrote an essay "The Kids Are Not Alright" in
   which he reflected on the fact that counter-cultural dissidence wasn't
   necessarily progressive.)

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