Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Poisoned Fruit in the Walled Garden - Part III

This is the third post in a 3- part series on the rise of extreme right hate speech on the internet. You can find the first post here and the second post here.

Addicted to sales? The Nazis helped Coke "open up" new markets in Europe in WWII
A third group that has been co-opting online discussions on a grand scale - possibly grander than any other group mentioned in this series - is the corporate world. Big business has been drowning out voices of opposition via advertising, lobbying and interlocking directorates with the media for so long, that  its efforts just sort of blend into the background, now. And  their aggressive online tactics also extend to real world acts of aggression, assassination and even all-out warfare. 

In their essay, ‘Coca Cola goes to War’ Eleanor Jones and Florian Ritzmann trace the path to success taken by Max Keith, the German boss of drinks giant Coca-Cola, during World War II.  He tagged along with the Nazis everywhere they went in Europe, planting his soft drink bottles in their wake like sweet, fizzy, cocaine-flavoured bombs. Keith's ambition to place a bottle of coke in the hands of every member of their captive audience (literally captive, as was the case for concentration camp prisoners who were forced to work on Coca Cola's production lines) was seemingly as relentless as the fascist campaign itself. And it was just as heedless of human health and safety. 

Regardless of Keith's desired ends, his means lined up perfectly with the Fascists: both were chasing after total market domination, and both believed that success could be measured in superficial criteria alone. For the fascists, that superficial criteria was skin or eye colour whereas for Coca Cola, it was a soft drink. But their means to those separate ends were one and the same

According to Jones and Ritzman,'Coke's situation was so secure that Max Keith could get himself "appointed to the Office of Enemy Property to supervise all soft drink plants, both in Germany and the captured teritory. As German troops overran Europe, Keith and Oppenhof followed, assisting and taking over the Coca-Cola businesses in Italy, France, Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium and Norway.'

Coca Cola was in so deep with the Nazis that it was only saved from becoming an official brand of the Third Reich by Keith’s adamant refusal to sign the brand over to the fascists. Far from being evidence that Coca-Cola's German boss cared about the company's American roots, though, this detail only emphasizes the psychopathic nature of his priorities. Employing slave labour was all right by him, but he was ready to put his life on the line just to avoid changing the name of his brand. 

'Max Keith said, "Our marvelous drink has the power of endurance to continue this march to success." The meeting closed with a "ceremonial pledge" to Coca-Cola and a ringing, three-fold "Sieg-Heil" to Hitler.’
But it may have been these exact priorities that endeared Keith to the Nazi regime, with its equally extreme fixation on appearances. The same priorities were definitely shared by many American corporations operating in Germany at the time, at any rate: they too, aimed to secure new markets at any cost and achieve success, no matter how superficial, for the glory of the brand. Many of the corporations that helped the Nazis still exist today, and can  still lay claim to vast, global markets. The inescapable nature of participation in those markets has survived well beyond World War II into times of peace, and it may well be fascism's most enduring legacy.  Is it any wonder that these same markets have given rise to fascism once again?

Some apologists have said that the allure of all those captive markets was just too ‘tempting’ for the likes of Coca Cola, Dow,Manhattan Chase, IBM, General Motors to resist… but taking advantage of these markets required a pathologically high regard for material gratification, and a pathologically low one for human health, life, liberty and justice.  Just like the Nazis, these corporations pursued the physical trappings of success  recklessly and selfishly, without any regard for where they were headed, as long as the destination was paved with wealth and success. And, just like the Nazis (and now the neo-Nazis) they availed themselves of any means to outdo the competition... even if that meant trampling over masses of people along the way.

Start as you mean to go on, so the old adage says; if the consumer base doesn't want the product or can't afford it, make them want it by whatever means necessary - even aggression and fear, a lesson learned by Coca-Cola in the Second World War. 

These same priorities can be seen in the way that such corporations and their affiliates behave online.  AOL Online, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical, has been embroiled in small-scale control freakery such as censoring a group that criticized it ( or 'accidentally' blocking users' email accounts when they protested a new fee. And it's participated in much larger-scale control freakery too, like allegedly aiding and abetting the NSA in its data-collection programs, according to leaked PRISM documents.  The restrictive legacy that fascism has left on corporate culture is clear; big business is now willing to enact almost any kind of repressive behaviour, as long as it ensures a better standing, image or profit for the company. 

