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The Critical Race Theory Discourse Tidal Wave
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It’s Not In Your Head, Critical Race Theory Discourse Is Everywhere
Understanding why anyone in America is talking about anything has always been fairly confusing, but I’m particularly sensitive to it after four years living in the UK. In the US, due to a variety of factors, like the popularity of cable news, an obliterated local press, and a longstanding tradition of independent publishing via blogs and newsletters, following the national conversation has never been easy. By contrast, the UK, things tend to trickle down from the top. A half-dozen papers set the country’s agenda with morning editions, radio stations carry that across the workday, and then things are recalibrated from the top by evening editions and the BBC. (There is literally a TV show in the UK that unveils the next morning’s newspaper front pages.)
The national conversation in America has only become more fractured as we’ve become more beholden to random viral chatter from social networks. I timestamp the start of this viral era around the release of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” in 2013. Suddenly, internet content could break through the country’s zeitgeist faster than the TV channels could keep up with. But thanks to four years of Trump topped off by the pandemic’s remote video Zoom world, we’ve entered a post-viral world. Everything’s completely and totally fractured, with hundreds of thousands of group chats lighting up constantly with their own increasingly-niche memes.
It’s a world of digital rabbit holes. You can see this effect happening among the American left, where, if you click through into any random Twitter thread, you’ll be greeted by center-left “more female prison guards” JK Rowling liberals fighting with anime tankies and middle-aged Something Awful goons, each one living in their own internet, clashing with each other when those digital worlds collide.
The American right, however, has figured out how to deal with this new world of information bubbles. The right wing is still a complete mess from an organizational standpoint, but after much trial-and-error, learning from the online conspiracies like PizzaGate, QAnon, and Hunter Biden’s emails, prominent conservatives have realized that if you want to dominate the conversation across thousands of different internets, you need a story compelling enough to spread naturally, without anyone in charge. And the hysteria around critical race theory right now is a perfect example of how this works.
Thanks to some very nice data work by Kevin Reuning, an assistant professor of political science at Miami University, we have a good visual of how something like critical race theory can dominate the digital public square in the span of a couple months. The secret? Local Facebook pages.
The list of pages that Reuning is tracking is unfortunately not public, but if you have a social dashboard like CrowdTangle, you can make your own version. According to a Medium piece published by Reuning and his collaborators, fellow assistant professor of political science at Miami University, Anne Whitesell and Lee Hannah, an associate professor at Wright State School of Public and International Affairs, they’ve been tracking the local Facebook groups and pages in 3,141 counties since the 2020 election.
They recently plugged the term “critical race theory” into their tracker and found that at one point around early May, the phrase accounted for almost 5% of daily posts across local Republican Facebook groups.
Last week, I wrote about the conservative war against “critical race theory,” an academic model that seeks to reevaluate American history and social politics through the lens of racial justice. Republicans are jumping on the theory right now, using it as a way to give their base something to be outraged over. But all of the critical race theory discourse is vague and purposefully confusing. Conservative think tanks like the Manhattan Institute have spoken openly about “poisoning” the term, using it as a catch-all for any and every kind of progressive cause.
But there’s another piece to this besides just seeding out the same message across thousands of Facebook groups. And, luckily for us, Dominik Stecuła, a political science professor from Colorado State University, whipped up a similar graph of mentions of “critical race theory” across right-wing news sites.
As you can see from both charts, the term starts spreading on local Facebook groups before being reported on by conservative outlets, only to feed back into the frenzy around critical race theory. To go even further into how this all works, according to Social Media Analysis Toolkit (SMAT), a social tracker for far-right communities like 4chan, 8chan, Reddit, .win sites, and Telegram, show different peaks in terms of conversation around critical race theory, which I find super interesting.
Gab, Parler, and far-right Reddit clone Poal, were all talking about critical race theory between January and April, while 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit are talking about more often now, which makes sense. Sites like 4chan and Reddit are aggregators, while Gab and Parler are full of deranged right-wingers screaming into the void.
Unfortunately, this kind of information war isn’t going to stop at critical race theory. According to a tweet from Whitesell, these same pages and groups are already talking about Fauci’s emails. And I imagine if conservatives can get a couple moral panics going at the same time in this same kind of manner, things will be too confusing to really parse. The hope is to just clog up our feeds with so much useless outrage bait that you can no longer understand why anyone is talking about anything. Recently, Claire Lehmann, the founder of The Quillette, a stuffy center-right dark enlightenment website, was tweeting a bunch of nonsense about critical race theory and was then quote-tweeted by @SeanRMoorhead, whose take on this whole thing I liked quite a bit:
Floyd Mayweather Fought Logan Paul
On Friday, I wrote about how influencer maximalism has collided with the world of professional boxing and now everyone has to pretend that there’s something interesting about watching someone like Floyd Mayweather fight a YouTuber like Logan Paul. Which is exactly what happened over the weekend. Paul went eight rounds with Mayweather.
Quick aside: The fight happened at Miami Gardens, basically up the street from the Bitcoin 2021 Conference (more on that in a bit), solidifying Miami as a sort of more evil, but also somehow more authentic(?) San Francisco for the Mad Max-esque nightmare world of America post-COVID.
There are already a ton of conspiracies about how exactly the Paul/Mayweather bout may have been fixed. Though, the overwhelming reaction from Twitter has been a pretty clear-eyed assessment of the fight as being a mutually beneficial grift for both parties. The retired Mayweather gets a bunch of young eyeballs on him, a bunch of money, and an opportunity to add to his legendary status as the fighter a YouTuber has to fight to be taken seriously. And Paul gets to say he did eight rounds with Mayweather and didn’t get knocked out/die.
