It’s not just the internet

I was listening to Monette Richards and Steve Shives talking about #MeToo this morning while preparing for my class. It’s a good discussion, and I only objected to one thing: they talk for a bit about how social media, YouTube, Facebook, etc. was enabling a bold new wave of rotten people. I’m old enough to remember a time before any of those things, and before the internet even.

It was bad then, too.

But it was different. Case in point: look at the John Birch Society. They were thriving in the 50s — they were more mainstream then — and the 60s, and they were peddling some heinous, hateful shit, even without a YouTube channel. They were recruiting racists, they were putting together marches, they were setting up their own private conferences. Even as a pre-teen I was exposed to their horrid dogma (and was repulsed by it — you know you’re pushing bad propaganda when even an 8-year-old can see through it). They were a minority, but they were influential, in a very bad way, and they were more cloaked.

I think the difference is that back then, if you supported an evil organization, whether it was the KKK or the John Birchers, you would proudly tell them, but you didn’t have a bullhorn to announce to the public at large that you were signing on with the bad people. It was more of a surreptitious growth, just as damaging, but you weren’t seeing it flamboyantly displayed. Nowadays when you think the alt-right is just peachy, you openly support it with an upvote or repost on Facebook, or you leave an ugly misspelled comment on YouTube, and everyone knows, oh yeah, those assholes have another fan.

But the point is that those supporters were doing the same thing way back when. It was just quieter. Nowadays the big difference is that everyone is wearing big bold colors that declare where you stand. I don’t know whether that’s better or worse, because the awful reactionary conservatives were pretty pernicious even without their own Facebook fan page.

You can also wear big bold colors that say you are on the side of righteousness by supporting the conference Monette is organizing, Secular Women Work. Attend or get a t-shirt by donating to their kickstarter.


  1. mcfrank0 says

    At college in the seventies my dorm mates would call up the local (Chicago area) John Birch telephone hotline for the message of the day for good laugh.

    I still think a good laugh (right in the face) is an effective weapon against stupidity.

  2. bryanfeir says

    The main contribution of the Internet and social media, I think, is that proto-horrible people previously had a lower chance of being exposed to the horrible ideas and becoming the seriously horrible people.

    It’s like a lot of fandoms that really got going once the Internet gave them a way to connect together and a way for folks who had previously been ‘I thought I was the only one!’ to find a group to belong to.

    I’ve said before: the Internet is great at community-building. But unfortunately it’s not picky about what types of communities get built.

  3. says

    “It was more of a surreptitious growth, just as damaging, but you weren’t seeing it flamboyantly displayed.”

    Not even close to true. The Klan had massive marches down Main Streets, without masks; Klan members ran openly for political office and won; and they even had a big rally in Madison Square Garden. So, no.

  4. says

    I call it better, because the assholes can’t HIDE any more. Now they risk being ostracized, even fired, by non-assholes, and apparently can’t even get a date any more, boo hoo.