And the trend is catching in the new online corporations, too.  Facebook has overstepped its bounds many, many times now, in its efforts to expand and improve its brand profile. To name but a few scandals, it has been caught cutting conservative news items and even about Facebook itself from the Trending feed, to censoring activist feeds at the behest of Turkish president Erdogan and apparently, the behest of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project too... the list goes on.

Added to which, it has led the push to make advertising even more ubiquitous online than it is offline, by planting ads in users' personal space. Between Facebook and Google, one can find oneself being stalked around the internet by sales messages that flash in one's face as one chats privately with friends. The totalitarian new reality of corporate-controlled internet wears a friendlier mask - it pretends to serve people's needs - yet, at the end of the day it's demanding that viewers take up its cause, too: the cause of helping it to rake in more cash. 

At least internet users can see where ads are coming from, though. The same thing cannot be said for comments and reviews that are posted by corporate shills under pseudonymous Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Reddit accounts. NPR journalist David Folkenflick, who used to work at Fox News, has written a book describing how the media giant asked its staff to troll the web.  “One former [Fox News] staffer recalled using twenty different aliases to post pro-Fox rants. Another had one hundred," he wrote.  These sock puppet-masters apparently targeted bloggers and other commentators who were critical of Fox’s reporting.

In other words, rather than modify its site's content to suit the community which criticized it, or even investigate its complaints, Fox preferred to reshape what that community should think by posing as a member of it. But stories of major corporate players hiring internet shills are all over the place these days, as are companies advertising astroturfing services to new customers. There are too many dodgy incidents like the one involving Fox to be described here. What seems certain is that, if they were all added up, these corporate trolls and shills would far outstrip those of the alt-right.

Don't Fight The System, Be The System?
Groups like the Billboard Liberation Front understand the oppressive nature of the advertising industry
The corporate monopoly on so much of our virtual world is no less intrusive than the activities of the alt-right, yet its power is based on a similar premise: that might is right, and brute force is a valid means to achieve necessary change. Whether that brute force is enabled by mob rule and intimidation or by money is the only difference and it's a purely academic distinction.

From AOL through to Facebook, Google and Twitter, corporate presences on the Internet have conspired to turn it into a series of enclosed, informational bio-domes, in which every move (and even every thought) is being edged towards an invisible bottom line; towards making a sale so someone else can 'win'.  Indeed, 'we are winning' is one of the phrases that alt-right most likes to torture in its flame wars with left wing adversaries.

Perhaps this is what the alt-right network means when it claims that it's just using the same tactics that others have used before it. It's true that big business and the government have highjacked the public lens both online and offline, for far too long.  Yet, by employing those oppressive tactics instead of breaking the pattern, or inventing something new, the alt-right is alienating itself even further from its claim of being a bona fide activist movement. 
Activists who are fighting for social, environmental or economic justice usually try to inject their view into a contrived homogeneity of mainstream voices, like so many dabs and tendrils of colour in a bucket of white paint. The alt-right on the other hand, aims to replace that monochrome shade of white with another monochrome that more closely resembles their own hue. They want to replace the whitewash with beige one, nothing more.  

The alt-right's obsession with winning rivals Coca-Cola's
As well claiming that it's fighting to 'preserve' the white race, the alt-right has claimed the anti-globalization mantle for itself.  In this respect it is a cuckoo cause, snatching many of the arguments that were formerly embraced by anti-WTO and anti-G20 protesters, and wielding them in a way that squeezes various groups out of the anti-globalization ‘nest’... beginning, of course, with the Jews. 

Reading through the alt-right's writings about globalization, one is struck by the fact that its authors have merely substituted “The Jews/Zionism/ZOG” for the term “multinational corporations”, wherever that has traditionally appeared in anti-capitalist literature. How terribly convenient this must be for the readership of a site like Breitbart, which tends to be white, male, Christian and entrepreneurial. What a neat trick, to be able to reap all the rewards of globalized capitalism's exploitation channels, while blaming everyone else for its existence.

