Annotated Bibliography

Hawley, George. Making Sense Of The Alt-Right. Columbia University Press, 2019.

This book by Columbia University political scientist George Hawley sheds light on the newest iteration of far-right extremism in the U.S. – the alt-right. Young and tech-savvy, members of the alt-right exist primarily in a digital space. The movement began, gained traction, and flourished predominantly online, and served an important roll in Trump’s election by stoking the flames of racist and xenophobic hatred online. The book approaches the alt-right from a myriad of angles; first situating the alt-right as a movement distinct from traditional conservatism, white nationalism, and libertarianism; and later describing the online affordances that allowed the alt-right to grow exponentially, namely anonymity and minimal online moderation. This text will help me contextualize, characterize, and categorize modern far-right discourse online.

Herman, Lise Esther., and James Muldoon. Trumping the Mainstream: the Conquest of Democratic Politics by the Populist Radical Right. Routledge, 2019.

This book’s first chapter, “the mainstreaming of far-right extremism online and how to counter it,” will prove very useful in understanding the proliferation of fringe groups online, such as the once tiny but now massive “redpill” and “incel” communities. This book details the process by which these fringe groups recruited countless new members through mainstream social media sites like 4chan and Reddit. This book also provides indispensable tools and strategies for combatting far-right proliferation online, namely by deplatforming White nationalists. Without prescriptions for change, my research paper would be rather bleak and imply that we have no agency to change the current state of affairs online.

Keen, Ellie, and Mara Georgescu. Bookmarks – A Manual for Combating Hate Speech Online through Human Rights Education. Edited by Rui Gomes, Council of Europe, 2014.

This document, compiled by the Eurpean Union’s Council of Europe as part of the “No Hate Speech Movement,” provides an essential counterexample to U.S. conceptions of “protected” speech. In the E.U., the link between hate speech and terrorism is legally codified, as “words of hate can lead to real-life crimes of hate, and such crimes have already ruined and taken the lives of too many people”. This guide is made in part by and certainly for European youth who are concerned with the rapid spread of racism and xenophobia in response to the migrant crisis. The guidebook gives examples of activities that could be performed in a classroom to teach students how to have civil debates online, and how to spot bigotry. One module describes a wave of attacks on Muslims in the made-up town “Sleepyville,” spurred by anti-Muslim groups online in response to the construction of a new mosque. By using extremely relevant scenarios, the guide hopes to teach students how to properly respond to bigotry online. I plan to use this to provide practical examples of anti-hate speech education.

Klein, Adam. Fanaticism, Racism, and Rage Online Corrupting the Digital Sphere. Springer International Publishing, 2018.

This book holistically examines the culture of hate online, describing everything from fringe forums to popular mainstream outlets of bigotry that intermingle with popular culture on widely-used platforms. It provides a unique perspective on both aspects of extremism, detailing the links between hate on the surface web and the deep web. It shows how the democratization of internet access lead to a global resurgence in hate groups, and points to educational initiatives and organizations that are on the front lines of the fight against online radicalism. This book will serve as a fantastic general resource that looks more broadly at the history of hate movements online and offers varied advice regarding the hindering of these movements.

Koppel, Ted, Don Black, and Floyd Abrams. Hate and the Internet. Princeton, NJ: Films for the

Humanities, 1999.

 

This dateline ABC segment from 1999 features Don Black, the creator of Stormfront, the prominent online destination for White nationalists around the world. It also features a first amendment attorney who had worked for clients like The New York Times and ABC News. The two guests talk with ABC’s Ted Koppel about freedom of speech online and the impossibility of limiting hate speech under current law. The dateline episode is notable because, in the current political climate, mere references to White nationalism are often seen as politically charged, and current mainstream networks typically avoid the subject altogether. This resource will be central to the discussion of hate communities in the early internet, as well the analysis of unchanging hate speech laws in the United States.

Simpson, Patricia Anne, and Helga Druxes. Digital Media Strategies of the Far Right in Europe and the United States. Lexington Books, 2015.

This book answers the important question, “how”? How did fringe extremist groups in the 90’s become central to American and European discourse online? How did these groups attract so many new members so quickly? How do they radicalize these members and establish such fervent communities? The book attempts to answer many of these questions by looking at the kinds of media shared within far-right spaces online, including music, manifestos, and violent diatribes against immigrants and LBGT people. With this book, I will be able to look into the tactics of the far right, gaining a better understanding of their community-building tactics, and becoming more aware of the points of entry into the far-right sphere online, which will hopefully point to potential areas of reform

Wojcieszak, Magdalena. “Cyber Racism: White Supremacy Online and the New Attack on Civil Rights.” Sociological Inquiry, vol. 80, no. 1, 2010, pp. 150–152. JSTOR, doi:10.1111/j.1475-682x.2009.00320.x.

