liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
[personal profile] liv
One of the great things about the internet is that you get to meet people who are not like you. But that's also one of the problems with the internet; I live a fairly sheltered life and I am in the habit of assuming that most people I interact with generally share most of my values, to the extent of, say, holding broadly egalitarian views. Of course, this is not actually the case!

On Facebook I "friend" just about anyone I've ever interacted with in person more than superficially. So it's a lot of more or less distant relatives, a lot of former colleagues (I'm a bit careful about friending current colleagues), a lot of people I've known and worked with in various Jewish communities across the UK and Scandinavia, some people I've met at conferences, workshops and so on. And my FB feed tends to show really quite a lot of nastiness. Sexist jokes, some quite harmless, on the "naughty postcard" level, but some a lot more actively misogynist and anyway the mass of them tends to get quite wearing. Racist comments, mostly joking; anti-black racism is not acceptable in even my broader circles but people feel free to say just about anything about Gypsies and Muslims (Islam isn't a race!) People picking up and repeating mainstream media and political establishment divide-and-rule rhetoric about asylum seekers, benefit "cheats", "scroungers" etc.

Increasingly it's not just this merely offensive / nasty stuff, it's ultra-nationalist memes and shares. Some of it I'm fairly sure is genuinely innocent; lots of people who aren't British don't know what the BNP is, let alone Britain First. And lots of people who aren't really internet savvy just see something cute or funny or "click like if you are in favour of motherhood and apple-pie" and have no idea that passing this stuff on improves the ranking of ultra-nationalist and hate groups' pages. I posted the following message as a FB status, and it seems to have attracted lots of likes and approval rather than anger, so maybe I'm helping a bit:
I'm friends with people from several different countries and backgrounds here on FB, so I am going to point out something that may be obvious to many of you. The BNP (British National Party) is a far-right hate group. So is the EDL (English Defence League). Britain First is a splinter group from the BNP with more of a clue how to use social media. I don't want to get into a pointless pedantic argument about whether their economic views are literally "fascist" but at the very least they have a lot of neo-Nazi and otherwise violently racist fellow travellers.

I am finding it very upsetting to see their stuff in my Facebook feed. I don't have any reason to believe that most people who share this stuff are actually in favour of extremism and violence against people like me and my friends, which is why I'm making this post.
If you're actually making an informed decision to promote these groups, then I doubt anything I can say is going to convince you. However, if you just enjoy the content, can you perhaps look to other sources for your memes and shares? A lot of the time the content isn't original to these groups anyway, they're just putting up news stories from the mainstream media, common internet memes or random photos on their FB page to garner likes.

You may think you're posting "isn't this cute?", but how it comes across is, "isn't this cute, and by the way I want people like you denied rights, beaten up, deported or killed." I would rather not see a lot of messages like that when I log on to FB.
Still, I am worried that people are supporting the BNP and related groups because they actually hate foreigners and immigrants. Or maybe I always have known people with seriously xenophobic views but they're finding it more acceptable to express those views in public lately. And no, the problem is not purely FB, it's just more visible there because it's so much set up for sharing link-baity images.

Among my closer social circle, the people I generally expect to hold similar values to me even if we don't completely align politically, people are worrying that we're getting too obsessed with showing our allegiance by posting political rants or mockery of tabloid / right-wing views. This stuff is only reaching people who already agree, it's not contributing anything to the general discourse. Indeed, there's some suggestion that anger and mockery helps extremist groups because their potential supporters feel misunderstood and despised by those they perceive as well-off, highly educated and generally privileged.

[personal profile] cryptogirl posted this magnificent rant in the context of the recent election. She points out:
The problem with having a bubble where people shout things that their friends agree with is that nobody else will automatically either care or understand. How many things did you see go by your feeds explaining the elections in any detail- the candidates, what they actually do, their impact on the humble average voter?
She also reinforces the view which I think many of my friends share, as do I, that:
But I do have many friends, and indeed partners, who have different views to my own. That's cool, bro. We can agree to disagree [...] You may have political views diametrically opposed to me. But I generally value friendship over angsting about how you feel about the economy/immigrants.

Along similar lines, though much more measured rather than ranty, the excellent Kate Griffin argues against the idea that you absolutely have to share what’s already being shared and get angry about what everybody else is getting angry about. She makes some excellent points about what is rewarded by attention in social media, versus what's actually socially valuable. I don't in fact use Twitter in the way she's complaining about, so I don't feel the need to make a commitment that I'll only post links there that don't originate from Twitter. But the more general point is valid for me, I do tend to join in with re-echoing sentiments of "aren't those awful people awful" more than I should.

