Trollery and More Serious Things

US

This report from Rachelle Hampton in Slate, about alt-right trolls who pose as black women on social media in order to spread racial stereotypes and sow racial discord, is a very interesting and useful look inside a phenomenon that seems to me emblematic of the strangeness of our times, including the blurry line between low-stakes online shenanigans and high-stakes real-world actions.

Reading Hampton’s piece, my mind kept returning to the issue of fake hate crimes, which, it seems to me, is a trend rooted in the same generally propagandistic approach toward private life, more or less the phenomenon Hampton writes about standing on its head. The public function of that kind of dishonesty is obvious enough — it is always tempting to defame one’s perceived enemies and cultural rivals — but I cannot help but think that there is a more important private function at work in this, too, a deep and aching need for people to tell themselves stories that absolve them of responsibility for whatever unhappiness is weighing on them. Most (most) fanatical Twitter trolls aren’t being paid for their work and probably are not driven by any cold-eyed long-term calculation of self-interest. They are more like religious true believers of a particular familiar kind than like traditional political true believers — half-assed practitioners of imitative magic, really, who believe that by arranging signs and words in a particular way they can reorder reality.

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Do read the Hampton piece. Very interesting stuff.

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