Op Ed. #2: The internet and a new kind of shift in racist thought in the west

By: Cyrus Hutnyk

            Racist thought has been prevalent and an issue of varying degrees of severity over the last century with great frequency, whether you look to the terrible systematic racism in the structure of the United States that continues to negatively impact largely non-white people and people of lower income, or to the most drastic in cases of Nazi Germany under Hitler and the massive killing of Jewish people that occurred throughout World War II, the issue of racism in its different forms remains consistent. This being understood though, shifting attitudes and forms that racism takes are equally present in periods of upheaval for various nations. Sometimes this appears as a change in leadership, as present in post-war Germany. In Christopher A. Molnar’s work “Greetings from the apocalypse” that we analyzed in this week’s readings we see the shift from a case of racism having to do with a genetic level of racism promoted by oppressive government and relentless propaganda, to a racism coming from a cultural standpoint, attitude and regulation coming from a place of fear and social upheaval after the radical changes in Germany post-World War II.

            In a more modern setting, the age of the internet and a culture of capitalism and intense connection to the internet we can see another example of shifting and developing racism. Despite the western part of the world continuing to develop and (hopefully) evolve past this archaic racist thought, there are still many who not only hold these views but are able to use the internet as a megaphone to project them now more than ever.

            As long as the internet has been present there have been individuals using it nefariously. Websites like 4chan or similar message boards are infamous for their knack to amass people with hateful and harmful ideas into one spot, but equally racist rhetoric is alive and well on every popular social media platform, whether it be Facebook, Instagram, or most importantly: Twitter. Hateful and racist behaviour on Twitter has always been a problem, even more so due to a previous lack of moderation. Sometimes this looks like using racial slurs in tweets, but often it can take different forms, like in the case of Twitter accounts owned by influential people who start to promote or incite violence or hate against others, people like Donald Trump, and more recently celebrity figures like Kanye West who started spreading misinformation on the murder of George Floyd and tweeting anti-black rhetoric.

            These social media platforms tend to have a dangerous ability to amplify these messages, they get more traffic, more likes, more replies, more shares. Despite this Twitter was beginning to do some clean up, but have recently been bought out by capitalist Elon Musk, best known for his racist work environments and massive intake of government subsidies on his companies SpaceX and Tesla. Musk promises to unban users like West and Trump and welcome them and their ideas back on to the platform. He tweets often about turning Twitter into a truly free-speech platform. Problem with that is that Twitter already is that the only speech that is against the terms of service is that which is hateful and bigoted. What exactly are his intentions when he says he wants to create free speech on the platform? This is exactly the way that racism begins to shift, instead of how in the post-war Germany example, where racism thought changes its origin and attitude from genetics to culture, racism in the west is moving to a much less manageable digital space, where those in power either hold the hateful ideas, or want to promote the ability of users to spread them.

            If we expect to see positive change and reduction in racist thought massive upheavals in allowance for hateful speech need to be implemented. As it stands now bigoted speech and behaviour is looking to be more prevalent and louder than ever before in the digital space, one that is more impactful than ever before itself.

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