Guide to 2018 media tactics for organizers and political activists
Tactics used by the “alt-right”/neo-nazis/populists (pick your favorite term)
- Global coordination: High level populist figures like Steve Bannon regularly travel to Europe and/or communicate directly with populist movements around the globe, including at government-sponsored conferences that include current European Union officials. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Rodrigo Duterte of the Phillipines met early this year and pledged cooperation Nigel Farage and Greece’s Golden Dawn reveled in Trump’s election in 2016, and Trump congratulated Jair Bolsonaro on his win and announced plans to work closely with him. Populists also communicate directly with each other online.
- Memes: Alt-right pages on social media sites, from Reddit to Facebook to Gab, are very fond of using memes to gain followers and spread disinformation. They respond very quickly to current events. The AfD Facebook pages have been so successful that researchers in Germany studied how interacting with the online pages increases offline activity.
- Videos: Groups like the “Proud Boys” and “Rise Above Movement” in the US create promotional videos for themselves.
- Misinformation (see the glossary for a taxonomy of misinformation): the alt-right is very fond of mislabeling videos to say that the videos show what they want the video to show, or taking portions of quotes out of context
- “staying calm“: The alt-right has a thread running through their videos of remaining calm, centered, and common-sensical in the face of “crazy feminists, dangerous antifa, etc.” this tactic appears to be very succesful. A perfect example of this is the “change my mind” series from Steve Crowder.
- Responding on their terms to critiques: Populists and the alt-right are fond of responding to charges that they are racist, sexist, violent, etcetera, with a pre-determined set of talking points. They make sure they have a way to respond to every critique. Whether or not their responses are accurate or truthful is not the issue- they simply make sure they’re never caught off-guard by any question or issue that “the other side” will bring up. They will use social media to share responses, and as noted above, they speak in a way that makes them appear reasonable. Here’s a response to the recent arrest and charging of Rise Above Members involved in the Charlottesville protests.
- Trolling: populists coordinate online attacks, oftentimes specifically with the intent of doxxing (see below)
- Doxxing: Doxxing means making someone’s private information public in order to target them for physical attacks, threatening phone calls, etcetera- or even just to inflict psychological harm. Here’s an example from the legal team that has been supporting anti-fascist protestors in San Francisco, and here’s an example from the man who captured and shared a the video of Heather Heyer getting run over in the violent 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” march.
- Astroturfing: Populists, with the help of repressive governments like Russia, will mask planned, co-ordinated, and/or “paid” social media efforts as organic, “grass-roots” ones:
- uniting around hatred or disdain for an othered group (refugees, muslims, transgender people)
- dogwhistles: using euphemisms, secret codes (like marking the names of jews or purported crypto-jews in (((triple parentheses))) to signal this status to the knowing reader) and seemingly innocuous details like the numbers 88 or 14.
Tactics for “left” organizers to adopt themselves
- Global coordination: this is something that has happened to a small extent (including via social media). Examples include Black Lives Matter activists visiting Palestine, activists from favelas in Rio talking to CopWatch.
- smart spending – The left needs to determine which kinds of social media are more effective than traditional media dollar-for-dollar (or if you’re not spending money, minute-for-minute). Facebook is a place where the “echo-chamber” effect is particularly strong. Considering how to engage elsewhere, or engage with new people, is imperative.
- ways to “opt out” – fighting fire with water, fighting advertising with community, word-of-mouth, etc
- memes: the left in many contexts has not adopted a strategy of monitoring and quickly picking up on new memes and deploying them strategically. The left often does not employ targeted/public-appropriate humor or sarcasm in memes, leading to unsuccessful attempts at virality.
- responding explicitly and calmly to critiques: the left is often defensive in response to critiques about identity politics, antifa violence, etcetera. The left should consider following the “act with the confidence of a mediocre white man” advice. That means responding calmly by both explaining your position but also with the assumption that you are correct. This doesn’t mean that the left should engage in tone-policing of marginalized groups like trans people or black women. It does mean that members of the left with particular kinds of privilege- such as cisgender white men and women, especially those who aren’t poor or working class- should step back and consider whether taking the time to craft a logical response and then engaging calmly and logically is a meaningful use of their privilege.
- WhatsApp campaigns: the left in Brazil did attempt to adopt this tactic as well, but was not able to compete with the mass budget purchased in packages by businessmen in support of Bolsonaro. However, as WhatsApp continues to gain popularity globally, this tactic should be explored as a tool of community-organizing and counter-information
Marketing/communications techniques that a civil society or other larger organization might consider adopting
- Consult a technologist who understands these technologies and be clear for yourselves and honest with the people you reach out to about the privacy implications of any tool or technique you are using.
- Identify your potential target: young people, voters, activists.
- Find community leaders (people marketers would call “influencers”) and try to work with them or their audiences
- Create a campaign for every large, motivated community. Amplify their concerns, power up their activism, put them in contact, praise them.
- Create Memes that are topical and timely; use tools like “know your meme,” keep track of who the top pop artists are, and be funny!
- Create secret mass groups: Twitter DM, Facebook groups (US Midterms), WhatsApp groups (Brasil)
- Find the right platform: adults whisperer–> Facebook; newsroom whisperer –> Twitter; Masses manipulation –> Youtube
- example: for an NGO like WITNESS, Twitter is a good way to connect with peers in civil society and individual supporters. Facebook is the best way to connect with our partners in Brazil. Direct emails are the best way to connect with most funders.