Poisoned Fruit in the Walled Garden - Part III

This is the third post in a 3- part series on the rise of extreme right hate speech on the internet. You can find the first post here and the second post here.

Addicted to sales? The Nazis helped Coke "open up" new markets in Europe in WWII
A third group that has been co-opting online discussions on a grand scale - possibly grander than any other group mentioned in this series - is the big business. Big business has been drowning out voices of opposition for so long, its efforts just sort of blend into the background now. And  its aggressive online tactics also extend to real world acts of aggression, assassination and even all-out warfare. 

In their essay, ‘Coca Cola goes to War’ Eleanor Jones and Florian Ritzmann trace the path to success taken by Max Keith, the German boss of drinks giant Coca-Cola, during World War II.  He tagged along with the Nazis everywhere they went in Europe, planting his soft drink bottles in their wake like sweet, fizzy, cocaine-flavoured bombs. Keith's ambition to place a bottle of coke in the hands of every member of their captive audience (literally captive, as was the case for concentration camp prisoners who were forced to work on Coca Cola's production lines) was seemingly as relentless as the fascist campaign itself. And it was just as heedless of human health and safety. 

Regardless of Keith's desired ends, his means lined up perfectly with the Fascists: both were chasing after total market domination, and both believed that success could be measured in superficial criteria alone. For the fascists, that superficial criteria was skin or eye colour whereas for Coca Cola, it was a soft drink brand. But their means to those separate ends were often one and the same: invasion, domination and even enslavement. 

According to Jones and Ritzman,'Coke's situation was so secure that Max Keith could get himself appointed to the Office of Enemy Property to supervise all soft drink plants, both in Germany and the captured teritory. As German troops overran Europe, Keith and Oppenhof followed, assisting and taking over the Coca-Cola businesses in Italy, France, Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium and Norway.'

Coca Cola was in so deep with the Nazis that it was only saved from becoming an official brand of the Third Reich by Keith’s adamant refusal to sign the brand over to the fascists. Far from being evidence that Coca-Cola's German boss cared about the company's American roots, though, this detail only emphasizes the psychopathic nature of his priorities. Employing slave labour was all right by him, but he was ready to put his life on the line just to avoid changing the name of his brand. 

But it may have been these exact priorities that endeared Keith to the Nazi regime, with its equally extreme fixation on appearances. The same priorities were definitely shared by many American corporations operating in Germany at the time, at any rate: they too, aimed to secure new markets at any cost and achieve success, no matter how superficial, for the glory of the brand. Many of the corporations that helped the Nazis still exist today, and can  still lay claim to vast, global markets. The inescapable nature of participation in those markets has survived well beyond the end of World War II into times of peace, and it may be fascism's most enduring legacy.  Is it any wonder that a planet dominated by them has given rise to fascism once again?

Some apologists have said that the allure of the captive European markets was just too ‘tempting’ for the likes of Coca Cola, Dow, Manhattan Chase, IBM, General Motors to resist… but taking advantage of them required a pathologically high regard for material gratification, and a pathologically low one for human health, life, liberty and justice. Just like the Nazis (and now the neo-Nazis) American corporations in WWII Europe availed themselves of any means necessary to outdo the competition... even if that meant trampling over masses of people.

Start as you mean to go on, so the old adage says: if the consumer base doesn't want the product or can't afford it, make them want it by whatever means necessary - even aggression and fear, a lesson learned by Coca-Cola in the Second World War. 

These same priorities can often be observed in the way that big business behaves online.  AOL Online, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical, has been embroiled in small-scale control freakery such as censoring a group that criticized it (alt.aol-sucks) or 'accidentally' blocking users' email accounts when they protested a new fee. And it's participated in much larger-scale control freakery too, like helping the NSA in its data-collection programs, according to leaked PRISM documents.  The authoritarian legacy that fascism has left on corporate culture is clear; big business is all too often willing to enact any kind of restriction, as long as it ensures a better standing, image or profit for the company. There is no consensus between big business and people nowadays; for the most part it's all co-option.

And the trend is catching on online, too.  Facebook has overstepped its bounds many, many times now, in its efforts to expand and improve its brand profile. To name but a few scandals, it has been caught cutting conservative news items and even about Facebook itself from the Trending feed and censoring activist feeds at the behest of Turkish president Erdogan, and apparently, the behest of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project too... the list goes on, expanding year by year.

