They Light Dumpster Fires. Stop Adding Oxygen.
How to stop getting played by the Right-Wing attack machine.
Their entire media strategy depends on getting us to play our part. The only way to beat them is to refuse to play their game.
It’s All Culture War Now
We have to stop falling into the traps set by conservatives. Despite our legislative victories, they still play us like fiddles, turning almost every success into a liability.
In the past, I have argued that our best response is to ignore them. They depend on our outrage to be the fuel that spreads and amplifies their cruel caricatures of us.
Here’s the problem. The inmates have taken over the Republican asylum.
People like Grover Norquist, Charlie Kirk, Steve Bannon and Christopher Rufo craft ruthlessly clever messages that start at ludicrous and conspiratorial and quickly cross the line into fascism and incitement of violence.
Their attacks are formulated in dark money superPACs and “research” institutes and pushed out simultaneously through the Republican Party, Fox News, and vast networks of right-wing radio, podcasts, websites, social media channels and local newspaper chains.
This is materially different than the idiocracy of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz and Ted Cruz. They are mostly about self-promotion and fundraising, but they still do considerable harm.
What should we do?
How do we know when to respond? How should we respond if we do? Let’s go over some attacks and our responses to them.
This is too much content for a single newsletter, so I have broken it up into two:
Part 1: In this newsletter, we’ll show how the wing-nuts operate and why it is best to ignore them completely.
Part 2: Next, we will look at nationally coordinated attacks and analyze how we responded and how we might respond better. Then, we will look at a brilliant response, where our people saw the attack coming, were ready to shut it down, and did it by taking the moral high ground.
Why our response matters
Their attacks are designed to trigger specific responses from us. They need our help to 1.) get their attacks distributed through the mainstream media and 2.) piggyback on our vast social media presence to get their content in front of our family and friends.
The mainstream media is overly sensitive to what “trends” on social media. Despite the differences between Twitter and real life, they see it as an indicator of how their own audiences will respond.
The voters we most need to persuade are likely to be the ones paying the least attention to political news. Many get their news second-hand on Facebook from people they know for non-political reasons when those people share or comment on political content that then shows up on their feeds.
It will always be in our best interest to use the media “real-estate” under our control to set the agenda and distribute our own positive messaging about the topics we think are important.
But first, we have to stop being unwitting accomplices in our own destruction.
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The Right Wing Nuts
We're the “Libs.” They trigger us. We respond - giving oxygen to their dumpster fire.
The “wing-nuts” manipulate the agenda of the public debate by saying things that appear stupid, crazy, offensive, demonstrably false, and/or clearly unconstitutional. We can't resist correcting people who are wrong or calling out people who are racist or sexist, and they know it.
Here’s a perfect example:
Marjorie Taylor Greene on Renewable Energy (Twitter)
What is Marjorie Taylor Greene trying to achieve when she puts out a video like this?
1.) Exposing persuadable people to this conservative framing: “Solar and wind energy are unreliable and depending on them means going without electricity.”
2.) Getting attacked by Liberals to bolster her persecution complex, shore up her bonafides with the right wing, and portray us as condescending toward her and, by association, toward the non-coastal-elite people she claims to represent.
Did she get us to react en masse?
Yes. This video has 3.2 million views so far.
What are the odds she would have gotten that many views without our reaction?
Slim to none.
How did she get us to react?
She pretended to be stupid and said something demonstrably false.
How did we react?
We shared her video, writing out what she said and the fact that her supporters applauded her for saying it, sometimes including an insult about her or her supporters, but never actually saying what was wrong with what she said, assuming that it would be obvious to everyone.
How does mere exposure to this content influence people?
The language compels us to visualize the lights going out and to associate renewable energy with inconsistent access to electricity, even if we know that those things grossly misrepresent reality.
What if we included facts that contradict their claim?
If we repeat their language, it has the same impact as the original content. Exposure to language makes our brains see those images and make those associations automatically, involuntarily and even subconsciously.
How else does our response help Marjorie Taylor Greene achieve her goals?
Marjorie Taylor Greene knows all about energy storage technology, but she knows that many persuadable voters do not. Our posts must make those voters feel confused, or worse, insulted and condescended to. Pretending to not know things that seem obvious to us is a favorite tactic by the right-wing troll crowd.
What would have been our best strategic response to this content?
Ignore it completely. Nothing can destroy the career of an attention seeker like being ignored.
How do we know when it’s okay to not respond?
If the purpose of sharing content is to point out what is wrong with one of our opponents, rather than to refute the underlying political claim, ignore it.
If your opponent says something stupid, crazy, offensive, demonstrably false and/or clearly unconstitutional and they should know better, they probably do know better. This would be “Liberal bait.” Ignore it.
Ask yourself, is this political claim new, credible and threatening? Is it coming from multiple sources and likely to get picked up by mainstream media with or without our help? If not, you can safely ignore it.
Do Not “Ratio.” Do Not Share. Do Not Comment. Do Not React.
Never interact with social media content or comments that include right-wing trigger words, phrases or imagery: any language that compels people to see things from their point of view.
Many people are not aware that when you comment on a post, Facebook shares the entire original post to your friends’ feeds.
This pro-Trump post appears with tiny lettering that tells your friend that you commented, without showing the comment itself. People see the original post, but may have to open the comments below to actually read your comment.
It is supposed to be cool to “ratio” people who post things you don’t like, which means to have a high number of comments (which tend to be negative) on their posts, relative to shares (which tend to be positive).
This post was shared 5,700 times but commented on 309,000 times. That’s a ratio of more than 54:1. But the cost of “ratio-ing” this Facebook user was to vastly amplify the reach of his content. People who disagreed with this post could have accidentally shared it to 20-40 million of their own friends’ feeds.
Any time you see an objectionable post or comment on Facebook, do not share, do not comment, do not even click on the “angry” emoji. Just pretend it does not exist.
Fortunately, Twitter does not distribute content to your followers’ feeds every time you comment on someone else’s tweet. Despite this, ratio-ing someone is still giving them a huge gift.
Twitter algorithms are based on the amount of interaction your posts get, so the more comments you get, the more likely you are to appear in feeds, to “trend,” or to get on the radar of the mainstream media.
Your best bet, once again, is to ignore people entirely.
The Bottom Line
When we amplify the reach of their digital content, we unwittingly expose persuadable people to triggers that mentally activate right-wing perspectives. The first thing we can do to improve our messaging, is to stop helping them promote theirs.
They will keep lighting dumpster fires. Stop adding oxygen
Attention is a reward for bad behavior. In politics, attention is a means to money and power. If nobody paid attention to Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Goetz, Lauren Boebert or Ted Cruz, they wouldn’t have careers.
This isn't just about shutting down some annoying trolls. They have real power and they use it to block progress, take away rights, damage democracy and encourage hate and violence. And because they are successful, others are copying their path to power.
Think of it as a boycott. The best way to stop them is to block them and encourage everyone you know to block them too.
As I said above, in my next newsletter, we will look at some nationally coordinated attacks and analyze how we responded and how we might respond better. Then, we will look at a brilliant response, where our people saw the attack coming, were ready to shut it down, and did it by taking the moral high ground.
Thanks, as always, for reading. I hope you are able to use this in your work and your activism!
I look forward to your feedback and ideas.