Andrew Anglin, the founder of Daily Stormer (yes, him again) has been quoted as saying that '"Gas the k***s” sounds so outrageous that it can only be ironic.' Yet, someone who sees political correctness as a purely hypothetical, inconvenient thought experiment that is designed to stop people from being ironic, is probably isolated from truly globalized areas of the world. Those areas are big cities, places where Jews, blacks, feminists, refugees, queers and all the other alt-right bugbears mix with white straight guys like him, and are having relationships, living together and working together. What is truly ironic is that one of the loudest voices speaking out against globalization seems to be out of touch with its physical realities.

While the alt-right has plenty to say about its activist cause, though, it is much less forthcoming about the goals of that cause. This aversion to stating a goal is probably intentional, because it's pretty clear that it must be taking rights away from people who are currently equal, under the eyes of the law... rights which real activists helped to secure, in the past.

Instead, the people in the alt-right obsess about their supposed under-representation, trying to portray themselves as the victims of some sort of bias by 'liberals'. In reality, their under-representation on the net is probably due to the fact that it is the only place where equality, justice, truth, respect etc., can still achieve some kind of critical mass, and so it attracts people with those sorts of ideas.  The online world is not the native environment of right-wing ideas: the real world is. The likes of Coca Cola, working hand in hand with people like the Nazis, have usurped it. And now their bastard children, the alt-right, are now trying to do the same thing online.

A glance at the news reveals wars happening between groups that have just as much racial hatred for each other, as the alt-right does for nearly everyone. It reveals jihadis who ascribe to a fundamentalist faith that mirrors that of the American Bible Belt. It reveals feral capitalism that gets its way nearly everywhere, every day, regardless of what the people want, or what's good for their countries. It reveals human trafficking that reduces women and children to a dollar value. It reveals a wealthy, male, straight white gaze that has little time for anyone else.  

The forces behind globalisation have imposed themselves on the world in much the same way that the totalitarian right are trying to do: silencing critics by being the loudest and the richest, not by being the most correct.  What the majority of alt-right trolls are hiding away from when they don an anonymous disguise online isn't a 'liberal bias' - it is their own unpopularity.

Tear Down This Wall(ed Garden) 

If the alt-right is guilty of fabricating echo chambers peopled by sock puppet mobs, though, then maybe they are just reflecting a general trend... albeit in a very negative, aggressive way. 

Most Internet users today live in their own 'echo chambers', where they have to pre-approve each and every person who gives them feedback, before they even speak.  If the creeping exposure of such venomous, bigoted echo chambers as those the alt-right have created has stunned many internet users, it is precisely because they haven't been allowing enough space in their lives for random encounters with people that they haven't vetted in advance.  

Part of what is making the right wing so vehement may be a sense of being repelled by these endless, unseen defenses that people surround themselves with, online.  Predictive algorithms and privacy settings can be useful, but when they run out of control they tend to eliminate any element of random chance in one's online encounters.  These defenses are now harder to escape than they ever have been before: undesirable commenters can now be pre-screened out of our feeds on Twitter, sight unseen. Facebook and Google's algorithms filter out content that's either offensive or just plain unfamiliar to each individual.

If people with undesirable views cannot easily engage in debate with a range of people, that hardens them as much as it weakens everybody else, making both sides even less likely to engage as they flee to opposite extremes.  It's a vicious cycle... and if it continues, even the most liberal people will eventually be compelled to convert their views into a form of dogmatism - a blunt tool that they use to defend their position, rather than to expand upon or develop it. 

So, what began as a reaction to hate speech (walled gardens were mainly designed to keep that sort of thing out, after all) has become another aggravating cause that contributes to it. Internet giants like Facebook and Google are feeding the trolls by starving them of any chance to hash their views out with others and learn about real alternatives, instead of just becoming 'alt-right'.  

Are more walls the right response? No - as any gardener can tell you, any overly sheltered stretch of land becomes prone to invasion by weeds, eventually.  Only a diversity of life forms, like those found in the wild, can hope to keep them under control.  The price of that kind of openness, though, is eternal vigilance, it is critical thought and active engagement.  But that effort is necessary, otherwise we might eventually find ourselves living in a whole new kind of garden… one where only the least tolerant species can survive.

To quote Saul Alinsky, the writer of activist handbook Rules for Radicals that the alt-right often cites: "Conflict is the essential core of a free and open society. If one were to project the democratic way of life in the form of a musical score, its major theme would be the harmony of dissonance."

