Racist trolls are not racists. They are trolls who use racism to fan the culture wars and they’re good at it. Racism is terrible but when people resort to using racism for ulterior motives, things turn truly dark.
Let me explain why I make this claim. We all know how social media, especially Facebook, have turned into echo chambers where people get fed the stories that affirm their convictions. This helps people to find likeminded folk but has the negative side-effect of accelerating confirmation bias, i.e. the tendency of people to want to have their existing beliefs and theories confirmed. So if people, without realizing it, only see messages that affirm their ideas on a platform that otherwise promises them an open window to the world of networked people, the marketplace of ideas, confirmation bias does double duty. “The world is truly the way I see it,” they think.
Ok, we know this. We’ve been through this with the 2016 US presidential elections, the role Cambridge Analytic played in this and the likely involvement of Russian sources. Facebook took a real hit and is more careful than ever with Russian trolls. But not enough apparently.
Yesterday I became furious upon learning that there is a Facebook group, Christians Against Google, that calls for “Justice for Gregory and Travis McMichael.” The post said that “these 2 God fearing men were only trying to protect their neighborhood” (…) and that “…this man (Ahmaud Arbery, the black man who was shot dead by the McMichaels while jogging) did not comply with simple commands (sic).”
Sad and feeling powerless in the face of persistent racism in the US I re-posted this group’s post on my own Facebook account. I needed to vent my indignation. And sure enough, responses and comments soon filled the thread. We have a good convo going here, I thought.
But then one of my friends commented that he had become a member of the Christians Against Googlegroup and found out that there wasn’t much vitriolic action going on. It seemed to be just sitting there. And yet, someone else reported that just in the past week 80,000 new members had joined. And if you look now, one of the moderators has removed all of the racist stuff again.
The trouble with Facebook is not over. Trolls are still roaming around the platform stirring up rage and hatred through exploiting the beliefs of both racists and anti-racists. I got played! I responded too quickly even though it was for all the right reasons. I let myself be used to widen the gap between different parties in America.
Partisan sentiments and hatred for people on the other side have grown to such proportions that people are not able to talk to each other from across the divide let alone hear each other. The political establishment has little leadership to offer and trolls are having a great time. And that’s why I say trolls are worse than racists. Racists are wrong but largely ignorant. Trolls purposefully and intelligently tear a country apart and use racism if it suits them.