We’re far past the moment when we can just point to the people who are doing it. They couldn’t be doing it without their base, so we’re also far past the moment when we should hold the supporters accountable too.
I’ve screened my friendships best I can for racists and fascists–there’s a line that’s unforgivable to cross, and I won’t be associated in any way with those people, no matter who they are, no matter how long I’ve known them. I still have friends who have conservative values, who argue against government spending, who are climate deniers, who value their religious beliefs over a woman’s right to choose, but hey, they are not racists and fascists that I know of. Bring the discussion points, and if you have them, the votes. I held the others accountable and took personal responsibility for what’s around me and banished them: dropkicked them to fuckin’ Mars, as a former CEO of a company I used to work for liked to say.
The problem is that there are a lot of those kinds of people still appearing on my social media timelines front and center in the comments of friends who haven’t done the same. It’s a problem because social media is nothing but a network effect–it’s amplification and repetition and oxygen and agency and platform for information and for misinformation, for truth and for lies, for love and for hate, and for people who truly support the democratic republic that is our country and for the fascists and racists who are trying to bring us down to becoming an authoritarian regime. I started blocking those friends of friends, pulled back from it to see if it was maybe me instead of them, and now that I see the effect again, I’m going back to the block button. Was a whole lot happier when I didn’t see what was under the rock.
Here’s one example of why: high school friend, has always been on the right, even the extreme right, but most people I know from high school are still friends with him here because we all grew up together. He’s the kind of guy that shows up immediately on Facebook posts to argue; if you post “hope,” he comes on and says “well what about…” and the conversation immediately changes to the extreme right topic he’s pushing rather than hope. And my friends allow this because, sometimes, they enjoy the quixotic fight to change his mind (they never will), but mostly because they don’t know how far back into the sewer this guy is reaching for his views.
In this case, we only have to look at his Twitter account to see that he follows the most vile racists, fascists and authoritarians available on digital media, and that even his own account is considered toxic by independent services like BotSentinel (see below) that measure for extreme behaviors. So the bottom line is that this guy is a conduit for the worst political and social positions in the world–neo-Nazi organizations, white supremacist organizations, insurgent militias openly calling for civil war–directly to the timelines of my friends who would never consider associating with a person from those groups. Follow the rabbit hole and it gets even worse than what I have described here, all the way back to the Russian military intelligence troll farms that produce the ideas and the content to begin with. He gets a pass though because he often says stuff with an innocent smile and after all, the’s just the guy from town we grew up with.
This has a incredibly corrosive effect on people and their opinions, and further, turns everyone who allows this on their wall to be a megaphone for ideas they would never allow or subscribe to. My friends who still tolerate this from their friends may say that it has no effect on them, and maybe it doesn’t; but one thing I know about social media is, you never know who else is reading silently in the background, and what effect it has on them. Sometimes you only have to follow the ‘share’ path to see how far it goes.
I see this over and over and over again…another friend who allows pandemic misinformation from an executive in the healthcare industry who is likely profiteering off of the government’s inadequate response, plus someone who is clearly in the KKK, both in the same comment thread in the same post. It’s all over the place and it’s very sad that while we bemoan the spread of extremist ideas, we won’t do the very sane and simple things we need to do to stop it. Honestly it’s no different than refusing to put on a mask.
So, I’m back to the block button, level 1, when I see those people pop up in the comments. And in some cases, it may come to a broader unfollow button as well. Step by step until it’s done, because this cannot stand.