Here’s a term that’s messing with our thinking: election denier. As the midterm race enters its final weeks, that phrase is turning up in political reporting as if election deniers were some sort of naturally-occurring demographic group. But election deniers weren’t born, like redheads or southpaws; they were bred. Ideas travel through people. And so when you read a New York Times Siena poll like the one released recently that showed that 41% of Republicans and 28% of all the registered voters they polled have little or no faith in the results of this year’s midterms, that’s no accident. People spread that doubt with intent.
Likewise, we sometimes blame technology for the spread of hateful content and ideologies online, but when New York Attorney General Letitia James looked into the Buffalo Tops Market massacre, she called out one individual for having recorded the murderer’s livestream of his attack and spreading that recording to the web. The massacre video didn’t spread organically or by virtue of the technology. It spread because a person spread it, and that person had help.
AG James’s five-month investigation, which was initiated by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, also revealed new details about the fringe message board 4chan, which posted the massacre tape before any other site and allowed 382 shares of it to stay up for weeks after the attack. 4chan moderators told investigators that violent and hateful content is openly permitted on some of their message boards and the people behind 4chan took no responsibility for that.
To underscore: it’s no accident. Not nature, not the weather, or god; people spread hateful ideas and corrosive content, and people who stand to profit.
At 4 chan, between the upload and the spread, were the people who used specific algorithms to keep users on their platform by serving up content that kept them hooked.
Likewise, in our politics, it sounds obvious to say it, but certain people stand to profit from throwing doubt on our democracy because elected officials make rules about things like discrimination and working conditions; electeds who decide to regulate emissions and rights; and our governments that make laws that require adherence, and (sometimes) truth-telling, and tax. And certain people have reasons to want to weaken all of that.
Abstractions take the people out of the picture of our politics and our culture and it’s people who have to put people, and their reasons, back.
You can catch my interview with award-winning reporter Soledad O’Brien about how she recommends reporting on liars, by subscribing to the free podcast of the Laura Flanders Show, or catch the program on hundreds of PBS stations. Go to LauraFlanders.org for more information.