The Fate of The Radical Internet Community

Our communication avenues are killing us, and we’ve turned them on ourselves. In this sense, I mean that the foundational object for communicating between each other in leftist and anarchist spaces is becoming a mere excuse to make inter-community conflict the primary engagement.

This isn’t to suggest that people only use politics for an excuse to participate in drama nowadays, but our sense of importance in specific things oscillates in a terrible and counter-productive way that maintains a loose connection with our politics to justify itself. The lines between a minor schism and the fate of our persuasions blur, speedily producing a community hysteria that is fully realized when our comrades become estranged in the fractures of the situation when it reaches critical mass.

In the events leading up to late last year, online leftist communities did a very good job of stoking its flames to burn themselves to the ground in hopes of building themselves up.

The frustration against the dominant political and social hierarchies tends to create an inner and outward act of aggression. This means that in the process of attacking one’s enemies, the allies — the comrades, are also significantly harmed or indistinguishable. The body of power-wielders executes decisions in such a careless and frantic manner that all are caught in the crossfire.

The socialism subreddit (/r/socialism) made a perfect example of this in late 2016. Through top-down word policing that included paternalizing the health and conduct of neurodivergent and disabled people, they managed to become a sort of online DPRK, interestingly. By squeezing language and conduct so tight that nobody could clench their anus wrong without receiving a ban, they closed themselves off from the very source of their purpose and did an outstanding job of ensuring that nobody will want to participate there again.

The model of decentralized pockets of speech and assembly is the ideal and perhaps essential approach of self-organized communities. This counters the notion of free speech everywhere, which even ardent advocates would be horrified to see realized.The actions of /r/socialism, however, were hopelessly irresponsible for such a model.

For one thing, in the present hierarchies, people are generally familiar with a sort of wide-open “market” of communities, for lack of better words, wherein different sections offer different things, but within the general market there is a custom of “people can say what they want.” While in this custom, there is a crucial period of weening people away from an all-encompassing obligation to servicing everyone’s ideas, and bringing them to an important suggestion: “would you allow anyone at all to say anything at all at your own party or gathering? If not, thats exactly what we’re doing here.”

This is crucial because it really changes what curious newcomers thought about discussion. It easily shows that yes, you wouldn’t like someone with opposing ideas always allowed to badger you and your friends who think differently. This is not to say that you would never debate that person or step outside your own community, but you would default to doing so in a place that explicitly facilitates or welcomes such activity. Always being welcome to do that anywhere is simply annoying.

How we coordinate this in vision and fact is to think of it as an actual community, and to take it seriously as such. The way to make this work on mainstream platforms is to use moderation and administration roles in the same rotating, limited and retractable ways as delegation in physical assemblies. This way we can enforce the agreed, democratically managed statutes of the community through trusted members occupying a subsection of the total membership, and not a specialized tier of managers.

This is where /r/socialism failed. They’ve always appeared to operate on a sort of vanguardism that made party-like tiers and higher sections necessary. It was relatively tolerable, however, until new moderators came aboard and began enforcing strict and ridiculous rules regarding ableism and catgirlswithout community clearance, essentially alienating contributors from overseers. This put everyone in an awkward and uncomfortable place. Neurodivergent people like myself, who were pressured into conforming to the speech mandate, became so stressed over the change in environment that the expressed idea to be welcoming became an inverted, bastardized idea of what doing good looked like. “Just change who you push away and everything will be fine.” Even though you’re just shuffling which disabled people you’re kicking out.

This is precisely why feedback needs to be continuous between participants and those entrusted with certain positions like administrators and moderators. And sadly, if not a sweeping act of frantic autocracy, we end up manufacturing multiple frenzies that interlock and build a multifaceted body of decay. A kind of microscopic shredder for a once good community overtaken by whatever everyone is screaming about, influencing a migration or even a dropout from the total cause.

This is probably the most unfortunate fact of the Internet. With so much possibility, it doesn’t always work in our favor, often pushing us into awkward positions. But if anyone knows anything about me, they know this is all to say that our direction is tremendously off course, not that we should abandon platforms on the Internet.

The problem as it seems to me is that we’ve centered our hope in the Internet following the changes in our world, which is an awful tactic for such a massive social vision as anarchism or leftism to adopt. The Internet, as both an advantage and a detriment, is fundamentally separate from human nuances. To think for a moment that we can exchange ideas sufficiently through dehumanized arrangements of letters is absurd, let alone manage an effective movement.

