Internet Trolls and the Media: Let’s Talk to Our Enemies

internet-troll

The CBC and other major newsrooms need to start talking to people they don’t like.  

The other night I caught a CBC National panel anchored by Wendy Mesley that discussed the phenomenon of Twitter trolls and the online abuse politicians face in Canada.  The panelists seemed to be fumbling in a dark corner while there was a light switch at the other end of the room.

It’s not that the media shouldn’t be shocked and dismayed by the online vitriol; it’s that the cultural sands are shifting beneath them (online, where they can’t see it) and they’d do better to examine the underpinning forces of this new post-truth, cultural libertarian movement lest they be swept away by a tide they don’t understand and don’t see coming.  Like a Donald Trump victory.  Right.  That already happened.

Instead of simply using categories such as racist, misogynist, and xenophobic to describe online trolls, we can examine online cultural phenomenon, (TV has lost 40% of viewers between 18-24 in just the last year) such as the rise of the cultural juggernaut, Milos Yiannopoulos and his legions of young male libertarian followers in the U.K. and the U.S.

As much as the mainstream media doesn’t want to shine a light on Milo Yiannopoulos — I also have my reservations — to get to the bottom of this trolling business, we ought to familiarize ourselves with the self-proclaimed, “Dangerous Faggot” and his growing tribe.  He is a Senior Tech Editor with Breitbart News, currently speaking to sold out crowds on University campuses all across the United States on his “Dangerous Faggot Tour.”  That is, when he is not de-platformed.

Mr. Yiannopoulos isn’t easily categorized.  A metropolitan, gay, Catholic who, as he tells his audiences over and over again, only sleeps with black men, he is at once a humorist, a troll (he was kicked off twitter permanently),  a serious journalist and intellectual, a free speech fundamentalist, a provocateur and, some would say, a trafficker in fear and hatred.  He says he isn’t a misogynist or racist, that he loathes white supremacists (for obvious reasons), and that he reports on the alt-right but doesn’t represent it.  When he’s in troll mode, those claims seem questionable.  When he’s on the BBC, he’s a polished intellectual with an arsenal of controversial yet finally honed arguments.

His cult hero status to a generation of young men was given birth by his reporting on the Gamergate scandal — a cultural bruh haha that the mainstream media gave little heed to, yet one that might prove to have been the catalyst for a youth  counterculture revolution that is contemptuous to the core of the increasingly narrow boundaries of civil discourse imposed by “illiberal” liberals.  That’s right, youth counterculture now resides on the libertarian right.  And Mr. Yiannopoulos, impossible to offend, is their fearless leader.

When Gamergate broke, the mainstream media rightly focussed on the online misogyny directed toward female media critics, but they failed to report on the less fashionable aspects, like collusion amongst the press.  To the Gamergaters, it was a battle against what a generation of young men see as an education system that caters to girls needs and shames boys for demonstrating traditionally masculine traits from early education through to doctoral programs.   To these young men, video games were the last bastion where boys could be themselves without constantly checking to see if their actions and words were an acceptable expression of maleness.  Milo fought that battle for them.  And in many ways, he won.  And now generation Gamergate are having open season on third wave feminism, Islam,  the mainstream media and establishment politics.  They are getting their revenge.  They are bulls in the china shop of political correctness.

By their own claims, they aim to disempower the language of political correctness and its perceived encroachment on free speech and free thinking by taking the “trigger” words of the illiberal left, and saying them over and over again in the most offensive way possible.  This is trolling, a disruptive tactic in a culture war that is happening online, far from the network newsrooms.  And the result is a squirming Sunday CBC panel.  They are trolling us all.  And they love Trump because his whole campaign was one big troll.

We can carry on down this road of labelling trolls misogynist, racist and xenophobic (which they might be) and trying to push Mr. Yiannopoulos and his Gamergate generation to the margins.  The problem is, the margins aren’t holding.  Or we can ask hard questions about why a generation of young men are hell bent on offending everyone.  If I was Wendy Mesley’s producer, I’d invite Milo Yiannopoulos in for an interview, even if I didn’t want to hear his message, even if he disrupted the sanctified safe space of our public broadcaster.  But then again, I’ve never seen Mesley interview someone for whom she didn’t gush with admiration.

From where I’m sitting, we’d all better get to know the young men who are laughing their asses off while the grown-ups squirm, for one, because they can vote, and for two, because they know a thing or two about online propaganda.

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