 The tree that doesn’t bend, breaks
-a Chinese proverb 

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Poisoned Fruit in the Walled Garden - Part II

The alt-right might be in the spotlight now, but its own activities are often overshadowed by the works of other trolls which are on a mission to promote slightly less offensive, conservative views: those of the military and the government.

Nearly everyone these days is familiar with the trolls working for China's 50-cent party, or the denizens of “Putin’s troll factories”. Typically, these trolls pose as Americans or Europeans and try to pack as much disinformation as they can into each rushed comment that they knock out.  They write transparent adulations to those in power in broken, Google-translated English. Their bugbears are the American Democrats; democracy in general; anyone who criticizes Russia or China; the EU; homosexuality (which is criminalized to some extent in both countries).
The reasons why the governments of Russia and China might have seen fit to mobilize their own sock puppet mobs to tow the party line might seem obvious: the old establishments there would have found it too difficult to cling to their accustomed, totalitarian level of control over popular opinions, in the face of new freedoms and technology.  Few of their dogmatic distortions would have stood a chance online, where millions can find the truth (or at the very least, an opposing view) at the click of a mouse.

But what, then, does this say about the U.S. military when the authors of its narrative choose to employ the same methods as those used by China and Russia, to counter criticism from so-called 'extremists' - particularly when it might be that those 'extremists' are just people with a really good argument?

In 2011, the Central Command of the U.S. military was revealed to have secured a deal with Florida-based cyber security firm NTRepid, to buy up persona management software. This software would allow each service man or woman to own up to 10 sock puppet identities, for use worldwide. Once the impending deal was exposed, the U.S. military was quick to state that none of the personas would work in English or on American soil, but those are the only solid details that have ever been given regarding the program. Centcom’s own insistence that it conducts its online deceptions in a way that ensures ‘maximum deniability’ - namely, by avoiding detection - doesn’t reassure, especially since its closest analogues within the US and the UK have been caught ransacking all of the barriers between the personal and the public; the domestic and the international, in pursuit of similarly-hazy, ‘anti extremist’ aims.  

Right:  a slide from the GHCQ powerpoint presentation that was entered into evidence during Berlin hearings into the role of the German Bundesnachrichtdienst (secret service) in enabling NSA mass surveillance.

The presentation
illustrates how government operations envision themselves infiltrating major social media sites - Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube - using tactics that are nearly identical to those employed by the alt-right. 

The 'Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group' (a department of UK signals agency, the Government Communication Headquarter) has honed an online propaganda program which is being used by America, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, whose spy agencies work together in an alliance known as the "5 Eyes". Although JTRIG is shrouded in secrecy (British MPs say they have no idea what it’s up to), most leaks to date have suggested that it focuses on non-criminal ‘targets’ such as Anonymous, to change their ‘extremist’ views. It is, bluntly speaking, a propaganda machine for conservatism.

In leaked material, JTRIG has admitted that its activities include monitoring ‘domestic extremist groups such as the English Defence League’ and ‘denying, deterring or dissuading hacktivists’. So, its targets are those which might one day pose a threat but haven't yet done anything wrong, nor even planned to.

It should also be remembered that intelligence agencies in both the UK and the US have often been wont to label anti-nuclear activists, animal rights activists, anarchists, anti-globalization activists, ecological activists and even whistleblowers as ‘terrorists’ for their use of “harassment, intimidation and coercion”, and "economic pressure" tactics - which essentially means 'boycotts'.  While these tactics may be considered slightly aggressive by some, they are a far cry from actual, suitcase-go-kaboom terrorism.

A picture slowly forms of a Western intelligence which views anyone who upsets the status quo (or its profit margins) as a physical threat, regardless of the moral questions that are raised by upholding that status quo and those profit margins and regardless of the physical threat which the status quo may pose to society. Additionally, it lumps in activists who idealize causing damage (like jihadis or the neo-nazi far right) alongside activists who idealize peaceful aims,
yet whom eventually resort to some form of non-violent sabotage to achieve them. It’s pretty critical to make a distinction between the two kinds of activists, though, unless one aspires to a nihilistic, materialist society which is wholly devoid of any deeper moral drives or ideals.

