A Systemic Problem With Internet Organizing

23 Aug

Back in the days when there were small, stable communities, people who had more or less stayed together in one place for generations, people got into it with each other just as much as they do today. But there were a couple of big differences.

One is that they had more investment in dispute resolution, because they were all of a tribe. To fail to resolve disputes would mean, ultimately, the demise of the community.

The other is that since everybody knew each other, it was relatively easy to determine who the arbiters were. They were not people who got themselves into positions of power by force or trickery, not in a healthy community. They would be the elders who were known to be fair, who had known everybody all their lives, who had a good insight into human foibles, people who had a knack for seeing through misrepresentations. People with good people skills and good bullshit detectors, in other words.

With modern-day organizing, and Internet organizing, we have neither of these. When we have conflicts, our options are to fume at each other, to complain to our friends, or to publish call-outs. This latter is frowned upon as feeding horizontal hostility, and fuming and backstabbing feeds feuding. Thus does the left endlessly fragment, because we have no court. We have no elders, or if we do, we don’t know how to agree on who they are. And when we feel aggrieved, as opposed to just annoyed, not reacting really isn’t an option.

The right resolves this by using a strict authoritarian structure, that everyone involved agrees to accept unquestioningly. Organizations on the left sometimes attempt to mimic this, out of frustration with all the infighting. But it is no solution, this sort of refusal to allow any questioning of authority, this holding onto authority by force.

The right is just more used to it than the left is, so it works better for them as a tactic, but in the end it’s a failed strategy as it allows no method for self-correcting. They can go anywhere, these organizations, devote themselves to all manner of horrors, because any questioning is brutally quashed.

Meanwhile, there is still the need for arbiters. People who don’t want to be arbiters sometimes get asked to do it, people who are genuinely seen as leaders. But they often can’t do it, because they don’t have the entire context of the dispute, and also because what happens is they wind up spending all their time trying to arbitrate disputes. Or they just don’t want to do it, maybe aren’t even good at it. Arbiter skills and leadership skills don’t completely overlap, and people seen as leaders aren’t necessarily interested in all aspects of leadership.

Organizing is doubly burdened by its tendency to attract abusive persons and infiltrators. Radical feminist organizing is even worse, as many women are attracted to it when in some kind of state of shock over experienced trauma. Abusers and infiltrators are skilled at manipulating people, which is greatly enabled by Internet presentations.

This is hard on the leaders, or anybody who is perceived as a leader. Eventually what they tend to start doing is saying “I don’t want this, I don’t have time for this, take it somewhere else.” But there is nowhere else to take it. Conflicts are often never brought out in the open, or if they are, onlookers can’t be sure they are getting the whole story, or even an honest story. They are often unwilling to take sides, or they do take sides, neither of which actions actually resolves conflicts, and both of which can easily work to drive further divisions.

This is also a key problem with anarchy, this naive assumption that with no gods, no masters, everybody will always behave ethically.

I don’t see how to resolve this without true community. Otherwise, we will just continue to fragment and fracture like the tribes of warring primates that we are. I don’t see how we solve this in a virtual context where it is so easy just to move on. But mostly, I don’t see how we resolve it without actually knowing each other, not just viewing each other’s Internet performances.

The Internet has been enjoying widespread popularity for over twenty-five years now. If it was possible to build community online, that included some way to moderate disputes, wouldn’t somebody have done it by now? Maybe it can be done, but maybe it’s just too much to expect of activism, with all its built-in problems, to adapt itself to such a limited platform.

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8 Responses to “A Systemic Problem With Internet Organizing”

  1. mousesquared 2017/08/24 at 11:05 am #

    Good post. I think part of the problem also is that the Internet has taught people to think in a defensive way. They search out content with an eye to confirming their biases (and more rarely, challenging them, but only to the extent the user wishes) and when someone is disagreed with in a way for which they haven’t prepared, the online identity raises its spines. It’s funny that a medium that is quite anonymous should lead to this level of concern for one’s identity – well, actually I suppose it makes sense given how humans respond to a sense of anonymity (the whole feeling more like one’s nationality when one’s in a foreign country phenomenon). This has affected politics by making it centre around identities , especially ones that aren’t substantial, like gender, as opposed to ones that are, like sex – or like political allegiance as opposed to class.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. No More Paper Towels 2017/08/24 at 2:44 pm #

    Great post, it gives me a lot to think about.

    Since I’m an atheist, of course disagree with the “no gods” approach. Respecting the rights of others is a matter of empathy as much as it is rules. We already have secular laws that are supposed to protect people from harming one another. As the prison rate climbs (of which, atheists are only 0.07%) I think it shows that rules aren’t enough. Empathy and developing an attitude of social responsibility will do more to prevent crime than laws do. This can be taught through both parenting and socialization if people were willing.

    As far as arbiters go, I think we already have them – comment moderators on platforms where Leftists gather to talk. The problem with this is that they value the freedom to say whatever they want (no matter how it affects anyone else) more than they value responsible speech and productive discussion. The Right is outpacing the Left because leftists are allowed to hurt each other – specifically leftist women who are tired of sexism. I do not see how the Left can make progress while hamstringing 50% of their own activists, but it would seem that they love hating women more than they care about where our nation is heading.

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    • Miep 2017/08/25 at 3:52 am #

      Moderators are often appointed somewhat randomly and are not at all guaranteed to be fair. They are also not necessarily people know very well. And people can conduct wars quite safely from their own platforms.

      What I was trying to get at here was that when you are trying to create a virtual community that is in opposition to the current culture, you can easily find yourself in uncharted waters. But from what I gather, these problems arise in material world organizing as well. I’m not sure you can teach empathy, but ideally people have some sense of the importance of some kind of code of conduct, of manners, really.

      Liked by 2 people

      • No More Paper Towels 2017/08/25 at 9:22 am #

        Having an individual platform does not guarantee being heard, though. There are millions of web sites and every day people have to choose which one to take time out of their busy day to read (if any at all). There’s only a handful of web sites where leftists tend to gather to discuss or respond to issues. The people who post content decide which issues are treated with credibility and which isn’t and the moderators are trained to respond to comments accordingly. Web sites where leftists gather are the places where conversations are established that decide the trajectory of the movement. This is aside from actual news outlets that also host this conversation.

        To say that individual blogs and collectivist news aggregates are equivalent is kind of unfair. One person cannot address every issue out there (I see things in the news every day that beg a response) nor are most people able to spend their time doing it.
        This is doubly true if they have health problems or working two jobs so they don’t starve to death. Places like Twitter and Facebook might make it easier for individuals to repost memes and political statements, but these are the same platforms that allow misogyny and sexism all the time. I reject those platforms on principle.

        News agencies, content aggregates, and moderators for better or worse are the ones who are *acting* as leaders, whether they are considered leaders or not. That is what I am trying to say.

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        • Miep 2017/08/25 at 9:28 am #

          That’s true and I agree that there is far too much abuse allowed in commentary. I think it is far from a given that people should feel obliged to publish all comments. We are overwhelmed with material as it is, there is no point letting bad money drive out good.

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  3. spin345 2017/08/24 at 8:05 pm #

    Reblogged this on eachone.

    Like

  4. aljammer 2017/09/24 at 10:40 pm #

    Reblogged this on aljammer.

    Like

  5. ComputerBook 2017/10/10 at 11:34 pm #

    To articulate that item-by-item blogs and collectivist word aggregates are equivalent weight is kind of unfair.
    As far as arbiters go, I opine we already possess them – input moderators on platforms where Leftists assemble to talk.

    Like

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