Which is funny. You’d think Hollywood would have figured this out when young YouTubers in their prime tried to create shows and movies with them. Big studios essentially gave up on trying to work them after constant controversies, like with Disney fired the other Paul brother back in 2017. For a certain kind of Gen Z man, people like the Pauls are icons and I think we’re going to see other aging entertainment industries figure out how to trade some clout with these influencers. And, I assume, Miami will continue to be ground zero for this sort of thing.
Facebook Is Hiring Writers
Facebook, like Twitter did earlier this year, is launching a newsletter product. It’s called Bulletin and Recode had some very interesting (infuriating) information about what Bulletin will entail. The biggest surprise: It won’t be open to everyone at launch.
At launch, at least, Bulletin will be limited to dozens of writers Facebook is recruiting and paying (we stopped debating whether Facebook is a media company a long time ago, but just in case you were wondering, hiring journalists to write news is something a media company does). And Facebook is deliberately trying to avoid political (read: divisive and popular) writers and subjects on Bulletin.
According to Recode, the first round of Bulletin writers will be avoiding “political topics” and instead focus on things like “sports, fashion, and the environment, as well as a group of writers covering local news.” Ah, yes, famously apolitical subject areas such as fashion, local news, and the environment.
This is, of course, all complete nonsense. As anyone who has spent anytime in a Facebook Group in the last four years can tell you, literally nothing on the platform is apolitical anymore. Also, I am obsessed with the popular Silicon Valley idea that local news is some kind of magical Eden of journalism, a conflict-free utopia safe from the national culture war. When I used to work for Patch, I sat in on small town zoning committee meetings that would regularly almost end in physical violence.
So Facebook will either stick to their apolitical agenda and create an insanely boring product that no one cares about and then quietly sunset it or, they’ll give up on keeping it apolitical, respond to what does best among their users, and immediately pivot into a right-wing news outlet. Excited to see which happens first!
A Good Tweet
An International Cat Band
A guy named David Scott, who goes by The Kiffness on YouTube, took a clip of a cat making a bunch of weird sounds, slapped a lofi hip hop beat underneath it and then recruited a bunch of musicians from the around the world to jump on the track. The resulting song is legitimately great! His duet with Bilal Göregen, though, the Turkish street musician who went super mega viral earlier this year, is an INCREDIBLE banger.
Incredibly Expensive Among Us Chicken Nugget
Yes, you are reading that right. A chicken nugget from a BTS meal (the partnership McDonald’s is currently doing with the K-pop group BTS) sold on eBay for close to $100,000. Why? Because it looked like one of the spacemen/astronaut things from the game Among Us.
It was shared by the official Among Us account when the bidding was only around $34,000, which makes me think that’s what helped push it to almost $100,000.
Anyways, I’m sure things are economically fine. This is all probably FINE.
I Make A Cameo In This Music Video!
Jarrod Alonge is a YouTube creator I’ve been a fan of for a while now. He’s created a bunch of satirical pop punk, emo, and screamo bands and his “fake” pop punk band Sunrise Skater Kids just put out a new song called “Still Posi”. I show up around 1:20.
El Salvador Has Laser Eyes And Anonymous Goes After Elon Musk
It was a big week for crypto! First off, as I wrote above, there was a massive Bitcoin convention in Miami, Bitcoin 2021 Conference. Here’s a video that I think sums up nicely how the event went.
As, uh, whatever was happening was happening in Miami, hacktivist collective Anonymous put out a video condemning Elon Musk for trying to manipulate the crypto market:
Millions of retail investors were really counting on their crypto gains to improve their lives. This is something that you will never understand because you were born into the stolen wealth of a South African apartheid emerald mine and have no clue what struggle is like for most of the working people in the world. Of course, they took the risk upon themselves when they invested, and everyone knows to be prepared for volatility in crypto, but your tweets this week show a clear disregard for the average working person.
And while ALL OF THAT was happening, El Salvador President Nayib Bukele posted a photo of himself with laser eyes on Twitter and announced that the Central American country would be the first country to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender.
John Hinckley Has Officially Been Canceled
If you didn’t know, John Hinkley Jr., the guy who shot President Reagan in 1981 has a YouTube channel now. Hinkley wounded Reagan, a police officer, and two secret service agents, but was ultimately found not guilty by reason of insanity because he carried out the shooting due to a romantic fixation he had on the actor Jodie Foster and has spent the last 30 years in a psychiatric facility.
Well, he’s now posting original acoustic love songs online. Rolling Stone has framed the story as, “He Tried to Kill a President. Then YouTube Made Money Off Him,” which I honestly think is a bit harsh. Yes, this is all objectively strange, but also, sure why not. Hinkley, who is now in his 60s, won a court battle and a judge ruled that he can post his music and pursue a career in songwriting. He’s not the strangest person to try and make a living on YouTube. A few years ago, Jhon Jairo Velásquez, a former hitman for the Medellín Cartel launched a YouTube channel and, before he died of cancer in 2020, amassed 1.2 million followers on the platform. All I’m saying is the internet is weird and anyone can post on it.
But one very funny twist to the Hinkley story though is that he’s now colliding with modern internet discourse. For example, Twitter users have tried to cancel Hinkley — except, not for the shooting.
This Guy’s Mask Tan
I went to this guy’s TikTok to see if this was real or not. At the very least I wanted to see if he had committed to the bit enough to walk around like this for a few days. Sadly, he has only posted one video after this one and it’s a “throwback” video from last year. Will keep an eye on his account for any updates.
Some Stray Links:
P.S. here’s a truly astounding gross food video.