[Note that both the linked pieces use "tribal" to mean caring more about group affiliation than real issues, which is a term that some activists consider racist. I haven't decided yet whether I should stop using the word in a pejorative sense, but I did want to note the objection.]

I mean, people-like-me often do worry about bubbles and how easy the internet makes it to surround ourselves with people who mostly agree with us. I suppose the question is, how far does that go? I generally enjoy (as well as thinking it's important) interacting with people from different backgrounds to myself and having my assumptions tested by respectful discussion with people with different views. But I am not sure I want to extend that to all possible views; I'm not really interested in socializing with people who regard some groups of people as inferior and not worthy of respect. I don't think anyone (other than possibly trolls) is seriously arguing that we have a moral obligation to pay attention to the opinions of people who actively hate us. And it's clearly not viable or desirable to only talk to people who exactly agree politically. So I'm trying to figure out where best to draw the line. This of course is part of the obvious question of how far to be tolerant of intolerance, but I think it is worth talking about specifics.

In general I have no problems being friends with people who vote differently from me, but I do have problems being friends with people who actively support political views I perceive as directly detrimental or even dangerous to me and people I care about. I am fine being friends with people who differ from me about the best way to improve equality between genders and ethnic groups, but I don't know how close I want to be to people who think women and minority gendered people are literally inferior to men, or that people with dark skin aren't really human. A cynic might say that perhaps I'm only willing to "agree to disagree" when the issue at stake is relatively unimportant, but I don't think it's exactly that.

Simply letting seriously bigoted stuff pass because you want to be broad-minded and don't want to start drama does active harm. It helps to create an environment where it's ok to express these sorts of opinions, which I am pretty sure is what's actually going on lately, it's becoming frighteningly "respectable" to be openly racist. Here I differ from people who think that propagating outrage and so-called internet mobs are the worst thing ever. I think it can actually be valuable for lots of people to get angry about unacceptable views and actions, because it makes it clear to those targeted that most of their social circle is on their side. Sure, fact-checking first is a good idea, but simply keeping quiet lends tacit support to the bigots.

Part of it is an Overton window thing. There may not be a clear rational reason why it's fine to be friends with people who support "a different political party", but not people who support ultra-nationalist parties. Except that it's entirely mainstream to vote for a party that gives the home secretary power to jail people without trial and commits British troops to illegal American wars that kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. And it's entirely mainstream to vote for a party that treats human rights as an inconvenient impediment to business profit, harasses disabled people to death, puts millions of people into poverty to the level where they can't afford to eat, and massively undermines the NHS. Those policies do actual, real-world harm, including lethal, they're not just theoretical disagreements about economics or the justice system.

And then there's UKIP. Apparently the mainstream media have decided that UKIP is a major party now, which sort of implies that voting for them should come under the heading of acceptable political disagreement rather than scary extremism. I think there are some people who vote UKIP or spread UKIP propaganda because they genuinely feel that getting Britain out of the EU is so important that it's worth overlooking the racism, and some people who vote for or support UKIP because they're fed up with supposedly mainstream politics and haven't really investigated their policies in detail. Me, I'm seriously scared of UKIP; I'm not convinced their views are actually more "mainstream" or "respectable" than the BNP or the EDL, I think they're just more middle-class. Wearing suits and using standard English with correct spelling and grammar doesn't make racist views into acceptable discourse, but it does lull people from my sort of background into a reassuring sense that these are reasonable normal people like us.

Am I summarily defriending anyone who says anything positive about UKIP? Not yet, but I am making this post which does go against the consensus that you should be tolerant of differing political views in your social circle. And I am giving serious thought to my "escape plan", working out ways to move my life to some other country if UKIP or UKIP-like views gain much further political influence. I appreciate that the BBC and other news outlets massively overstated UKIP's success in the recent election, and anyway the British electorate don't really take Euro and local elections very seriously at the moment. Even so, even a proportionally small amount of political power shifting towards entrenched xenophobes could make life really unpleasant for me. Worse, of course, for people who are more their direct targets, especially Muslims and those with visible markers of their undesirable ethnic background.

That doesn't mean I think yelling at my acquaintances is going to help matters any, but I am not sure that agreeing to disagree about stuff like this is really the best course.
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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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