Above: a screenshot showing a moment when a Reddit user was caught out using an automated template to post dismissive comments to one of the site’s political subs
The JTRIG mission has perhaps been best summarized by the Intercept, which wrote: “Several GCHQ memos published last fall by the Guardian revealed that the agency was eager to keep its activists secret not to protect national security but because, ‘our main concern is that reference to agency practices […] could lead to damaging public debate which might lead to legal challenges against the current regime.

An interesting implication contained in the above statement is that the 5 Eyes alliance which essentially created JTRIG speaks as a single regime - one which coordinates its actions in order to answer needs and desires that are above and beyond the needs and desires of its component nations, or their people. In short, this statement seems to confirm the existence of a superstate whose sovereignty transcends the interests of the member nations... at least in the (five) eyes of the beholder, it does.
Perhaps none of this will stand out to internet users as much as some of the juicier controversies that explode out of the social media spheres each week or month, but perhaps that in itself, is what should give them pause.  These official trolls represent oh-so subtle, understated efforts to blend the ‘regime’ message with the messages sent by friends, family and peers, manufacturing the appearance of an agreement among them, where none exists.
In the process, the government's trolls have succeeded in almost validating the garish antics of the alt-right that are grabbing stage centre, at the moment. In their attempts to drum up support for their respective regimes, these trolls are inadvertently propping up the neo-fascist trolls that claim to speak for the silent, right wing masses. 

But can the agendas of these groups even be so different when they agree on the methods, if not the madness that drives them?

‘The guarded-aggressive, totalitarian ideology put forth by these people is their main indicator. A few members of this group try to look even somewhat liberal.'

'They introduce arbitrary tracts full of facts and events — often completely fraudulent — that force their opponents to do extensive research to refute them.'

‘It is an absolute orgy of animal hatred...'

'These remarks have been word-for-word identical [...] putting forward exactly the same “arguments”, accusations and insults, using exactly the same phrasing and sentence constructions.'

'One gets the feeling that they are being written by exactly the same people with the same impoverished imagination and vocabulary.'

The above quotes may sound like they are descriptions of tactics that are currently used by the alt-right, but they’re not: they’re taken from a 2007 expose entitled "Commissars of the Internet" which was published on La Russophobe, a dissident blog out of Russia. Its authors worked on the major independent publication, Novaya Gazeta. The series described how many of these writers were harangued and gang-stalked across the online world by feral trolls which showed all the hallmarks of being in the pay of the Kremlin. 

Unlike the alt-right, though, the people trolling the Russian blogosphere were speaking for those at the top of their country’s hierarchy: people who were capable of hiring hit men to silence journalists, and of
shutting down websites at will, with a multi-million-ruble budget on hand from which to pay operatives who would drown out dissent with astroturfing campaigns. Even so, a single voice of opposition was obviously too much for them to bear - nothing but total conformity would do.  It never does, with totalitarians.

One of the journalists whom the authors described as being continually harassed by the Russian brigadniki, acclaimed humanitarian activist and journalist
Anna Politkovskaya, was even assassinated in 2006 - and on Putin's birthday, no less.

“[It] is we who are responsible for Putin's policies ... [s]ociety has shown limitless apathy ... we have let them see our fear, and thereby have only intensified their urge to treat us like cattle. The KGB respects only the strong. The weak it devours. We of all people ought to know that.  From 'Putin's Russia' by Anna Politkovskaya

Totalitarians don't just stop at killing off the local opposition, though; even when dissenters give up the fight and leave Russia for good, officials will still go to great lengths to 'correct' their views in RL (real life). Another famous example of how online trolling can have fallout in RL is that of writer
Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with polonium in London in 2006, after accusing Vladimir Putin of having ordered the death of his fellow journalist, Politkovskaya (somewhat understandable, given the circumstances).

An author on the alt-right website Daily Stormer could well have been voicing the mantra embraced by the Kremlin when he wrote: "This is about survival. We must win by any means necessary, or we will cease to exist". It's the sort of false equivalency that leads true extremists to kill people for their ideas alone. But the beliefs that the Kremlin, the alt-right, and even the NSA are fighting for the survival of seem to be beliefs that are undergoing a natural extinction. They are ideas whose death would make way for some sort of evolution or rebirth in society's consensus.  Do beliefs in mind numbing uniformity, torture, war, prejudice, cruelty and sectarian hate actually ever need rescuing from the brink? 

