Andrew Marine Supremacy Has Been A Stable And Enduring Ideal History

The writer of the magazine ‘The New Yorker’ talks, in this interview, about white nationalism and its relationship with social networks

Before November 2016 few journalists in the United States paid much attention to altright trolls the so called altright whose ecosystems were social media

These influencers mostly young and male learned to capitalize on the algorithms of Twitter and Facebook to multiply false conspiratorial and racist messages in favor of Donald Trump After the election they celebrated the presidents victory as their own

Andrew Marantz a 36yearold New Yorkborn writer has been investigating these white supremacist groups for more than four years Although they do not have an official chair in the White House they still have the implicit support of the president

In the first presidential debate when moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump to openly reject one of these groups the white nationalists called the Proud Boys the president evaded the invitation Stand back and wait he replied ambiguously Within seconds the group celebrated online by promoting Tshirts with Trumps statement

Earlier this year Marantz who is a journalist for The New Yorker magazine published the book Antisocial How Online Extremists Breaked Up America

The book asks existential questions about the limits of freedom of expression in the United States and the ideologies within companies such as Facebook or Twitter that allowed the rise of the alternative right in the United States

Question In 2016 when you started following various altright personalities like Mike Cernovich your colleagues were telling you to please dont feed those trolls just ignore them and they would disappear

But you decided not to ignore them because they had recognized that social media was creating a power hole that could be exploited What did they know to explode

Answer The first thing that struck me about these people was not that they were interesting or intelligent but that they had developed a skill that was to become dominant in our time

They were able to identify where old media structures were disintegrating and how they could create new infrastructures to replace them and gain attention

That dont feed the trolls mentality presupposes the following They are not saying something that matters they are not saying anything smart so lets wait for a better argument to prevail over them That presupposes that the market for ideas is functional and that the truth will eventually take advantage But this is not the case

Q You explain that these trolls could not exploit that vacuum without the help of some guardians the owners of social networks in Silicon Valley How were the ideologies of these two worlds connected

RIt was difficult for me to tell the story of the altright without that other side Its hard to tell the story of those who are winning on social media without thinking about who the gatekeepers of social media are So part of my interest was to tell the story of how the people who founded social media between 2004 and 2005 the people who founded Facebook and Reddit and Twitter had an ideology that said The market of ideas is like the market economic and thats why its going to regulate itself magically its going to fix itself we just have to create more freedom and not worry about it Thats a fantasy in economics and I think thats a fantasy on social media too

But systems do not fix themselves nothing is purely neutral So if you dont have a plan things are going to go very wrong If the plan is only we maximize freedom and that which coincidentally is going to make us a lot of money will be for the common good and magically the world will go to a better place because that is a very bad plan

So many of those men because they are mostly men never thought about this topic beyond that They were making a lot of money they were on the cover of magazines and everyone was very excited about them

There was no cultural reaction against them there were very few critics So they had all the freedom for a decade and then these deep structural flaws which were always there started to become apparent By the time their platforms helped to turn stable democracies into failed states or into cases of genocide it was too late

That is the utopia they lived in the idea that freedom is something wonderful nothing bad is going to come from this For me there is the heart of the problem

P This presidential campaign due to the pandemic is also played a lot on social networks How have companies like Facebook changed in these four years

A They have made some very specific changes They have addressed some loopholes on Facebook although they havent always enforced the new rules

For example before this year they did not have an antimilitia policy They had other policies that they sometimes used to curb the militias but they didnt have a specific rule against them

In August they put a rule that says If you are an armed group that promotes or glorifies violence you have no right to be on Facebook But then there were a number of militia pages that didnt shut down including one in Kenosha Wisconsin where a white boy ended up murdering protesters So they make a rule change which is a small one which doesnt satisfy the critics and then its not clear how much they are adhering to them

But the underlying problem is that these social networks are fundamentally built to maximize peoples attention and the time they spend on social networks and that has not changed

The way these algorithms maximize peoples attention is by making them feel indignant or fearful or positive emotions as well but its all through emotional manipulation If that underlying problem does not change the rest is simply to bandage the edges

