When discussing the the “Jailbait” subreddit, Tufecki wrote that “these men found a community, acceptance and a means of bolstering their reputation.” Tufecki argues that the internet allowed this group to take something that once would have been extremely taboo, that is the distribution of child pornography, and make it something that was acceptable within the community. What effects how these changes occur are based predominantly on two things: 1) the ability to build a reputation; and 2) the connection to a user’s real name.
While I was reading Twitter and Teargas, I felt compelled to think about the recent Pittsburgh shooting, and the role social media played in it. Following Richard Bowers’ attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue, investigators found that he posted a great deal of anti-Semitic messages on the site Gab. Gab was a haven for those who were kicked out of other sites. Famous Gab residents were Milo Yiannopoulos, banned from Twitter for leading a hate campaign against Leslie Jones; Andrew Anglin, neo-nazi founder of Daily Stormer; and Richard Spencer, the guy featured prominently in “punch a nazi” memes. Rolling Stone called the move to Gab a “mass-migration” of extremists (https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/how-twitters-alt-right-purge-fell-short-196449/). When you attempt to sign up for an account, you are told that “Gab defends individual liberty, free expression, and the free flow of information. All are welcome to join and speak freely.” Richard Bowers, and all his anti-Semitic hatred, found a home on Gab.
Under Tufecki’s classification system, Gab would exist at the intersection of reputation building and anonymity. Users can post under pseudonyms, and can upvote and downvote any material that is posted. This is similar to how Reddit and Twitter operate. Tufecki notes that sites which remain anonymous lead to increased harassment and more willingness to violate social norms. The latter can be good or bad. Reputation building allows individuals to feel more confident in their beliefs, as they have a community supporting them. Gab seems ripe for a situation similar to the “Jailbait” subreddit, as both are groups with abhorrent stances, that are just continually patting themselves on the back about those stances. I worry that Gab’s, and other similar networks, continued existence leads to a rise in incidents similar to the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue.
Part of my worry stems from research done on the “incel,” or “involuntary celibate” hate group. Incels are a misogynist online community composed mostly of white, heterosexual, men who unite under a banner of entitlement to sex and hatred of people who are having sex. Incel groups grew up as subreddits, largely free from any type of scrutiny. Tufecki talks about the change in Reddit’s policy which ultimately brought the incel subreddit down in 2017. One of the most shocking things about the community was their hero-worship for Elliot Rodgers, a boy who committed seven murders in 2014, motivated by his incel beliefs. The community uses “Supreme Gentleman” to refer to Rodgers. The phrase “Going ER” has been adopted by the community to describe similar attacks that have happened since. Notable examples are the Parkland shooting, the Toronto van attack, and the yoga studio shooting. Researchers specializing in online radicalization have noted that “these kinds of forums can be dangerous and push people into violence.”
Tufecki, quoting Melvin Kranzberg, writes that “technology is neither good, nor bad, nor is it neutral.” I am curious as to how social networks effect the process by which people become radicalized. The UN put out a call for research in the area, as current research is incredibly sparse. Tufecki believes that social networking sped up the organizing process, and changed how we should think about protests. What does this tells us about communities with negative intentions?