On the right, a simple search for a Twitter feed, and the links that came from it. (To read a larger version in another tab click here.) On the left, one of the new right-wing troll feeds. Some of the right-wing stuff we have seen has been explicitly threatening violence, which has kept Twitter’s moderators busy, at least until and unless the acquisition is consummated, which is contemplated for this fall. Screen captures from Twitter.
Haven’t we seen THIS sort of thing before?
by Eric Jackson
We might recall how Nazis gamed the Google search engine so that searches for the word “Holocaust” first brought up articles that said that it never happened. In Panama we might recall notorious fraud artists Tom McMurrain and “Rex Freeman” flooded the internet with stuff touting their latest schemes, drowning out well justified warnings about them. We might recall how Putin’s troll farms flooded Twitter and Facebook, targeting groups with special messages, with scurrilous “Killary” stuff in the 2016 fall election campaign. We might recall 1920’s bogus electronic “groundswell” to divert African-American votes from Joe Biden to Kanye West. So much of it was bots — pieces of computer programming registered as persons and coordinated as swarms, usually to make it seem like there is a lot of interest in one sort of message or messenger. So much of it was trolls — real people hiding behind false personas like the “Democrats of America” above, usually to spread hatred, lies and division.
Over the years Twitter, Facebook and Google threw a lot of such feeds out — after taking a lot of money in 2016 to promote Putin’s and Trump’s fakes. People recruiting for armed right-wing militia violence, spreading disinformation about the COVID epidemic or the 2020 elections, and participating in the incitement of the January 6, 2021 Capitol Riot were removed, including Donald Trump himself. Alternative far-right Internet operations were founded and a lot of people left the more established social media for those.
There was this hue and cry from the right about “cancel culture” from the left. As if the left wasn’t for decades the target of right-wing censorship and repression. As if the right isn’t calling for the imprisonment of those Americans who don’t share their views. So the world’s richest man, scion of an apartheid-era South African emerald mining fortune, announced that he’s going to buy Twitter, take it private and restore free speech.
The Twitterverse has reacted in various ways. Elon Musk has backtracked and explained a bit. Some people on the left have headed to the exits. Some people — and bots and trolls — on the right have come flooding in. But the deal is not yet done and the ongoing Twitter management hasn’t yet thrown out all rules.
We shall see. Those who stand and fight will probably beat those who run and hide. Those who fight hate speech with anti-hate speech may rise above the cacophony generated by the usual suspects.
Do not think that this is just a rumble between fanatics. In Europe, in the USA, in many countries that are democratic or otherwise, there are moves to regulate or restrict the social media giants. It’s not just about political speech, but about monopolistic practices that have distorted advertising markets. It’s about whether or not corporate power will be absolute.
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