The manner in which the media establishment conducts political discourse has always been an underhand, cloak and dagger affair. The rise of the self-proclaimed “alt-right” has been followed by a toxic, bloated tsunami of self-proclaimed political commentators and journalists that make the mainstream media seem tame and unbiased in comparison. You’ve probably heard of Milo Yiannopolous and the paedophilia scandal surrounding him, but he is just one of many talking heads. They represent the figurehead of a right-wing coup d’état attempting to weaponise the internet in order to shift all political discourse and language to the far right, drowning out any dissenting voices. Not only this, but it has come to light that the right has been making use of sophisticated technology that uses social media data to target people with individualised ads with a level of accuracy previously unheard of.
The Alt-Right has been pulled into the limelight by Robert Mercer’s propaganda empire that makes Rupert Murdoch look like an amateur. Mercer is an elusive billionaire who donated $13.5m to Donald Trump’s campaign and is the money behind the alt-right publication Breitbart who he allegedly donated over $10m too. More importantly, Mercer is behind Cambridge Analytica, a company that specialises in what they call “Behavioural micro targeting”, or as it’s more commonly known, propaganda. They have been linked to the leave campaign, providing them with ‘psychometric profiles’ based on social media data that allowed the leave campaign to target swing voters with individualised ads on Facebook. Trump’s team paid Cambridge Analytica over $6m for the same services. There is now an investigation looking into the legality of Cambridge Analytica’s involvement with the Leave campaign.
Cambridge Analytica represents one of the most sophisticated forms of propaganda humankind has developed so far. Utilising data from social media they can create a psychological profile of voters to determine what type of ad they will be most susceptible too. They claim to have roughly 5000 data points per person in the US. The terrifying aspect of this technology is that it’s not available to any political party/candidate, it’s private property of an organisation owned by a billionaire who’s anything but non-partisan. Not taking anything else into account, the advantage this represents is astronomical, the left does not have this kind of infrastructure or resources.
Breitbart is a key asset in the Alt-Rights arsenal. It’s established itself as a legitimate news site (despite being nothing of the sort), with headquarters in the US and the UK. The executive chairman of Breitbart, Steve Bannon, now sits in Trumps Cabinet holding an extremely powerful position. The only way I can describe Steve Bannon is that he is the actual personification of an old rich white man who has stuck his head (and most of his body) so far down underneath the sand that he believes other old rich white men are being oppressed.
Breitbart is different from the web of fake news websites but not independent of them. Some of its articles are relatively factual while others are obvious spin lacking any meaningful evidence. For example, Breitbart ran an article titled “The Epa’s Air pollution scare is just another fake news myth” in which their only supporting evidence was a “fact sheet” written by Steve Milloy, a lawyer associated with Tobacco company Philip Morris seeking to discredit passive smoking studies. Steve Milloy is also a climate change denier who receives money from ExxonMobil. So after failing to establish any evidence of their claims they go on to accuse the EPA of collaborating with the “liberal media” to undermine the Republican Administration and the US fossil fuel industry. That’s ‘fake news’ bordering on a conspiracy theory.
Breitbart is seeking to not only discredit the mainstream media but to replace it, it’s US audience has grown to 19 million since Trump’s election. I’m no supporter of the mainstream media, but that’s not the issue here. What Breitbart is trying to do is legitimise the alt-right narrative, which it has already achieved to an extent, and shift the window of acceptable political discussion further to the right while also propping up the Republican administration. Kurt Bardella, a former Breitbart spokesperson said, “It [Breitbart] will become the propaganda arm of the administration”.
But Breitbart is simply the top of the Iceberg, underneath the water exists an expansive ecosystem of right wing ‘fake news’ sites. Data scientist Johnathan Albright claims that “these sites have created an ecosystem of real-time propaganda” and that “this network is triggered on-demand to spread false, hyperbiased, and politically loaded information”. Albright also discovered that about 60% of the traffic was from social media sites with the other 40% of traffic being organic. Meaning that a huge portion of traffic to these sites are either coming from google, implying that these websites make the first page for a lot of searches, or the traffic comes from people who are regular readers of this site.
So I had a look at one of these “conservative news websites” called townhall.com and picked an article at random titled “You Can Tell What Leftists Are Doing By What They Accuse Conservatives Of Doing”. Now, I could spend a lot of time pointing out how deluded their arguments are and the many logical fallacies but your time would honestly be better spent watching me discuss quantum physics with a brick wall. What you should take note of is the source links in their article. Typically journalists back up their arguments with evidence, usually in the form of embedded hyperlinks. Townhall seems to feel it is somehow exempt from these basic guidelines, that they are somehow above citing evidence. One of the links that should be providing evidence that the democrats are “literally ripping the country apart” goes to an amazon page featuring a fictional novel by the author of the article. Another goes to a video of a Simpsons character standing on rakes. That gives you an indication of the quality of journalism on these websites.
Which leads us on to the growing issue of white men being radicalised online by the alt-right. Through websites like 4chan and the Subreddit Redpill sexism and white supremacism is normalised in what’s being called the “manosphere.” Trump was heralded by these communities as a “return to men being real men”. These communities are supported by the large network of alt-right websites and the echo-chamber nature of social media. They appeal to these young men’s fractured masculinity and feed their entitlement.
The rhetoric around the alt-right is usually relatively simplistic. On these social media forums there is no real nuanced discussion and evaluation of political ideas, for the most part, it’s memes and name calling. It simplifies the message and which in many cases allows people to misrepresent opposing arguments eg. feminists hate men. Yiannopolous, Tomi Lahren and other alt-right political commentators do the same thing. Yiannopolous wrote an article about how Joy Villa represents a new wave of counterculture because she is an African-American woman who supports Trump, of course, that means that the right isn’t racist. This is essentially the “I’m not racist, I have black friends” line of argument. Joy Villa’s support legitimises Donald Trump’s racism the same way Ben Carson legitimises the whitewashing of slavery. Yiannopolous has also clearly completely failed to do any proper research before he went on to hail Joy Villa as “the new punk.” It took me about five seconds to google her and discover that Joy Villa is a Scientologist. It’s not really a surprise that she came out in support of Trump, she’s a rich singer who is part of a cult, her skin colour is barely relevant. Of course, Yiannopolous is the homosexual man who said that homosexuals should get back in the closet so make of that what you will. If you’re looking for nuanced and reasoned arguments you won’t find them on Breitbart.
The Alt-right is effectively taking over the internet, a place that was previously regarded as a largely left wing space based on built on the principles of common ownership and co-operation. This is no longer true. The Alt-right have managed to translate their huge presence on the internet into victories both in the UK with Brexit and in the US with the election of Donald Trump. The left must organise an independent network of news sites to discredit the alt-right narrative and broaden the spectrum of political debate.
“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….”