The Mechanisation of Hate

Over time, I’ve believed anti-feminism is a cult of sorts. Their use of memes was a deciding factor, but there are other tells. One exploits our instincts as a social species.

In order to encourage those social bonds, we have a need to be loved. This creates a loyalty to a social group, which we repay by advancing the needs of the group. We band together to gather food, fend off predators or other groups, and so on.
But if love forms bonds, couldn’t a lot of love form a really strong bond? Or overcome resistance to forming a bond? This is the rationale behind “love-bombing:” by showering your target with love, you hope to generate a relationship that otherwise wouldn’t happen. The term was even coined by a cult. The flip-side is hate-bombing, or showering someone with hate in the hope of causing emotional distress.

Via PZ, I learned that anti-feminists have a very similar concept: red-pilling.

“Redpill,” for the blissfully unaware, is a slang term in certain alt-right-adjacent internet communities like the men’s rights crew. It refers to that famous Matrix scene where Neo takes the red pill and sees things as they really are. When alt-right dudes use it, they generally mean “convince other white people that we’re better than others,” and many of them are not shy about trying to redpill their friends and families.

“It’s a new label for an old idea,” said Ryan Lenz, who gathers information on hate groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, and edits their Hatewatch blog.

That Vice article points out some common tactics, like building empathy and using bargaining to expose people to your propaganda. Laci Green appears to be the latest person to fall victim.

In late May, seemingly out of the blue, Green dramatically shifted her tone on harassment. Where once she supported the abused, she suddenly began questioning why there’s “more than two genders” and arguing that “both sides of the argument are valid” for everything from racism to transphobia to misogyny. In a stunning example of her newfound hypocrisy, she called feminist YouTuber and fellow member of her anti-harassment Facebook group Kat Blaque a “sociopath,” […]

In a series of videos, Green revealed that her shift was a result of “red pilling,” the term for a twisted Matrix-inspired recruitment process coined by men’s rights advocates, pick-up artists, and the “alt right.” The process involves a recruiter who attempts to position white supremacists as oppressed truth tellers while spinning phony racial and gender science as “free speech” that’s being trampled on by feminists and the political left.

The parallels between religious cults and the anti-feminist movement are chilling; I didn’t even realise there was a flip-side to love-bombing until I thought of examples drawn from anti-feminism. But there’s an ingredient we can add which makes things oh-so-much worse.

You can see the outlines of it in message boards like 4chan: someone announces a target, and other commenters swarm that person with love or hate. This is the early steps of the mechanisation of hate, in this case the automation of love/hate-bombing, and it’s gotten very sophisticated. The next logical step would be to get money involved in the process, and that’s already happened.

When Green created her anti-harassment Facebook group, it was largely in response to the rising trend of “response videos,” YouTube videos created by trolls who have devoted their lives to attacking feminist content. Creators of these videos often claim that their content does not itself constitute harassment, while simultaneously ignoring the actions of their followers, who frequently bombard their targets with an overwhelming number of slurs and violent messages. […]

Troublingly, up until recently, such videos were not only supported by YouTube, but incentivized. Because response videos are so easy to make, it was easy for reactionary YouTubers to churn out a lot of content, which YouTube then prioritized in an algorithm that favored prolific output, high view counts, and abundant comments — even if those comments were toxic. Gaming the very closely held secret of the YouTube algorithm became a de facto path to internet stardom, and the format was perfect for response-video creators.

This puts a dollar tag on hate. It’s no longer just about promoting your group or winning new members, you can actually make a good living off of hating on feminism. This is yet another parallel to religion, especially Christianity, which has always used various means to extract funds from its supporters to line the pockets of its preachers. It feeds into a self-feeding cycle of hate, where preachers clamber to earn the cash of followers by whipping up their hatred.

There is no easy way to defeat this, as it relies on deeply embedded parts of our psyche. Speaking up about it and educating people is probably the best tactic in the short-term, while in the long-term we work on dismantling or altering systems which promote it.