This book offers a completely different take on racism online by using a handful of teenagers as a test group and exposing them to “cloaked” racist sights online – websites designed to appear as civil rights publications on the surface but become increasingly racist as the reader descends into them. It attempts to debunk the idea that the internet is a recruiting tool for racists, instead suggesting that, if teenagers can’t make sense of racist dogwhistling, they will not enter these spaces online. I see this as a rather reductive analysis and hope to offer a counter example by analyzing how teens become accustomed to White supremacist ideas and symbols over time through constant exposure.

 

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Internet–Bred Terror and How to Fight It

Above: A Poster by Atlanta Antifacists Outs Justin Peek, a Local White Power Organizer

On Friday, a White nationalist terrorist killed 50 Muslims during their religious services. He wore a camera and live-streamed his massacre first-person-shooter-style, constantly referencing memes and internet culture. He was emboldened by the same online culture that spawned Dylann Roof, who killed nine in a church in South Carolina, Alexandre Bissonnette, who killed six in a church in Quebec, Robert Gregory Bowers, who killed 11 at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and Jeremy Joseph Christian, who stabbed and killed two on a train in Portland, Oregon, among many others. All of them had public presences on sites like Stormfront.org and Gab.com, where they could openly and freely interact with other extremists. Even platforms like Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter now teem with White supremacists and nationalists, though much of their hate on these platforms is disguised as humor. It should be abundantly clear by now that these online communities breed terrorism and should be shut down the same way that ISIS websites were, but that process has yet to begin. This is largely because racially-motivated violence by Whites (in the U.S. particularly) is sanctioned by the state – as is evidenced by nearly routine murders of unarmed Black men by police officers and Trump’s absolute insistence on not using the term “White Nationalist Terrorism,” instead referring to these terrorists as “crazy people,” implying that they were not part of any larger movement. The flourishing of White nationalists online, untamed by any government censorship, calls for a new approach to antifascist organizing. From DDoS attacks to doxxing, the new digital resistance will rely on deplatforming and exposing White Nationalists who are often hiding right in front of our eyes.

Extra Credit #1

Last Tuesday, I attended Dr. Connor’s talk on Snowpiercer, which I found both very interesting and quite inaccessible. He described how Snowpiercer was a kind of self-referential metaphor – a movie about itself. The compartmentalization of the train mirrored the creation of the film itself, which was an amalgamation of French writing, Korean special effects, New Zealand sound engineering, and Czech production. This new system is a byproduct of a digital age where scripts, video, and sound can be sent across the world to the most talented, efficient, or cost-effective creator. This system also privileges the “auteur,” who can cherry-pick diverse artists who share their vision. While the old studio system was very linear and highly centralized, the new system is very decentralized, but led by a single visionary auteur. I loved the section of the talk that detailed the translation of a French book into a bootlegged Korean book, that was then officialized and adapted into a film. It spoke to the extremely rapid spread of content online, frequently without any regard towards copyright law.

As a Media Studies major that has shied away from film-centric courses, much of the rest of the talk flew over my head. I have little familiarity with the production process of big-budget films, and I was very confused as to whether Connor was using these films as metaphors for themselves, reading into the meanings of the films based on his knowledge of their director, or simply conveying an evidenced, intended meaning.

Mental Illness and Digital Corruption

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My 6th Grade Yearbook Picture – the angst (and sideburns) clearly started early

Hello, everyone, I’m Jackson. I have suffered from a lovely cocktail of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder since the age of nine. Around that time, I started getting wild, uncontrollable mood swings, suicidal ideation, and intense spells of panic. After moving from one middle school to another, and then another, I distanced myself from my friends and family and went to the one place where I felt a sense of safety, security, and consistency: the internet.

I had no one but my parents to talk to until late in my high school, so my primary sense of connection to others was derived from online contact. I watched tons, and I mean tons of YouTube videos with wide-ranging subject matter. To a scared, dangerously under socialized kid, YouTube was a godsend – millions of people were ready to invite you into their daily lives, and their acceptance didn’t hinge on who you were and how you looked. My parents were dismissive about mental illness for nearly all of my life, often attributing my state to some outside circumstance or a passing mood. Online, entire communities were made up of people that had the same circumstances as me: they were confused, unsure of what was happening to their minds, and unable to receive support from family members and professionals.

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Me pointing to my name on the board of INTEL’s International Science and Engineering Fair, you know, like a nerd.

