Get Your House in Order
Theoretically, the fallout from the Christchurch mass shooting should be far reaching. There is at present an opportunity to address numerous problems and issues while the tragedy still has both political and social momentum. Because “it is the doom of man that he forgets”. 24-hour news culture has severely strained the public’s attention span. Plus it is in the interests of numerous institutions for the news cycle to move on, because current scrutiny is highlighting how culpable they are. The tabloid press, media commentators, tech companies and internet communities have been found wanting for a while and last weeks carnage is now raising questions over their involvement in the growing culture of hate and therefore their potential regulation. This may be the last chance for many to put their own house in order before the establishment does. And considering the knee-jerk, ham-fisted nature of contemporary western politics, the latter is not likely to be either subtle, efficient or even beneficial.
It sadly did not come as a surprise that Brenton Tarrant is steeped in numerous aspects of the unsavoury side of internet culture. Namely, 8chan, shitposting and the alt-right. A “manifesto” allegedly attributed to him is filled with the usual weaponised use of memes to try and obfuscate and confuse. And then there’s the fact that he was allegedly a gamer and conversant with You Tube sub-culture to consider. While old school politicians, mainstream journalists and senior members of the public struggle to catch up, those of us who are more familiar with fluid and rapidly evolving nature of internet culture are facing the stark reality that it played a part in shaping this killer’s beliefs. Furthermore gaming, online communities and You Tube personalities are some of the many intersecting circles of a wider and ultimately harmful Venn diagram. Memes aren’t necessarily “just harmless, movements such as #gamergate aren’t purely about “ethics in gaming journalism” and when You Tube personalities say racist, sexist or homophobic things, it not just “banter” or “a joke”.
Tarrant stated, “Remember lads, subscribe to PewDiePie!” just before he started shooting. Felix Kjellberg has made a statement disavowing any association with him, his ideology and being “sickened” by his comments. However, Kjellberg has used racist language in the past, as well as given shout-outs to questionable individuals. With 89 million plus YouTube subscribers who are predominantly young, male and white, he has a lot of reach. Then there are other personalities and channels that cater and court this specific demographic. One filled with poorly skilled, disaffected young males, struggling with emotional literacy and social awkwardness. Add to this a growing adversarial culture that eschews nuance and increasing zealotry in previously benign social interactions and pastimes such as fandom and there’s trouble. PC culture has failed and the pendulum has now swung the other way with populist bandwagons such as Brexit and MAGA. A perfect storm has been forming for a while and it appears to have now arrived.
It is both sad and ironic that the old cautionary mantra of “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” which has almost become hokey in recent years, has suddenly become alarming relevant again. Online communities, You Tube, Twitch, even game developers have not done enough (if indeed anything) to adequately police and moderate the communities they financially benefit from. They’ve hidden behind “freedom of speech”, claims they are not publishers and generally complained that the technology or man power required to do the job would be too difficult to manage and inefficient. And so we saw both Facebook and You Tube desperately trying to get in control of the continuous reposting of video content of the Christchurch shootings. “Why not just suspend all uploads during such circumstances?” some politicians have asked. The ensuing silence from the tech companies was deafening. And the real answer is money as anyone with a functioning intellect knows.
There are no simple reasons for the rise in hate crimes or easy explanations for such tragic events such as that in Christchurch. Nor are there any quick fixes. Multiple factors have contributed to an ongoing drip, drip, drip of populist rhetoric that have normalised racism, xenophobia and hatred of “the other”. Online culture has evolved quickly from a quirky, backwater niche to an unchecked, unpoliced “frontier town”. We now find that such an environment is dangerous and action needs to be taken. Codes of conduct need to be enforced, moderation is required and we must stop mollifying sanctions with bogus attempts at reform, because we still want everyones money. We all need to play our part and call out those who peddle hatred. We also need to be smart and ensure we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. With regard to the bigger players such as You Tube and Facebook, if they don’t take real steps now to prevent abuse of their services, they will find control rested away from them and given to the politicians. Not the most desirable solution. The time for “whataboutery” and generally prevaricating is over. There is guilt by association and in some cases blood on the hands of those who profit from the status quo. So to all involved, get you house in order. While you still can. The consequences for not doing so don’t bear thinking about.