The alt-right is just one in a long line of astroturfing movements that is being led by a once-privileged group which is facing an online consensus that limits its former
scope of power. And the only way to regain that power, it seems, is to reduce the rest of the world to a droning singularity of voice, identity, thought. 

That is the only way that any despotic regime ever manages to survive.

Translation of BND-NSA inquiry question (left, above)

Not far from our hearing hall here was the Berlin Wall, which enclosed GDR citizens. We had various deaths - 136 at the inner-German frontier, 872 fatalities which in particular were caused by the Stasi. Against this historical context, I am wondering how you can compare the NSA and that state security?

Answer in English (left, below): "Yes, they've learned the lessons of that surveillance state [the Stasi]". 

“Drowning in information” is the tagline of the latest release of NSA documents that were compiled by Edward Snowden. The sensory overload experienced by spy agencies as they attempt to sift through every thought and image we produce tends to overspill on to us, too. When it comes to leaks about spying on ordinary citizens, those citizens are also drowning in information which they don’t know how to process, to interpret.

The modern internet may be filthy with leaks, but sites which interpret the content of the leaks and share their conclusions are still too thin on the ground and their conclusions are often too limited. Taken together, these sites tend to form a well-intentioned echo chamber that can seem as dislocated from day-to-day online experience as the government itself. But that's an illusion: the Western government's troll operations are just as geared towards engineering a whole new consensus down on the ground as anything done by the 'populist' alt-right.  In this new consensus, opinions exist not to reveal anything, but merely to further the goals of entrenched power.   

In the next post in this series, we will see how corporate culture was instrumental in implanting those goals in the online world, in the first place. 

Friday, 2 December 2016

Poisoned Fruit in the Walled Garden - Part I

WARNING: The views & statements reproduced in this series of articles may be offensive to some readers.

Twenty-sixteen was probably the worst year for online hate speech to date: a year when a grassroots network known as the alt-right managed to overwhelm many online forums and comment boards.

Mobilizing small battalions of sock puppet  (fake) accounts, members of this loose network stormed popular comment sites such as Disqus and Twitter, flooding them with hateful posts on a wide range of global issues: Brexit, Trump, immigration, Islam and a so-called Jewish 'conspiracy'.
It seemed like a clear attempt to mould a new popular consensus - one of open contempt for all minorities, everywhere. 

It would probably be more fair to call it an 'unpopular consensus', though.  Because, no matter what the alt-right would like us to believe, its views are still in the minority.  It is easy to forget that fact, however, when right wing voices are commandeering an increasing proportion of the online conversation.

How big of a proportion? One study undertaken by the Anti-Defamation League to look into antisemitism on Twitter, found that 2.6 million hateful tweets had been posted by just 1,600 individuals in 2016.  (By way of contrast, the writer of this piece has only sent 1,300 tweets  of any kind, within the last five years). Together, these anti-Semitic tweets were seen around 10 billion times in total.

The study's authors wrote that, 'Waves of anti-Semitic tweets tend to emerge from closely connected online “communities.”  These aggressors are disproportionately likely to self-identify as Donald Trump supporters, conservatives, or part of the “alt-right."'

Alt-right websites like Breitbart have been instrumental in mobilizing right wing trolls to carpet-bomb social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Disqus with hate speech, so as to engineer phoney "public outcries" over current issues. These issues can be as trivial as the new Ghostbusters film, or as big as the Brexit.  

On other websites connected to the alt-right, such as 4Chan and Daily Stormer, one can find the same trolls openly organizing "troll raids" and "twitter storms". Site readers are encouraged to forge an array of bogus identities (black people, asians and women seem to be popular choices) from which to post hate speech. They do this with the express intent of normalizing bigotry and dividing groups that would otherwise stand together in the face of the right wing. 

Above: Troll raid callouts on the neo-nazi website Daily Stormer

Above: tolls swap ideas for turning blacks against Jews

So what does any of this have to do with Berlin? 

Well, the alt-right now seems to be targeting English language sites in Germany like It seems to be doing this in the hopes of drumming up enough hatred against refugees and immigrants to secure a win for one of Germany's far right parties in the next elections.  

