Right now it seems pretty likely that Hillary Clinton will run for president. There is a reasonable chance she will win. What does that mean for Twitter?
A few weeks ago The Omnivore was looking at the future of #GamerGate--a movement that purports to be about ethics in video-game journalism but is marred by people under it's flag (#hashtag) spending a lot of time attacking female game developers and critics. It's mired in misogyny and The Omnivore wondered if the misogynistic drivers behind it would, you know, diminish by 2016 if we had our first female president.
You can also ask yourself if the "flames" of misogyny are going to be fanned by, shall we say, both actual misogynists and either 'grievance seeking Social Justice Warriors' (which will have one segment of The Omnivore's readership nodding its heads) or 'people seeking a tactical advantage' (to appeal to another segment--see? Division!)? If none of this makes any sense, just consider that you don't have to go to conspiracy theory to know that Hillary's gender is going to be part of the discussion pretty much no matter what and not everyone is going be well behaved about it.
This brings us to Twitter.
Does Twitter Have Secret Troll-Silencing Technology?
Well? Do they?
Luciana Berger, a member of British Parliament, has been receiving a stream of anti-Semitic abuse on Twitter. It only escalated after a man was jailed for tweeting her a picture with a Star of David superimposed on her forehead and the text "Hitler was Right." But over the last few weeks, the abuse began to disappear. Her harassers hadn’t gone away, and Twitter wasn't removing abusive tweets after the fact, as it sometimes does, or suspending accounts as reports came in. Instead, the abuse was being blocked by what seems to be an entirely new anti-abuse filter.The key here is this: Trolling, Griefing, and other tactics are probably statistically identifiable. It is not hard to launch an anonymous harassment campaign if you can get a large enough sub-demographic riled up--but leaderless attacks probably tend to fall into certain patterns. Big data can identify and isolate them. The social-media infrastructure can remove them.
If this technology (and while it's probably technically an "arms race" since Social Media owns both the troll-identification technology and the 'microphone' that the trolls use to get their message out, it's really more of a 'technology') becomes mature and dominant something may happen: The Internet may roll back not anonymity necessarily--but voice.
Today the Internet gives voice to millions who, historically, have never had it. The printing press (books) gave it to few. Newspapers? A few more. Mimeographs and copy shops? Pirate radio? Even more. But today you can hear from people on fringes so far removed from the mainstream--and in such volumes--that it's an actual game-changer.
Until it isn't: the fact of the matter is that society is not better served by hearing from Sandy Hook deniers and 9/11 Truthers (oh, sure, The Omnivore will look stupid when that turns out to be true. The Omnivore is taking his chances).
Turns Out: You CAN Kill An Idea
|Just Take Away Their Employee Meals|
Part of that victory was driven by a distributed mass-messaging campaign called Operation Disrespectful Nod. This was a fairly-savvy email campaign that used time-of-day and non-tagged ("Don't use #GamerGate") advise to create an out-sized influence. It was successful electronic guerrilla action and it caught Intel off-guard. They've since, apparently, re-assessed. They've probably also gotten wise to the methods.
The response from #GamerGate (judging from the link above) is to send them various outlets polite emails in such volumes that they disrupt day-to-day operations. Good luck with that. The PR department's probably recalibrated their spam filters.
The point here is not that #GamerGate or feminism will actually go away--it's that weaponizing these concepts in the Age of the Internet may have a shelf-life as the market forces that drive social media learn to recognize disruptive patterns and clamp down on them. If anything convinces us as a society to move away from email, it'll be that: we've learned to filter spam pretty well. We'll learn to filter email-activism next or move to TwitterMail or something.
Now, despite what the title says, this won't really kill the idea. A hundred years from now, there will be some dude, somewhere, claiming #GamerGate was really about ethics in game journalism--but difference is that by then, no one will hear him.
Let's get back to Hillary and feminism and the 2016 election. After the 2014 mid-terms, 2016 is the re-match. The GOP is back--they improved with women, Asians, and they won almost unprecedented majorities across the country. The 2016 win is, today, in play. It probably won't be Ben Carson--but the GOP could well pick a firebrand and (today, it seems) have a decent chance.
This is saying the stakes will be high.
Elections are, by their nature divisive and today they divide along fault-lines that already exist. Unless the GOP picks a female candidate (The Omnivore will bet the farm against that) the fault line will be a specific genre of gender war. The specific genre in question will be this: 'Does Hillary deserve to be president more than her record would indicate because she is a woman?'
No one will say this (well, okay, lots and lots of people will say it--and it'll range from straw-men being set up to 'Yes-she-does' discussions of privilege--but the mass media and the official spokespeople for the parties will not say it--or, at the very least, they will not answer it). It will be a key part of the conversation in 2015 and 2016.
This will bring the guys voting down 'feminism' on Time Magazine's poll out in droves. DROVES. And it'll be a problem for everyone:
- It'll be a problem for the GOP because the War-on-Women charge will still stick to them a little better than the Democrats.
- It'll be a problem for the media because they have their own history of reporting on Hillary's clothes and won't want to be tarred with the 4chan brush.
- It'll be a problem for Hillary's people because it risks setting off brush-fires and provoking bad behavior in places they'd rather not.
In short, it'll be incentive for Facebook and Twitter and whatever else is going strong in 2016 to remove people having that conversation.
We might be seeing the emerging weapons in that fight today.