Post by David Cranswick
Much of the debate around hate on the internet inevitably focuses on those propagating hate; the neo Nazis, the white supremacists, xenophobes, etc. If you listen to some of the more hyperbolic news stories out there, then the Internet is a cesspit of hate and violence, seething with extremists preaching their message from every metaphorical soapbox out there. Response to this gloomy image, naturally enough, tends to focus on government as the answer; more legislation, more censorship, tighter controls over the internet. Sarkozy’s recent response to the Toulouse Shootings is one notable incidence of this kickback, while much of the coverage regarding the trial of Anders Breivik has carried a strong undertone of repugnance at even permitting Breivik an opportunity to voice his views. The general desire floating around appears to be – simply shut these people up.
But if social media and web 2.0 applications allow those at the extremes of the political spectrum to voice their opinions, surely they also allow those opposing them to make their voices heard.
Flickr is an interesting website; while nominally a photosharing site, it also contains strong elements of a social networking forum. The photostream feature has a Twitteresque feel to it, while a Flickr contact is essentially a Facebook friend in disguise, and the variety of groups, pools, and commenting venues makes the site as much a social venue as strictly a photosharing site.
Simple word searches or group searches will instantly yield a solid result of anti – Nazi or anti – fascist material, and after cruising through enough of it, the same usernames keep on popping up. These individuals provide extensive amounts of content, with pictures ranging in the tens of thousands, while also administering, moderating, or contributing to many groups dedicated to combating the extremist movements, Anti-Nazi und Antifa – Fotos being one example. A simple network analysis of some of these users reveals a dense community of well connected individuals, most of whom also maintain a presence on Twitter, Facebook, or the blogosphere.
Many of these individuals are self proclaimed photojournalists who document aspects of the nazi/anti-nazi debate, most noticeably demonstrations. The Dresden marches and countermarches feature prominently, as do many other protests dedicated to promoting or combating the neo-nazi movement. All of this material weaves together in a coherent anti extremist movement through comments, dialogue, discussion, and raising awareness, the same as any other social initiative.
But curiously, the individuals posting this material demonstrate a strong suspicion, if not downright hostility towards government and police. For every photo of a protestor holding a sign expressing an anti-extremist sentiment, there are two displaying a menacing line of riot police, batons and shields held at the ready. User profiles are typically bare, multiple aliases are common, and most archives are tagged with a statement which includes something along the lines of, “I am not a Nazi.” Considering some of the more draconian proposals regarding control of internet content floating around, I would have to say that their paranoia is somewhat justifiable. Ironically enough, these users are dedicated to combating extremism, but for even discussing the issue, they clearly feel threatened by government.
Ordinary citizens appear to be taking up the mantle of combating hate; Flickr is just one tiny aspect of an ever burgeoning social media landscape. Discussion, debate, ideas, and solutions are being bandied about across the relatively free internet; so clearly civil society is attempting to counter extremism on its own initiative. Perhaps the media spotlight needs to be readjusted, because for every individual propagating hate, there are well organized ordinary people out there who are fighting back. And ordinary people taking action are far more effective than any government could be.