Q What about Twitter Because there is the impression that Twitter has been more politically active against Trump or the altright than Facebook

A Yes Twitter has done more but we are measuring them with very low criteria If you take Trump for example there are rules that both Facebook and Twitter have said that no one can break even the president Then he rapes them

Then Facebook does nothing and Twitter does almost nothing Maybe on Twitter they are a little better but they have never downloaded any of their tweets they have simply put a message that says Alert this is a dangerous lie Well they dont even say that They say something like Get the facts right about voting by mail

There is a side of me that wants to acknowledge that they have done at least that because it is difficult But I think it is important to remember that we have set the bar very low on what can be done

Q One of the conspiracy theories during this campaign has been the famous QAnon which is very similar to what was known in 2016 as pizzagate in which it was said that Hillary Clinton exploited children in a pizzeria How are these two moments connected

A They are exactly the same theory QAnon is simply a bigger and more severe version of what pizzagate was This is why I tell people that if they see that one of those altright figures suddenly left it doesnt mean that the movement has disappeared or that the dynamics of that movement have disappeared

Some of the people I talk about in my book may have been banned from one platform or another But here the important thing is not the individuals but the systems and dynamics that have been formed and those things have not changed significantly in these years

QAnon is a great example One could say Well now we are better because there is no talk of pizzagate But thats because it metastasized into something bigger more heinous more violent I cannot predict what the next conspiracy theory will explode or who will be the new leader of an extremist group But if we dont change the structures these things will continue to happen

Q How close are members of the altright now to Donald Trump

A Honestly I think Donald Trump is a person who literally watches Fox News all day So I think he only talks to people on the phone who are from Fox News or rich old men from New York I dont think he spends a lot of time probing people in his political coalition because I dont think he has the curiosity or energy

But I think there are people in the Trump movement who are connected to the altright movement People like presidential adviser Stephen Miller and white supremacist Richard Spencer were good friends in college

I think Miller is smart enough not to be talking to Spencer publicly But do you read what Spencers think tanks put out Who knows But there are certain ideological coalitions that remain intact Well white supremacy has been a permanent idea a stable and enduring idea in American history

So you dont need to organize retreats to keep that idea alive Its how America was built its an idea thats easy to keep alive

Q One of the people you interviewed for your book is named Laura Loomer who could win a seat in the Florida legislative elections Who is she

A Honestly he is one of the most unhinged people in my book I could never have predicted that she would be a person with a chance of winning a seat in Congress She is completely Islamophobic has really extreme and horrible ideas conspiracy theories and is very impulsive

It does not succeed in not being banned on almost all social networks for violating the rules Normally if you live off social networks part of what you have to do is manage to stay on social networks And she doesnt seem to be very good at it

But she laughs last because now she campaigns with Lara Trump and manages to be nominated for Congress by the Republican Party in her district For me this shows that the Republican Party is already a failed experiment

Part of what Im trying to show in the book is thatreductio ad absurdum They are a demonstration of how absurd things can get I dont see how one can feel good about the status of a political party after seeing something like this

Q Who is going to win the election and how can misinformation affect the outcome

A I unfortunately won a lot of bets in the last election I felt bad about it so this year Im not making bets But what worries me most honestly more than Trump is reelected are the weeks or months after the election if no one knows yet what the result was

Lets imagine Fox News announces that Trump won the election Immediately you have 30something percent of the country that is going to believe that to be true and then if in the following days more votes by mail are counted and it is said that in reality that was not correct and that Bidenwon what worries me is that it is too late

Because part of what my book says is that people accept the version of reality they want to accept They will not always accept the version of reality that is the real one If they saw a picture on television saying that Trump won and then six days later an election official says that is not true they are simply going to choose to believe the former

Because thats what they want to believe Thats what worries me I am concerned that citizens may not even be able to agree on the outcome of the elections

There is nothing in the Constitution that says that Fox News has to give an exact announcement on election night They can do whatever they want and well see what happens

And if there are many people who have weapons and who patrol the streets trying not to count all the votes who is going to stop them from doing that We should have a much stronger tradition to monitor elections Not having it has to do with American exceptionalism which makes us believe we dont need it But we do need it

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