As a young adult, my sole focus was academics. My schoolwork took first priority over everything else, especially social interaction, and since I never had time to build long lasting connections with other people, the internet was the only lens through which I saw the world. Being a naïve, lonely boy, I was at one point drawn to the profoundly toxic “redpill” community, which offered convenient excuses for the way I felt: you are not marginalized because there’s something “wrong” or “different” about you, you are marginalized because you are a white male, and you are under attack. Given my illnesses, I certainly felt like I was under attack at all times. I think all the time about who I would be if I stayed on that path, becoming a seething misogynist and racist. In rural South Carolina, no one would have stopped me. It took me seeing the profound injustices suffered by women and people of color in my community for me to realize that this ideology was deeply wrong, and that realization brought me into new online spaces.

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My favorite student from summer school – she was the by far cutest human being I had ever seen

In high school, I began volunteering at a nonprofit summer school for undocumented youth in my community. That nonprofit fostered such a profoundly loving, caring environment, solidifying my self-worth and the worldview that I have today. I was not allowed to use social media until after I got into Emory, but as soon as I did, I joined tons of leftist Facebook groups, everything from imagine how clever the fedora tipping neckbeard felt finishing this meme to Sounds like White People White Peopling, But Ok (now defunct).  There I became acutely aware of all the bigotry and hatred that I had been surrounded by for my whole life. These leftist Facebook groups catalyzed the formation of the personality and identity that I have today. I strongly doubt that I would have recognized the depth of racism in my family, my school, or myself if not for these online spaces. For months I sat back, not posting anything in these groups and just hearing the perspectives of people that I had been separated from by mental illness, physical space, and nonexistent transportation. Somehow, the internet ultimately raised me to be a kind, caring human being.

File photo of police leading suspected shooter Dylann Roof into the courthouse in Shelby
With diagnoses of “Social Anxiety Disorder, a Mixed Substance Abuse Disorder, a Schizoid Personality Disorder, depression by history, and a possible Autistic Spectrum Disorder” according to court documents, Dylann Roof’s horrifying acts of violence were often pinned on mental illness, not pervasive racism online

 

I say somehow because it is apparent that the internet can take ill, lonely people and turn them into monsters. Dylan Roof, who grew up mere minutes away from me, grew up in remarkably similar circumstances. He was lonely, mentally ill, raised by and surrounded by racists, and spent the majority of his time online. When he killed nine people in a Church 40 minutes away from me, the media blamed it on his mental illness. I could not help but think what would have happened to me if had not realized the evilness of far-right ideology online. What if, instead, I followed that ideology blindly and was radicalized by thousands of hateful people, fed (and believed) false information about racial violence, and constantly validated for espousing racist beliefs. Nazi comparisons are trite, yes, but so many Germans were so easily converted to a violent, repulsive ideology simply because it came to them from a trusted source.

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Here’s a message that my ex-girlfriend received from a complete stranger who defended his actions as being “just a joke” and was never banned despite being reported on numerous occasions.

The concept of “trolling” comes to mind as well – broken people of the internet can both inflict pain and receive it depending on how well they know the rules. If you are over-invested in anything, capable of feeling passionate feelings, or will in any way react to abuse, swarms of Internet denizens will arrive from thin air in an attempt to drive you mad. In the case of TempleOS, one of my case studies for my research essay, “trolls” seized upon the creator’s apparent mental illness and impersonated his online crush, going so far as to convince him that they were married.

The opposite situation is equally horrifying – young men will realize that social credibility on the internet, especially in spaces like 4chan, comes from spouting bigoted vitriol at anyone with marginalized identities and everyone who may not properly cope with emotions. There are thus millions of people among us with no concept of compassion for strangers, who feel no need to do good in the world because they find wickedness more entertaining.

I arrived at my topic of choice after reflecting on what the internet raised me to be. How much of my identity was my own doing, and what routes could I have gone down given the same endless potential of the internet? How could the content that I view have seized upon the darkest parts of my being and wholly corrupted me? And, of course, the topic of my research essay: what is it about the internet that is so fantastic at trapping people and exploiting their illness, sucking away years of their lives and turning them into paranoid, angry people.

It’s 2019 and Gentrified Black Films are Still Beating Actual Black Films at the Oscars

What do two landmark Oscar victories by Black Panther mean for the landscape of Hollywood? For one, it means that Black movies, made primarily for and by Black people, are finally in a position to receive meager mainstream appeal. Of course, it was hard for the Hollywood establishment to ignore the highest-grossing superhero movie of all time – the unignorably massive public support for the film allowed it to break through a glass ceiling that previous Black films could not. Probably not coincidentally, Spike Lee, an absolute icon of Black cinema, won his very first Oscar this year for BlackKklansman, which still lost to Green Book, a film about a black pianist being driven across the American South. Importantly, the film had a White Director. Lee was “snakebitten,” saying, “I mean, every time somebody is driving somebody, I lose. But, they changed the seating arrangement. But, in ’89 I didn’t get nominated, so this one we did.” He is referring to the 1990 Oscar’s defeat of his seminal work, Do The Right Thing which lost to Driving Miss Daisy, another film directed by a White male. What this shows us is that Black Panther’s success ultimately was a concession; two technical awards, despite being firsts for Black artists, did little to erode the Oscar’s history of racial bias. Tragically, romanticized representations of Blackness, warped by the perspectives of White directors and writers, have again achieved more recognition than Black self-representations. The 2019 Oscars was not groundbreaking – it was, in fact, a continuation of the gentrification of Black stories for White representation and consumption.