Communication online is a convenient yet faulty device for our language, and language, words, are somewhat disconnected from overall communication. With real and genuine conversations, we find essential indicators of tone, gesture, emotion and fixed context that make one sentence or phrase mean totally different things under minuscule differences. This is the disparity between online and physical interaction that cannot be rightfully fixed under the current direction. Online communication is the provisional answer to distance and language barriers, yet the eventual gain in numbers and actions demands a physical realization of what we’ve developed over the Internet.

From this approach, if we want to escape our problem, we require the use of online spaces to act as an extension to a greater center of engagement, rather than the Internet being that greater center while physical engagement is the extension; a reversal. I suppose I could dial this back as well. If using them in tandem becomes too difficult or just devolves back into the same problem, we could consider using them reciprocally. What was left undone in one sphere is noted and completed in the other.

Ultimately, we need to reclaim a self-discipline of what is functionally important to the cause of anarchism and anarchist communities, and what is merely inconsequential and sometimes destructive quarreling over something disconnected. The discipline needs to take place in getting a hold of ourselves: not to close off discussions for change, but to get face-to-face with them, thoroughly measure whats going on, and not just initiate a referendum out of custom. To limit what enters our directing community sectors like the decision-making process or the general assembly based on the situation and the number of perspectives on it. Sometimes a disagreement is just that, and needs no such advancement into a rule of the association. Acting in this way is the best bet for creating new conflicts and tangles to resolve later.

This involves distinguishing the levels of overall community action on an issue, leaving certain scopes of engagement up to individuals alone, and actually utilizing our commitment to non-hierarchy even in services that run on hierarchical features, such as forums, group chat platforms and social media (don’t use those top-down features. Ever.)

At this point we start to see a need to reevaluate our self-governance. The issue is not just the vehicle for our communication and its downfalls, but our own downfalls too. We acknowledge oppression and trade methods of combating its appearance in our communities, but we often fix those methods to inflexible actions propped up by the dehumanized face of digitalized language. A whack-a-mole of moderation. In the pursuit of adjusting ourselves for others, we end up swapping out who is disadvantaged rather that making balanced compromises.

Call-out culture just makes our own brand of coercion to act proper before peers instead of actually learning from mistakes and feeling comfortable in what we do. If we’re to look at the minor blunders of comrades and resolve them while staying friends, we need to take on a smart approach to making a solution essential to the problem. Disciplinary solutions in their scope and aggression need to be proportional to the offense given, not a fixed action.

The call-out only appears to be effective, or at least justified, if we’re dealing with someone in power or someone expressly bigoted. In simpler terms, you have to know who your friends are. Who you can tap on the shoulder, talk to in a heart-to-heart way and point something out; a call-in. And then there’s knowing who aren’t your friends: who you can loudly condemn to the same extent they’ve caused harm; calling them out. You simply have to make those distinctions and really look at the offense to determine what is the right action. To quote Asam Ahmad:

Paying attention to these other contexts will mean refusing to unleash all of our very real trauma onto the psyches of those we imagine represent the systems that oppress us. Given the nature of online social networks, call-outs are not going away any time soon. But reminding ourselves of what a call-out is meant to accomplish will go a long way toward creating the kinds of substantial, material changes in people’s behaviour — and in community dynamics — that we envision and need.

Default aggression only fosters the strain and friction later to come, and in a way it is privileged in of itself. People who have real issues with communication (on top of speaking on the Internet) often seek human connections and validation online, where they feel safe and can adequately make friends. Here, their impairment can still slip through and create a misunderstanding. Things like these are important to keep in mind when finding something objectionable, as well as the context which can indicate if the offense is intentional or a mistake. Again, this is where calling in is useful.

To encourage mindful evaluations of certain speech and ideas, be conscious of context and actively oppose unilateral policing is how we create not only the ideas but also the facts of our future. To reiterate, this is not the approach to everything. People still have a fundamental right to dismantle grossly bigoted or authoritarian speech as the need arises, but to suggest that such aggression and vigilance is required all the time is what creates the tensions that scare away honest comrades who are capable of the same mistakes we all are.

To do all this that does justice to our tendency, we need to exercise this power in a horizontal, flexible manner.

Its all our cross to bare. No single class of admins or mods can be blamed, we all need to take initiative and be the change. Afterall, we did all this. We built the communities, shared the ideas, brought people in. We let it fall into disrepair, inverted what we preached, let irresponsible people take central power.

Its our choice, we must decide if we’re up for idiotic schisms to fragment us until our only option is resetting or death, or if we want to approach issues and the very nature of our engagement differently, humanely; and quite possibly save ourselves and the world in the process.

The Fate of The Radical Internet Community