I feel like I’m having a weird relationship with the way that news media is being handled. As an observer, since I don’t work as a journalist, I feel like I’m more capable of watching the impacts of what is being done than the people producing it; I also feel like my conflict of interest is decreased, as many of them are pursuing clicks and views. This sounds like an insult, but I don’t mean it to be one.
This click-and-view culture is a bit problematic; for many journalists and creators, this is how they survive within their career. Getting these enables them to have more opportunities to cover other stories or participate in coverage that they might not be able to work with otherwise. This is the environment that has been created for – not by – them to have their work presented. If it doesn’t gain enough clicks or views, they don’t get paid and may lose access to the platform they’ve been given. I don’t fault them for this because it has become a major part of their job, but it does take away time from seeing how their work is impacting their audience.
And I feel like this should be a major consideration of the work that is created by anyone in media, regardless of the form (video games, movies, television, books, and so on). They should have to focus on the impacts of what they’re doing or whether or not the intentions they have are being met rather than accidentally creating a platform for people who don’t need one. But I am aware that there are people who do this and are very good about doing it; Sarah Kendzior is probably one of my top journalists, and she is incredibly cautious about how and what she reports. I would argue, however, that the industry itself has been lacking in caution while specific and individual journalists have been taking on this duty of care that the system has forgotten it needs to do.
What I’m talking about, in particular, is allowing people like Tomi Lahren, Kellyanne Conway, Milo Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer, and so on to access platforms that enable them reach more people. We’ve seen articles written about interviews with these “dapper and polite” neo-nazis, we’ve had people mourning Milo’s “right to free speech” (while being incredibly silent as one of his supporters shot a protester in the stomach), we’ve had “liberal” satirical comedy shows asking for Tomi to come on so they can “roast” her (but providing her more time to speak and gain a following because she’s “so likeable”), and traditional news networks allowing Kellyanne to lie (then lie about her previous lies in the form of so-called apologies) and go completely unchecked (or trying to call her out but giving her three-quarters of the segment to lie about everything rather than just cutting her mic like they do to women of colour that they disagree with).
For years, we’ve had people talking about “journalistic integrity.” The unfortunate thing is that the people discussing this were focusing on stories that defamed people from marginalised communities; we saw that GamerGate pretended to make an attempt to talk about “journalistic integrity,” but they actually focused on abusing Zoe Quinn because of nonsense her ex released. As the “movement” went on, they focused on many other prominent women (and any of their supporters, regardless of following, were harassed along the way – I should know, as I managed with my small following to have a ridiculous number of pro-GamerGaters in my mentions and inboxes). Statistically, GamerGate’s goals were nothing more than testing the water for fascism and white nationalism. How far could you push before someone did something?
They merged with or created various MRA and PUA groups, which continued this project. The same sorts of men who are on forums like Roosh V’s are the same people who persist in harassing women. That literally is his stated goal. (And every time the media covers people like Roosh, Milo, and Richard? The media loves using pictures that show men who could be kind, polite, and attractive! They receive humanising imagery despite the fact they seek to systematically remove the humanity of groups they don’t like and are utlising oppressive language to incite violence.)
People who didn’t need a voice – both because they were misusing it to spew oppressive language and because it they were talking over people who were genuinely affected by the issues being discussed – were given space to harass people in the name of “journalistic integrity.” Having met and discussed GamerGate with academics who were attempting to archive video games and lost support as a result of the misogynist movement, I can safely say that their desires were anything but journalistic integrity or an improvement in ethics; their goal was to silence the people they disagreed with for “infiltrating” their hobby (while neglecting to realise that we were always there, and they were the ones who infiltrated our communities to harass us). Instead, they decided to divert traffic and essentially steal content, hurting people they disagreed with.
A lot of what happened in GamerGate happened again, except this time it mobilised a population of people outside of nerd culture (which has always had its own problems with neo-nazis and fascists, despite the recurring theme of Nazis Are Bad that they keep ignoring in their favourite media). They were clearly the antecedent to the election of POTUS 45 and his white supremacist administration; they insisted that we allow Milo Yiannoupolis his “right to free speech” (and freedom from the consequences), despite the fact that they were quick to silence groups like Black Lives Matter or scream over women talking about sexism. In fact, they love to do this while being simultaneously sexist, racist, and Islamophobic in their comparisons of women in the West who are “whiny” and “over-sensitive” while there’s “real suffering in Islamic countries” that they’ve vaguely heard about on the news. They use male abuse victims to gaslight women who are talking about issues while doing absolutely nothing to help them, and they ignore very real and very scary statistics about how many women (and people) are hurt or killed through domestic violence. They also really love using male abuse victims to gaslight women while doing absolutely nothing to help the victims their using.
And because of all of this, I’m confused about how media is going to continue covering these actions that show clear fascism without accidentally supporting it. In 1988, Oprah Winfrey had skinheads/neo-nazis on her show in an effort to show her viewers how tragically ignorant, hateful, and grotesque they are. The problem? She accidentally gave them a platform that helped them build their following, which she has since admitted in an explanation for why she never did it again. She realised that, by letting them speak for even a moment, she was giving them more power to reach an audience; you’d think that it would be the other way around, but it’s not. It’s a form of validation for people who already have tendencies leaning toward similar views (the same was seen with sitcoms like All in the Family and satirical comedy like the Colbert Report).
This is due to our natural inclination to engage in “selective perception.” We perceive or “see” things – in this case, the media we consume – in ways that are more in line with our frame of reference and experiences. While left-leaning people are more inclined to see the absurdity in the characters of Stephen Colbert and Archie Bunker and understand the intent of the jokes, people who are more ideologically similar are going to feel validated by their existence. This is also why many people have spoken out against rape jokes when they use the victims as the punchline; rapists/PUAs are more inclined to feel validated when they see people laugh at them. (They are, however, funny when the right target it is in the punchline: rapists, enablers, and rape culture.)
It’s also because oppressive language is inherently violent. You may not be directly harming people, but you’re still inciting the violence that takes place. We’ve seen this throughout history; we’ve watched this happen a number of times. The most egregious example of this is Pizzagate, where a shooter was so influenced by fake news about Hillary Clinton that he went to a pizzeria “to rescue children” and shot off an assault rifle (thankfully hurting no one).
And because oppressive language is violence and language can be weaponised to hurt, that’s why I feel that the media needs to start denying access to their platforms for people who are willing to do that. We shouldn’t be allowing Kellyanne Conway with the ability to try to talk her way out of the Bowling Green Massacre (which did happen, just in the 1600s to Native Americans – she wouldn’t ever want to talk about that, even in a history class) and call it a “mistake.” We shouldn’t be providing Richard Spencer with the opportunity to happily talk about himself and his goals for a “peaceful ethnic cleansing” (an oxymoron, as ethnic cleansing is never peaceful), nor should we allow him or anyone else to even ask if human society “needs the Black race.” This is also particularly true because we’ve seen that 45’s favourite news network is already doing the same, as they rid themselves of George Will who was definitely not known for his support of the Trump administration (while making a questionable decision in deciding to sign pro-Trump, Brexit-liar Nigel Farage). [Update: We also recently learned about family ties to the Murdochs, as Ivanka recently stepped down as from her position of trustee for one of his daughters.]
We’ve had so many people explaining these concepts, and many of them have been women of colour (particularly black women). So to end this, here’s a quote from Toni Morrison during her Nobel Lecture:
The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek – it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language – all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.
*Bolding is mine.