Social Media and the Two-Minute Hate

Near the beginning of George Orwell’s 1984  our hero Winston Smith attends a rally at the Ministry of Truth where he works in the Records Department. It’s the daily ritual two-minute hate – a routine emotional release designed to keep everyone full of fear and enraged at the enemies of the state.

Before the Hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room …. 

In its second minute the Hate rose to a frenzy. People were leaping up and down in their places and shouting at the tops of their voices in an effort to drown the maddening bleating voice that came from the screen.  The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.

This came to my mind in thinking about how easy it is to use the anonymity of social media to vent rage and frustration – something that often seems rather at random. As if a voice in the head whispers: Some things are making me upset and bitter and outraged today so I’ll go onto a comment site and generically vent. 

And now we are in high election season the political ranting has notched up and the intertubes are brimming with photoshopped pics, derogatory memes and hyperbolic distortions of all kinds. They range from the pointed and funny to the violent and foul hitting every angle and possibility in between.

The campaign of Donald Trump has unleashed a hate frenzy all its own and it’s both disturbing and alarming. Viewer discretion is advised before watching this NYTimes video of scenes from his rallies.

trump hitlerUnlike many on social media the people in the video appear and speak as themselves. The anonymity of social media platforms means that places like Twitter and the comment sections of news outlets and other places are cess pools of rants and rage. Two-minutes – or however long it takes to write a comment or fire off a tweet – hate indeed.

National Public Radio announced last week that comments on NPR.org will be disabled beginning August 23. The feature that had been part of the site since 2008 and intended as a place for rational discussion of the issues had become an outlet for those who wanted to rant and vent and were usually quite off subject.

The unfiltered right-wing rage machine went into full throttle about censorship, quite missing the point that freedom does not mean freedom from responsibility. To them it was a suppression of free speech akin to Twitter deleting the account of the notorious and rage-driven Milo Yiannopoulos who for months targeted, abused and harassed women on the site.

Twitter permanently suspended Milo Yiannopoulos’s account after he incited his followers to bombard Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones with the most appalling racist, sexist and demeaning tweets.

People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter. But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others. – Twitter spokesman.

Other news organizations that have ended online commenting include Reuters, Popular Science and The Week.

Shutting down free speech? Or just deciding that there is no obligation to provide a platform for those that spew venom and insults.  Less extreme perhaps  but just as obnoxious – was the campaign or habit of the so-called Bernie Bros who targeted Clinton supporters – many of them women – during the primary. It led many of them to mute their voices or face the unpleasant consequences of continuing to voice their opinions.

That the internet is flooded with hate speech is not a surprise. And organizations are struggling to think through how to manage the foul tide that can overwhelm the voices of reason. It’s part of a larger discussion of the generalized racism and sexism of many social media locations. The stories of the abuse and their impact on real people have been well documented. And anyone in their right mind knows to avoid the comment section of YouTube as it has long been a magnet for puerile spouting. Many YouTube posters disable the comments sections as a result.

The Dark Side of Guardian Comments. Earlier this year the Guardian researched online harassment and analyzed the 70 million comments made on its site since 2006. It discovered that of the ten most abused writers eight were women, and the two men were black. There’s something about people of color and women expressing themselves that drives some white people out of their minds with rage and hate. 

Part of educating these days means having to face these issues head-on. The internet and social media are not going away anytime soon and responsible use should be a part of every student’s education. They – and we –  need the guidance and the tools to manage what’s inevitably found there. Helping students navigate these treacherous waters has to be the task of educators and parents. The trouble is – they are far too often at sea themselves and unable to help. The resources at Common Sense Media are useful.

Of course it’s not just online. I saw seven Trump signs on the drive to Kent, Ct. yesterday. And someone went to an awful lot of trouble to bolt this to a platform in their weed-filled pond at the bottom of their sweeping lawn. Seen in Hyde park on a trip to the FDR Library and Museum.

IMG_9668

And now – because life should not all be about hate and anger – a few pics from yesterday’s walk along the Housatonic river at Kent. There are some mornings – and especially after the unbearable muggy heat of last week – when is such a pleasure to step outside early and harvest the tomatoes still glistening with dew.

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2 Comments

  1. Curt Barnes:

    Thanks to Sue Scheid for flagging this post, Josie, which I think is brilliant. Never saw the film of 1984 and read it 50 years ago so I’d forgotten that episode. I’d recently concluded that Huxley’s Brave New World, with its prediction that opiates would make coercion unnecessary, was the more accurate dystopic prediction. But Orwell was at least an equally good student of human nature.

    A website I visit, field-negro.blogspot.com, dedicated to exposing racism, steadfastly refuses to censor its comments section. You can imagine what turns up, as I at first could not. Social media targets may be limited to two minutes, but not the hate itself.

    • Thanks Curt. I tend to agree that Huxley may have created the more accurate dystopian vision than Orwell although it’s easy to argue that both were onto something.

      Neil Postman put it this way in “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business”:

      “Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

      What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”

      I just visited the site you mentioned – field-negro.blogspot.com – and yes, some of the comments are predictably awful. I guess that when you are writing about racial injustice it rather makes the point for you to have those who would deny its existence make appallingly ignorant racist comments.

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