Another day, another seemingly harmless symbol you cant use without appearing to be a purveyor of hate.
The alt-rights latest trophy is the OK hand sign, which was officially recognised as a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League over the weekend. And on Tuesday, it was reported that a Universal Orlando Resort employee was fired after concerned parents found a photo of him making the hand sign on their six-year-olds shoulder (their child is biracial and has autism).
The OK sign joins a number of surprising symbols co-opted by the alt-right, such as the milk emoji, Pepe the frog and even, at one point, Taylor Swift.
Sometimes, trolls choices are far-fetched and innocuous the milk emoji was appropriated because of the allegedly superior ability of white people to drink milk (large numbers of people in the rest of the world are lactose intolerant). But the transformation of mundane symbols into something to be feared is part of a broader aim to garner media attention, and getting one up on the people they think theyre fooling.
Reporters dont always understand that [trolls] seek media attention when they see something get media uptake, they capitalise on it, says Dr Joan Donovan, a media manipulation expert who is the director of Harvards Technology and Social Change (TaSC) Research Project.
She explains how these media manipulators see an opportunity for example, when something goes viral or becomes popular and choose it as a moment to insert themselves into the conversation. In the case of the Facebook Trash Doves sticker, for example, 4chan users noticed the cartoon go viral and sent out the rallying cry: Lets make this normie meme a Nazi symbol!
The trolls have a laugh when the journalists are fooled
With this process, they flex their muscles, showing that what the Lord giveth, the alt-right can take away. And its done through elaborate means, too: with Trash Doves, 4chan-users began to photoshop swastikas on to the viral Facebook cartoon. Sometimes theyre even more sophisticated, creating fake content cards like that of the ADLs. They circulate the content online through social media, leaving it out as bait for undiscerning journalists who perpetuate the hoax by writing about it as if it is an authentic hate-threat.
This is their trick: they are hoping journalists will uncritically look at the OK symbol, find these infographics that claim it stands for white power and then write about it. The trolls have a laugh when the journalists are fooled, says Donovan.
These become symbols of hate pretty much exclusively because of journalistic coverage, says Wendy Phillips, who wrote This is Why We Cant Have Nice things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture.
Ultimately, this a game about power: if rightwing trolls can make the so-called liberal media look gullible, then it has a delegitimising effect, supporting the idea that journalists are oversensitive, easily triggered snowflakes. Soon enough, the news begins to feels like it belongs to a parody website rather than real life.
What memes do is they create in-groups and out-groups. The in-groups know its satirical, the out-groups think its something to fear, says Donovan.
Part of the effect is to make you think that white supremacists could be everywhere, hiding in plain sight. If someone as important as the president could be one of them Trump likes to flash the gesture when he speaks who else is? Heck, maybe youre a white supremacist, because the last time you sent an OK emoji you were unwittingly signalling your belief in the superiority of the white race.
At some point, life begins to imitate their art, and what began as a media hoax takes on dangerously radical connotations. This point came when the Australian man charged with killing 51 people at mosques in New Zealand, made the OK gesture during a courtroom appearance after being arrested.
Phillips says even if stories written about these memes are incredulous or mocking, they might help the cause, since media attention is what those groups are after.
Many of us tend to be very fascinated in the bad guys themselves which is understandable but they are the smallest part of the story, she says.
So what does this mean for journalists? Phillips argues that media organisations cant ever truly separate themselves from the amplification of white nationalists if they have to report on them.
Instead, she advocates for the media to shift the camera away from the white supremacists and focus on its real victims. That means looking at its impact on minority communities in places like Texas, and on the people who live in the small towns that neo-Nazis turn up in. It means highlighting the toxic resentment of women that the patriarchal ideology of white nationalism results in, and what it feels like for a mother to have white supremacists take her daughter away.
Ultimately, it means reporting the news but in a different way, says Phillips: I dont think the media shouldnt tell the truth, you should just tell a bigger truth: about the impact of these behaviours, instead of just reporting on the genesis of them.
The rest is here:
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