Final Project Proposal: Mental Illness and Digital Media

For my research paper, I would like to focus on the intersections between schizophrenia and the digital medium. I plan to approach the subject from a multitude of angles, including media representations of schizophrenia, using Bandersnatch as an example; creations of schizophrenic individuals using the digital medium, using TempleOS and Yvette’s Bridal (https://yvettesbridalformal.p1r8.net/) as examples; and finally, evidence that links increased internet usage to increased rates of schizophrenia and worsening symptoms of the those with the disorder. I plan to explore how various aspects of the digital medium attract and entrap mentally ill individuals, offering some of my own “affordances” to explain these phenomena. A few that I have already considered are: the digital medium connects individuals with paranoid delusions and allows them to form positive feedback loops that go unmonitored by loved ones and caretakers; the digital medium is infinitely expandable and allows for endless work or engagement with no final product or goal; and the digital medium enables physical isolation.

For my personal essay and creative project, I plan to look at the intersections between my internet and digital media usage and my own mental health issues. My creative project will consist of a website based on Yvette’s Bridal that is an attempted actualization of my mental health struggles. When I first stumbled upon Yvette’s Bridal through a Reddit link many years ago, I was both amazed and horrified by the sensation that I was falling into a bottomless pit of links, each one leading to something stranger than the next. The spatial and procedural affordances of the digital medium worked together to make me feel as though I was physically descending into psychosis with the website’s creator. Bandersnatch had a similar ambiance, though it was clear from the context – it was on Netflix and it was a Black Mirror episode – that you were watching a work of fiction. I would like to make my own website entertaining and “scary” but also authentic to my own experiences – an autobiographical, conceptual art piece of sorts.

Current Event: BBC Reporter Attacked at Trump Rally

From his tirades about “fake news” to his proclamation that media is “the enemy of the people”, Donald Trump has demonstrated a flagrant disregard for American news media. By claiming that any negative press is part of a grand conspiracy to seize power, Trump delegitimizes all of his critics. Given Trump’s fiery and often explicitly violent rhetoric, it was only a matter of time before his supporters acted upon his sentiments. On Monday, a BBC reporter was attacked at a Trump rally in El Paso, Texas. Though he was not seriously injured, the attack received shockingly little coverage, suggesting that the media itself has become numb to far-right violence. The journalist suggested that this attack represents a noteworthy escalation in anti-media incidents, saying, “I’ve been spat at before, they hurl abuse. … This was very different. A man got on to the platform after this (goading) had happened repeatedly in the President’s speech, and previous speeches. … It was an incredibly violent attack.” The Trump administration’s increasing persecution of journalists has prompted many comparisons to oppressive authoritarian regimes. One such regime, the Saudi monarchy, recently ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, an American journalist who worked for the Washington Post. Trump’s failure to condemn Saudi Arabia for this murder is only further evidence of dangerous contempt for journalism. Trump’s slandering of the media has one noticeable omission: Fox News. Given the administration’s extreme prejudice towards Fox News, I fear that it may soon become a bona fide state-sponsored news outlet.

Initial Reflections

Over the summer, I was employed as the social media intern at New American Pathways, a nonprofit that works with immigrants and refugees in Clarkston. As part of my job, I maintained and updated the company’s website. I had absolutely no background in web design, but I was the youngest and most tech-savvy person in the organization so, of course, it became my job. Luckily for the purposes of this class, this was a WordPress site, so I became very familiar with the formatting and coding of WordPress. I also have my own Wix sight for photography and video, so I wanted to see if I could create a sleek hybrid blog-portfolio website for this class. I already feel a bit hampered by the constraints of the free WordPress site ­– many themes off-limits, no options to edit code, and limited customizability. I would love for there to be more integrated videos, scrolling and link animations, and other effects, but I’m unable to without a premium account. As a result, I’ll just be taking the simple approach and focusing on bold images and a simple layout. I decided to use a quick film reel as my cover media, and placed two slideshows in the footer displaying my photos and studio art. I hope to build additional pages alongside my “contact” page, and perhaps use this as my primary website in the future.