Added to which, it has led the push to make advertising even more ubiquitous online than it is offline, by planting ads in users' personal space. Between Facebook and Google, one can find oneself being stalked around the internet by sales messages that flash in one's face as one chats privately with friends. The totalitarian new reality of corporate-controlled internet wears a friendlier mask - it pretends to serve people's needs - yet, at the end of the day, it's forcefully pushing internet users to take up its own ideology: the ideology of raking in more cash, whether it's beneficial or not.

From AOL through to Facebook, Google and Twitter, corporate presences on the Internet have conspired to turn it into a series of enclosed, informational bio-domes, in which every move (and even every thought) is being edged towards an invisible bottom line; towards making a sale so someone else can 'win'.  Indeed, 'we are winning' is one of the phrases that alt-right most likes to torture in its flame wars with the left wing.

At least internet users can see where ads are coming from, though. The same thing cannot be said for comments and reviews that are posted by corporate shills under pseudonymous sock puppet accounts. NPR journalist David Folkenflick, who used to work at Fox News, has written a book describing how the media giant asked its staff to troll the web.  “One former [Fox News] staffer recalled using twenty different aliases to post pro-Fox rants. Another had one hundred," he wrote.  These sock puppet-masters apparently targeted bloggers and other commentators who were critical of Fox’s reporting.

In other words, rather than modify its site's content to suit the community which criticized it, or even investigate its complaints, Fox preferred to reshape what that community should think by posing as a member of it. But stories of major corporate players hiring internet shills are all over the place these days. There are too many dodgy incidents like the one involving Fox to be described here. What seems certain is that, if they were all added up, these corporate trolls and shills would far outstrip the trolls of the alt-right.

The precedent the alt-right follows - of carpet-bombing the masses into submissive consumers of whatever they have to 'sell' - was set long ago, and it was set by big business, working hand in hand with despotic interests.  

Don't Fight The System, Be The System?
Groups like the Billboard Liberation Front understand the totalitarian nature of advertising
The corporate monopoly on so much of our virtual world is no less intrusive than the activities of the alt-right, yet its power is based on a similar premise: that might is right, and brute force is a valid means to achieve necessary change. The only difference is whether that brute force is enabled by an engineered mob rule, or by money.

Perhaps this is what the alt-right network means when it claims that it's just using the same tactics that others have used before it. And it is true that big business and the government have highjacked the public lens both online and offline, for far too long.  Yet, by employing those oppressive tactics instead of breaking the pattern, or inventing something new, the alt-right is alienating itself even further from its claim of being a bona fide activist movement. 
Activists who are fighting for social, environmental or economic justice usually try to inject their view into a contrived homogeneity of mainstream voices, like so many dabs of colour in a bucket of white paint. The alt-right on the other hand, aims to replace that monochrome shade of white with another monochrome shade that more closely resembles their own. They want to replace the whitewash with beige wash.  

The alt-right's obsession with winning rivals Coca-Cola's
As an activist group, the alt-right is trying to claim the anti-globalization mantle for itself.  In this respect it is a cuckoo cause, snatching many of the arguments that were formerly embraced by anti-WTO and anti-G20 protesters, and wielding them in a way that squeezes various minorities out of the anti-globalization ‘nest’... beginning, of course, with the Jews. 

Reading through its writings about globalization, one is struck by the fact that its authors have merely substituted “The Jews/Zionism/ZOG” for the term “multinational corporations”, wherever that has traditionally appeared in anti-capitalist literature. How terribly convenient this must be for the readership of a site like Breitbart, which tends to be white, male, Christian and entrepreneurial. What a neat trick, to be able to reap all the rewards of globalized capitalism, while blaming everyone else for its existence.They don't seem to blame Hitler though.

Andrew Anglin, the founder of Daily Stormer (yes, him again) has been quoted as saying that '"Gas the k***s” sounds so outrageous that it can only be ironic.' Yet, someone who sees political correctness as some sort of inconvenient thought experiment, designed to stop people from being ironic, is probably isolated from truly globalized areas of the world. Those are the  big cities where Jews, blacks, feminists, refugees, queers and all the other alt-right bugbears mix with white straight guys: having relationships, living together and working together. What is truly ironic is that the loudest voices speaking out against the new, multicultural reality  seem to be so out of touch with it. Most people who denounce hate speech do so out of sympathy for their minority friends and family... not to mention, out of respect for themselves.

