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Don’t blame social media for the rise of Nazi shooters

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Social media and the dark web are being held accountable for the radicalisation of white supremacists, but there's a bigger picture (Image via pxhere.com)

There’s been an inevitable backlash against social media in the wake of the Christchurch massacre. Mainstream news organisations have been quick to jump on the bandwagon of blaming Twitter, Facebook and sections of the more obscure “dark web” for the radicalisation of young men into the political orbit of white nationalists.

However, Dr Martin Hirst argues we should not blame social media for the rise of Nazi shooters.

AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER Scott Morrison is among those calling for a “crackdown” on social media supposedly to prevent further terror incidents. He’s announced that he will take his push for social media companies to mount a global effort to ban hate speech from their platforms. We might welcome this initiative if it wasn’t coming from the same conservative politician who has recklessly campaigned on anti-Muslim rhetoric for the past decade.

The idea that social media is somehow responsible for capturing the minds of susceptible people and turning them into homicidal racist monsters is easy to grasp and it’s comfortable. It plays to a generalised anxiety about the potentially harmful effects of too much technology and it seems to offer an easy solution. However, it’s wrong to think that banning Nazis from Facebook is actually going to solve any problems.

If the technology itself is a corrupting force, then why don’t we just ban it or at least impose some proper controls mandated by a responsible authority — the Government, for example? The simplicity of this idea is its major appeal, but there is a secondary appeal in this argument, one that is very useful for politicians, mainstream media and journalists seeking to deflect any blame that might attach to them.

I am not questioning the idea that social media channels and platforms can play a role in “radicalising” some people, particularly teenagers.

There is no doubt that the perpetrator had online connections to white supremacist groups. He makes such claims in his own manifesto. However, his narrative does not support the emerging line that social media platforms were to blame for his descent into murderous fascist hatred. By his own account, extensive travel across Eastern Europe, France, Turkey and other parts of the world were important factors in shaping his world view.

The same “real world” factors are involved in shaping the nascent white nationalist and openly Nazi hate groups that are forming in Australia and other parts of the world. Sure, these organisations have online forums and secret chat groups, but that is not enough to sustain them. Nor are they sufficient conditions for them to grow and hold new recruits.

If these small fascist groups don’t go onto the streets and take action to expose their membership to brawling and political violence, they will never be able to expand their numbers or grow their influence. This is why events like Charlottesville were important for the American alt-Right. It was only the murder of Heather Heyer and the public backlash it created that stopped the rise of the U.S. Nazi movement. It is likely that if Ms Heyer had not been murdered, there would have been more marches like Charlottesville and they would have been bigger.

Fascist movements need to mobilise the keyboard warriors and train them in the martial discipline of cracking Leftist skulls. This is why the various neo-Nazi grouplets in Australia hold their periodic rallies like they did in St Kilda in January and it is why they have congregated around Senator Fraser Anning and provide him with a “security” detail.

As we witnessed when Anning came to Melbourne in March to address his new acolytes, the gang mentality of his followers kicks in and they clearly enjoyed an opportunity to stomp a 17-year-old who cracked an egg on their führer’s head. For them, it is an opportunity to demonstrate their value to a sponsor like Anning, but more importantly, it helps the leadership to show younger members and new recruits that they are serious in following up their angry rhetoric with violent actions.

Gatherings like these are necessary because the fascist political project is violence in the service of their ruling class masters. Fascists are only useful to the powerful when they can be controlled and directed at targets like Left-wing organisations, trade unions and those elements of civil society that continue to oppose the austerity measures necessary to keep capital and capitalism afloat.

Conservative politicians hate having to openly condemn fascists (fine people on both sides) because they know that there is value in using them during moments of crisis. At the same time, the news media is, by-and-large, incapable of making or understanding a sophisticated political argument about the rise of fascist ideologies and the causes. Editors and journalists are also reluctant to accept any responsibility themselves for repeating and amplifying the conservatives’ dog whistle political messaging that normalises hatred of foreigners (particularly Muslims and dark-skinned people).

We have seen this very clearly in the week since the March 15 attacks in Christchurch. Morrison’s “even-handed” speeches and comments regarding unity and “tribalism” have been favourably reported. It is these comments that garner front page attention while commentary exposing his earlier divisive comments about Muslim immigration is downplayed. Pauline Hanson has been quickly rehabilitated, too, even though Fraser Anning was a member of her party when he was bumped into the Senate. We’ve also been treated to the spectacle of newspapers like the Herald Sun in Melbourne and Daily Telegraph in Sydney offering sympathetic front-page coverage of victims of the Christchurch shootings like this.

Perhaps the editors were hoping that we would forget the years of anti-Muslim rage that these Murdoch papers have carried on the front-page over the last 20 years, like the following, for example.

Alex McKinnon's thread on this issue is worth reading through. He documents very well the Daily Telegraph's proud history of anti-Muslim front pages.

Don’t worry, normal transmissions will resume shortly, as they did on Sky News. Less than 72 hours after Christchurch, former Northern Territory Chief Minister (and former Sky News host) Adam Giles was on the cable network calling for a clampdown on social media promoting hate speech. It’s almost as if the network chiefs have already forgotten that Giles lost his on-air role because of the backlash against his very soft interview with Australia’s leading Nazi, Blair Cottrell. Remember, Giles was back on air a couple of months after his suspension. We can expect a similar return to regular programming very soon this time, too.

In this case, usual business is returning to the rhetoric of border security and community safety as quickly as possible and spinning the Christchurch attacks into the Government’s re-election strategy. The media plays along with this because that is the game they know well and are most comfortable with. But there’s also another reason that the news media plays along — journalists share the broad world view of the Government and they support the State. The Fourth Estate is no longer holding power to account, it is presenting power’s account as the one true faith.

In the aftermath of an event like the Christchurch mosque attacks, when the public is demanding answers and action, politicians and media have a tendency to come together in common cause and that is to deflect the blame away from themselves. This is why social media presents an easy target under such circumstances.

If the Nazis and white supremacists were to stay comfortably ensconced behind their keyboards, making racist memes they would be relatively easy to ignore. I know they’re on 4chan, and 8chan and Gab, but I don’t have to go to those places and keep an eye on them. While they are only talking to themselves they are only hurting themselves, but when they become sufficiently motivated that they embark on a murderous rampage they present a real-world problem.

Clamping down on social media is exactly what the Surveillance State wants. It would be a cover to launch even more intrusive backdoor spyware to monitor all of us, not just incipient Nazi “fan bois”. The real problem is not Nazi incels on social media, it is Nazi incels who are motivated to leave their houses and gather in numbers on a street near you.

You can follow Dr Martin Hirst on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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