The ‘alt-left’ media, memes, algorithms, and the price of the MSM not taking the internet seriously
A couple of very good pieces about the impact of online activity on elections that I recommend you take a bit of time to read.
First up, Jim Waterson with “The Rise Of The Alt-Left British Media”
It’s a look at how sites like Another Angry Voice, The Canary, Evolve and so on are getting much bigger reach on Facebook for their political stories than more traditional outlets.
There’s an absolutely key passage in there, highlighted by my former colleague Rob Manuel on Twitter:
“‘When you follow something like The Guardian or the Mirror, one minute they’re posting good stuff that holds the Tories to account, and the next they’re posting anti-Corbyn stuff that goes way over the line by abusing/misrepresenting him and bullying his supporters’ explained Clark when asked why his stories are more viral than other outlets. ‘I guess my page just isn’t as cognitive dissonance–inducing because people know more or less what kind of stuff I’m likely to do.'”
It’s the same principle as how a page just about a specific club will do better than a page about all of football in the Facebook algorithm. If I follow a page about Leyton Orient, I’m likely to engage with every single post, sending massive quality and interest signals back to Facebook’s newsfeed. A general football page? Well, I’m never going to click on the ‘like’ button for any story about Chelsea, so the signals sent back are more mixed.
And here’s another good piece, about the people who wanted to: “Meme Macron out of existence…We need to stop this creep Macron from cucking up Europe”
It’s by Ryan Broderick, and is looking at the way channers have been trying to spread disinformation about president-to-be Macron in France. It may not have prevented him winning at the weekend, but it is useful to look at the modus operandi.
[By the way, I’m making the assumption that if you read this blog, you probably know what 4chan and channers are. If you don’t, I won’t mind if you quickly hop over and read this pretty decent introductory overview from the New European: “A beginners guide to 4Chan: The site you never knew was influencing you“]
The ultimate point that comes out from all this shit-posting is to get people into the “When did you stop beating your wife?” scenario. It’s very hard to definitively prove that Macron doesn’t fancy his step-daughter, or hasn’t sent a Euro off-shore, or that Halal Easter Eggs aren’t funding terrorism. But it’s easy to create doubt.
I still stand by my view that people should have paid more general attention to the development and tactics used by #GamerGate. This is a good read on that: “What Gamergate should have taught us about the ‘alt-right’”
I think part of the problem for – yes, I’ll bite – the mainstream media is that “what happens on the internet” is still not regarded as a specialist beat to be covered like you would healthcare or science. And when it is, it is usually more along the lines of “Here’s 10 jokes that made people laugh about recent event x”
For political journalists it is increasingly clear that not understanding how technology is impacting on the way political narratives develop is a problem. You can easily see when the Tories buy a wraparound ad on a local newspaper – so it’s easy to report. It’s a lot harder to report how users are being micro-targeted on Facebook. And if your own personal Facebook presence isn’t geared towards receiving messages from these kinds of websites or the people pushing memes, you simply aren’t going to see what large chunks of the electorate are going to see.
Oh, and another quick thing. The media has started to use the term ‘alt-left’ in opposition to the white supremacist authoritarianism of the ‘alt-right’. I can tell you that when I was researching a load of this stuff off the back of the Trump election, there was some effort I saw among the ‘alt-right’ to get the phrase ‘alt-left’ to catch on. They had already prepared a fake site purporting to be the home of the ‘alt-left’, and were trying to Googlebomb it up the rankings, so that when people heard the phrase they would find it. The fake site was trying to get the ‘social justice warriors’ the alt-right so despises to sign up to support ludicrous campaigns, which themselves were faked. The idea was that it would keep them distracted with side issues, and then at some point they could all be exposed as idiots.
It’s like having all the lonely, bored teenagers in the world who used to make prank phone calls, now hooked up together into one 24/7 operation trying to fuck shit up for the LOLs. Journalists have got to pay more attention to it.