This is anything but a "local" phenomenon: one needs only enter "" + "[any white nationalist website]" into a search engine to see how often articles from The Local are being reposted in the extremist backwaters of the internet - many of which reputedly originate in the American deep South.

The number of extreme right-wing comments on The Local began to rise starting in 2014. Interestingly, this was the same year that the Christian Democratic Union announced its open-borders policy, which was quickly commended by President Obama.  It seems that this move was enough to kick the neo-nazi troll machine into action - possibly due to fears that Obama might try to emulate Germany's open-doors refugee policy.  

Alt-right trolls are easy to identify: they seem to spend most of every day and night posting hateful comments and scouring the internet for scare stories that they can connect refugees or Islam in some way... no matter how tenuous that connection may be. But they don't reflect the views that are actually held by most English-speaking German residents, anymore than they reflect the views that are held by most Americans, when they post on overseas websites. 

Right-wing commenters have become ubiquitous on
It's true that far-right membership in most Western countries has increased somewhat (a fact which should not be ignored), but there is still a noticeable gap between the proportion of bigoted views which one sees online, and the proportion of those same views one sees in real life (RL).

Distorting the online mirror to make one group seem bigger than another is simple, funhouse trick that anyone with enough money or the time can pull off, though, so now, more than ever, anyone who goes online needs to be vigilant.

hereas Twitter and Disqus can be manipulated to push one agenda's prominence into view, government studies and other social barometers of are much harder to fool.

The results of a 2015 World Values Survey, one of the biggest studies of its kind, indicated that a relatively small percentage of society holds views like those held by the alt-right. Below is a random sampling of results, showing what percentage of people expressed tendencies toward prejudice, when they were asked which kind of neighbours they prefer to have:

Does not want a multiracial neighbour: Germany 14,8%, United States 5.6%

Does not want a migrant neighbour: Germany: 21.4%, United States: 13.6%

Thinks that a woman's rights to work comes second to a man's: Germany 15.5%, United states: 5.7%
The scores were similarly low (ranging between 4% and 21%) for all questions that were related to bigotry in the anonymous survey.  So clearly, the levels of casual racism and sexism are far lower in reality than a glance at Twitter or Disqus would seem to suggest.

As far as extreme bigotry is concerned, the German  Verfassungschutz's 2015 publication on right-wing extremism indicates that membership in far right parties in Germany totals just 11,800 people. Yet until very recently, almost 100% of views expressed on sites like The Local were far-right. 

By looking at the real world and comparing it to what is happening online, one gets a sense that something is off.   The problem is that too few people seem to look at the real world these days.

Many social media users seem to view online comments as an honest mirror of prevailing social attitudes - a fact which the alt-right gleefully manipulates.

With only a bit of investigation, though, it is possible to foil alt-right's insidious plot to fool the people... after all, it openly announces its intentions to do so on a regular basis.  It discusses how best to mislead people by twisting facts, planting faked news items and organizing Twitter raids. Unofficial leader Andrew Anglin has admitted to owning sock puppet accounts and The Daily Stormer has a [now private] section for organizing troll raids (TRS).

How can the alt-right afford to be so open about its activities? Simply put, it knows that no one is looking... not even journalists, in some cases. This is why it was possible for one "news clip" about a pro-Trump student getting beaten up at school to viral without anyone realizing that the clip - shot on a smartphone and circulated via YouTube - did not contain a single word about Trump or the election. 

The alt-right is counting on internet users who are in a hurry, who will go glomming after the most shocking snippet they can find, and pass it on without taking time to check its authenticity. It's a tendency that all internet users eventually fall victim to eventually, though, however intelligent they may be.  So in this one sense, the alt right is teaching us 'normies' an important lesson: shock-trolling only works when internet users prioritize shock value. Instead of banning fake news websites, perhaps the social media platforms would be better offer reminders users to 'Question Everything' at regular intervals.

However high profile the alt-right may be, though, it hasn't managed to commandeer the internet's discussion platforms all by itself. In the next installment, we will find out what the alt-right has in common with government troll operations from both the East and the West.    

Part II will be published next Friday, December 9th

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Social Distortion on Unscene Berlin
Right wingers across the world are claiming that the CDU's fall in popularity in Berlin is due to their pro-immigration, pro-asylum stance, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Read what the Berlin election results really meant here