29 07 18

Conspiracy Grifters

Mike Cernovich can’t be fired. Cernovich has a lengthy history of peddling conspiracy theories, leading online harassment campaigns, and getting others fired but part of the reason he’s able to do that is because Cernovich himself is unhirable. He makes a living from self-published content and crowdfunded donations. Even Fox News won’t put him on their airwaves as a commentator. His inability to do anything other than self-financed work is also his strength in that it makes him practically untouchable. The same is true for Alex Jones and a host of other alt-right and alt-lite figures. Their inability to make a living any other way frees them from most of the repercussion for their actions.

It’s always fascinating to watch Cernovich in particular at work. Generally he picks targets that are difficult to defend, quickly isolates them, and gets his online followers worked up into a frenzy before any corporate PR firm has time to Google who he even is. Cernovich understands the importance of speed and momentum on the Internet better than anyone. Once a target’s employer figures out who’s behind the attack, it’s much easier to dismiss a Cernovich firestorm. His skill is getting one of his attacks to hit critical mass and move beyond him before that happens.

The main thing Cernovich and Jones etc. need in order to practice their craft are their platforms. The Internet made their rise to fame and notoriety possible. Social media helped them build an audience, crowdfunding helped them get paid, and ecommerce tools help them hawk products to their millions of fans. The Internet could also break them but for the most part it has shown reluctance to do so.

At least where Alex Jones is concerned, the public’s tolerance of his conspiracy mongering may have also hit critical mass. Ever since Facebook failed to articulate to reporter Oliver Darcy why it hadn’t banned Infowars despite Jones’ repeated attacks on Sandy Hook families and Parkland student survivors, the fallout has ballooned. (It didn’t help when Zuckerberg appeared to defend Holocaust deniers’ right to spread similar conspiracy theories on the platform.) Other companies have faced similar pressure and YouTube responded by taking some of Jones’ more egregious videos down as well as suspending his ability to livestream on the platform.

The families of Sandy Hook victims, who have suffered years of abuse and dehumanization from Jones and his ilk penned an open letter to Zuckerberg this week. Their ask was shocking both in how little they want and how staggering it is that six years after the tragic mass shooting, Facebook hasn’t already done these things:

“If your goal is truly to provide protection to us and remove dangerous and malicious content quickly, may we suggest the following:

  • Treat victims of mass shootings and other tragedies as a protected group, such that attacks on them are specifically against Facebook policy.
  • Provide affected people with access to Facebook staff who will remove hateful and harassing posts against victims immediately.

On Friday, Facebook finally responded to the public outcry and suspended Jones for 30 days.

My sense is that the public’s tolerance for Cernovich, Jones, etc. is coming to an end. If tech companies continue to give them a platform to spread disinformation and harassment, there are going to be consequences. More and more consumers are going to ask themselves why they should trust their online lives to companies who won’t protect their most vulnerable users. Tech’s PR problems aren’t going away until the families of Sandy Hook and Parkland get more consideration than Alex Jones.

The Internet has the power to fire Cernovich. He might be able to take down a Hollywood director here and there but he can’t swim against the tide forever. Something’s gotta give.

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Netroots Nation

I’ll be in New Orleans for Netroots Nation this week. You can see me speak on the two panels listed below. If you’re at the conference and see me around be sure to say hello. I love meeting and talking with CARD readers. You’re an awesome bunch!

Friday, Aug. 3 4:15 PM, Room: 220/221

Saturday, Aug. 4 9:00 AM, Room: 220/221


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