While the alt-right has plenty to say about its activist cause, though, it is much less forthcoming about the goals of that cause. This aversion to stating a goal is probably intentional, because it's pretty clear that it must be taking rights away from people who are currently equal, under the eyes of the law... rights which real activists helped to secure, in the past.

Instead, the people in the alt-right obsess about their supposed under-representation, trying to portray themselves as the victims of a liberal 'bias'. Perhaps their under-representation on the net may be due to the fact that it's the only place that equality, justice, truth, respect etc., can still achieve a critical mass... so it attracts those sorts of people.  The online world is not the native environment of right-wing ideas: the real world is. The likes of Coca Cola, working hand in hand with people like the Nazis, have made it that way. And now their bastard children, the alt-right, are trying to do the same thing online.

A glance at the news reveals wars happening between groups that have just as much racial hatred for each other, as the alt-right has for everyone. It reveals jihadis who ascribe to a fundamentalist faith that mirrors that of the American Bible Belt. It reveals feral capitalism that gets its way nearly everywhere, every day, regardless of what the people want, or what's good for their countries. It reveals human trafficking that reduces women and children to a dollar value. It reveals a wealthy, male, straight white gaze that has little time for anyone else. It's unsurprising if people don't want to see more of the same thing when they go online, isn't it?

The forces behind globalisation have imposed themselves on the world in much the same way that the totalitarian right are trying to do. Perhaps what these alt-right trolls are hiding from when they don an anonymous disguise online might not be a 'liberal bias', but their own unpopularity.

Tear Down This Wall(ed Garden) 

If the alt-right is guilty of fabricating echo chambers peopled by sock puppet mobs, though, then maybe they are just reflecting a general trend... albeit in a very negative, aggressive way. 

Most Internet users today live within their own 'echo chambers', where they have to pre-approve each and every person who gives them feedback, before they even speak.  If the creeping exposure of such venomous, bigoted echo chambers as the alt-right have have stunned internet users, it's probaby because they haven't been allowing enough space in their lives for random encounters with such people.  

Part of what is making the right wing so vehement may be a sense of being repelled by these endless, unseen defenses that people surround themselves with, online.  Predictive algorithms and privacy settings can be useful, but when they run out of control they tend to eliminate any element of random chance.  These defenses are now harder to escape than they ever have been before: undesirable commenters can now be pre-screened out of our feeds on Twitter, sight unseen. Facebook and Google's algorithms and website cookies filter out content that's either offensive or just plain unfamiliar without us knowing.

If people with undesirable views cannot easily engage in debate with a range of other views, that hardens them as much as it weakens everybody else.  It's a vicious cycle... and if it continues, even the most liberal people will eventually be compelled to convert their views into a form of dogmatism - a blunt tool that they use to defend their position, rather than to expand upon or develop it. 

So, what began as a reaction to hate speech (walled gardens were mainly designed to keep that sort of thing out, after all) has become another aggravating cause to it. Internet giants like Facebook and Google are feeding the trolls by starving them of any chance to hash their views out with others. They never learn about real alternatives, and latch on to the 'alt' instead.  

Are more walls the right response? No - as any gardener can tell you, any overly sheltered stretch of land becomes prone to invasion by weeds, eventually.  Only a diversity of life forms, like those found in the wild, can hope to keep them under control.  The price of that kind of openness, though, is eternal vigilance, it is critical thought and active engagement - otherwise we might eventually find ourselves living in a whole new kind of garden, where only the least tolerant species can survive.

To quote Saul Alinsky, the writer of activist handbook Rules for Radicals (which the alt-right often cites): "Conflict is the essential core of a free and open society. If one were to project the democratic way of life in the form of a musical score, its major theme would be the harmony of dissonance."

Or to put it another way,

 The tree that doesn’t bend, breaks

© A. E. Elliott 2016

This series of articles are taken from an upcoming book by the author. Any attempt to republish or re-use this work without accreditation and/or the author's consent will constitute a breach of copyright.

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Berlin, Germany
...is NOT a fashion blogger! I write about underground music, activism, social media rights. Other publications that I have written for: OpenDemocracy, Urban Challenger, Siegesaeule, Alternative Berlin and Sensanostra.