What we see here is evidence of the only real innovation 8chan has brought to global terrorism: the gamification of mass violence. We see this not just in the references to “high scores”, but in the very way the Christchurch shooting was carried out. Brenton Tarrant livestreamed his massacre from a helmet cam in a way that made the shooting look almost exactly like a First Person Shooter video game. This was a conscious choice, as was his decision to pick a sound-track for the spree that would entertain and inspire his viewers.
Epistemology is the term that describes how we know what we know. Most people who think about knowledge think about the processes of obtaining it. Ignorance is often assumed to be not-yet-knowledgeable. But what if ignorance is strategically manufactured? What if the tools of knowledge production are perverted to enable ignorance?
What’s at stake right now is not simply about hate speech vs. free speech or the role of state-sponsored bots in political activity. It’s much more basic. It’s about purposefully and intentionally seeding doubt to fragment society. To fragment epistemologies. This is a tactic that was well-honed by propagandists.
One of the best ways to seed agnotology is to make sure that doubtful and conspiratorial content is easier to reach than scientific material. And then to make sure that what scientific information is available, is undermined. One tactic is to exploit “data voids.” These are areas within a search ecosystem where there’s no relevant data; those who want to manipulate media purposefully exploit these. Breaking news is one example of this. Another is to co-opt a term that was left behind, like social justice.
Social media platforms have made some changes to tackle hate speech and violent behaviour, but they could choose to do more. They could set higher standards for removing offensive video and messages.
Free speech is unimaginable without the right to dissent — but commentators, opinion writers and politicians also have choices to make in the example they set.
In the end though it’s on all of us — in the news sources we rely on, the social networks we join and what we choose to watch and share.
The act of throwing out huge amounts of content, most of it ironic, low-quality trolling, for the purpose of provoking an emotional reaction in less Internet-savvy viewers.
Zeynep Tufekci backed this stance on Twitter:
Don’t do this. We know how to cover terrible news like this, without doing it on the killer’s terms. Don’t participate in the snuff film he directed: instead give us the crucial news coverage we need. https://t.co/jhDXdxaa9W
— zeynep tufekci (@zeynep) March 15, 2019
I empathize with the Muslims who died in New Zealand both as Muslim who used to live as a religious minority in a Christian country and as Muslim in a Muslim majority country where extremists threaten other religious minorities.
So what do we do? As educators, as citizens, as parents, I believe strongly in promoting empathy, resisting “othering” and promoting a contextual, historical and intersectional understanding of social justice, and this can be an approach to digital citizenship, as I wrote a few years ago. And we need to “know the other” and keep expanding and deepening those ties and bridges.
Being generous, having purpose, working in service of others; the truth is that all of those things make you happier, too. I need to get so much better at this. But it’s clear to me that it’s the right direction.
Rather than be responsive to hate, fear, or tragedy, I want to be proactive with love, with everything in my work, and everything in my life.