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Social media: the new force against fascism

I’m tired of feeling guilty every time I tap the Facebook icon. Millennial and Gen Z cohorts have been bombarded with anti-social media messages since its relatively recent advent. Horrifying statistics about social media usage. Scientific studies. Reports of cyberbullying. The evidence seems to suggest that social media is designed to drive us to despair, but then rare instances emerge where it’s made a positive, meaningful difference to the real world. One of these is the cancellation and overall ridicule of American and Canadian organisation Proud Boys.

For those who are blessedly unfamiliar with this group, its focus is on white nationalism, although what they officially stand for is hard to pinpoint. What can be said is that members of the group have committed acts in its name which showcase racism, Islamophobia, misogyny and transphobia. The Guardian, earlier this month, revealed that a number of US agencies such as the Colorado Information Analysis Center (CIAC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center have defined Proud Boys as a white supremacy group. Having done some research, I would suggest that they are a cult. No organisation I’ve heard of has required its members to pledge to masturbate only once a month. You can’t make this up. 

One has to question why Twitter ever allowed Proud Boys a social media platform in the first place. Why they would give a public platform to such a clearly toxic influence (to their credit, they recently posted a ‘misleading information’ warning over one of Trump’s tweets about COVID-19, so they’re not as naïve as they pretend). Given the power of social media – with its potential to showcase information, mislead and influence – to these people feels a bit like packing a machete in your child’s lunchbox. 

Detractors will claim the prerogative of free speech. This is nonsense. One of my first year philosophy classes focused on this: this pig-headed notion that hate speech can be legitimised by our innate right to open our mouths and expel air however we please. When what we say impinges on the freedom of others – such as hate speech which degrades and devalues groups of people – we are no longer free to say it, let alone tweet it.

In these times of COVID-19, the civically responsible thing to do is not to go out and physically protest against the Proud Boys. It’s easy to feel politically impotent, sitting in your house making banana bread while listening to interminable election updates. And that’s what has brought the Proud Boys back into the public gaze: Trump refusing to decry them during the first debate.

Trump, in an amusingly estranged moment from reality, blamed ‘Antifa and the Left’ for the civil unrest and violence in America, suggesting that Proud Boys should ‘stand by’. The lack of open condemnation shocked many, and caused George Takei to have a characteristic moment of genius.

‘What if gay guys took photos of themselves making out or doing other very gay things, then tagged themselves with #ProudBoys. I bet it would mess them up real bad. #ReclaimingMyShine’ he tweeted on October 2nd. And that’s exactly what Twitter users did last weekend. Posts varied from the tender to the political to the absurd. Proud Boys claimed to be unbothered by this campaign, but it is very satisfying in and of itself to know that when they are searched, this explosion of love and rights will represent them. 

Twitter officially cancelled Proud Boys in 2018. In 2020, Proud Boys just got cancelled again. Not exactly a triumph of love over hate, but a moment of clarity amongst the all-consuming political madness.

Image: Becker1999 via Flickr