Untroll the internet: Pantsuit Nation

Normally this would be an Untroll Thursday but I think we all need something to sooth our hearts before US election result anxiety explodes all over us.

Vox reports on Pantsuit Nation, a secret Facebook group of 1.3 million Clinton fans:

Now that its membership has ballooned, the community has evolved from a place to coordinate Election Day attire into a place where members (of all genders and political parties, according to founder Libby Chamberlain) not only rave about their chosen candidate, but also provide moral support each to other in the face of what many feel is a hugely stressful run-up to voting day.

“We share stories about our grandparents, our children, and our families,” Chamberlain said. “We support each other during this highly contentious election season and have created a refuge from the vitriol that is sweeping the nation.” Administrators encourage members to adhere to the “go high” mantra made famous by first lady Michelle Obama, and so far, she says, “the response has been astounding.”

Beyond the election, things like this really do give me hope. Internet forums don’t have to be hives of shitposting and misogyny. Moderators can build positive discussion and lay down the law about the kinds of environments they want to oversee, and it doesn’t have to end just because a bunch of agitating douchebags scream about free speech. They have the rest of the internet, you know?

I see so many people – predominantly women – who have just stopped posting about the US election on social media, because even on their own pages they’re not safe from other people – predominantly men – being negative, disingenuous and outright abusive. Who feel they have to let those comments stand, or go unchallenged, because it’s not worth the grief and whinging and social stigma of rebutting even the most obvious bullshit.

We can have online spaces where people just squee about the things they love. We can set the limits for what behaviour is acceptable in those spaces, exactly the same way we set limits for what’s acceptable in our homes and communities. We don’t have to subscribe to the idea that sharing our platforms with people whose sole purpose is literally to antagonise and derail discussion is somehow noble or desirable.

Let’s make a better internet.

How does #nzpol do on Facebook?

Feinstein Doak has a post up with the Top Political Facebook Posts of 2014, and the results are interesting:

  • John Key, unsurprisingly given that his Facebook page has over 180,000 likes, dominates with 5 of the top 10 posts
  • But the top post – with a staggering 14,000 likes and 475 shares – is a lovely, genuine update from Jacinda Ardern about assembling a roadtrip with some other stranded travellers trying to get to Auckland
  • At #9, David Cunliffe’s resignation was obviously big news, but no one else from the Left got this level of cut-through
  • But the remaining 3? All Winston, baby.

It seems to defy conventional wisdom about (a) the uptake of social media by ~older generations~ and (b) the demographics of Winston’s fanbase. That being said, it thoroughly plays into the idea of Winston as New Zealand’s ultimate populist politician – always saying exactly what people want to hear.

Creepy behaviour from David Farrar

It wasn’t at all surprising to me that David Farrar is scathing of students who have to seek hardship grants to pay their bills, categorising them as bludgers who “say yes to free cash“. Nor that he believes that every journalist who reports on the cost of living should demand “a detailed break down of income and expenditure, so readers can judge for themselves the situation”.

(David Farrar isn’t a journalist, so he’s not bound by such ethical considerations – or he might have considered linking to the actual UCOL policy on hardship grants which makes it clear it is definitely not just “free cash”.)

It’s a typical rightwing attitude which reinforces the idea that lesser people – beneficiaries, students, parents – just aren’t allowed to have nice things. It assumes that survival is good enough – not being able to live a life with some dignity, nor understanding that human beings aren’t just automatons who you input fuel into to extract productivity.

What’s disturbing is this bit, where after completely misrepresenting an interviewees’ statements (she commented that she was speaking generally, not of her own situation; Farrar reforms this into wholesale journalistic inaccuracy):

I’ve had a look through the Facebook pages of Lauren and Karn. They both seem very cool friendly people, and in no way are they political activists for a cause. They seem very typical students. I would note however that contrary to the perception in the article of starving students (and I am not blaming them, but the story) they seem to have pretty good social lives judging by the photos, and references to Big Day Out etc.

We’ve seen this before, of course, with Paula Bennett unashamedly releasing the personal details of beneficiaries who criticised her ill-judged, mean-spirited decision to cut the Training Incentive Allowance. And there have been many similar cases of people having sick leave cut because they looked happy in a couple of Facebook photos.

It’s a really nasty intimidation tactic – silencing people by threatening to embarrass them publicly, undermining their experiences by attacking their credibility. If you’re not dressed like a Dickensian urchin covered in chimney-dust, the argument goes, you can’t really be struggling to pay bills week-to-week.

David Farrar is saying no more and no less than this: if you do have political leanings, your argument would be invalid (he pretends to be generous in pointing out that they don’t); if you do have a social life, you must be lying when you say some students are trying to get by with $2 a day to spend on food sometimes. And don’t even think about attending the Big Day Out in February if you might be short of cash in September or you deserve to go hungry, you horrid, reprehensible bludgers.

It’s par for the course for our government and its bloggers, and it needs to be named for what it is: unacceptable bullying.

Edited to add: a few responses on Twitter which highlight that this is repeated behaviour from Farrar, and why it’s irresponsible for him to expose young women to the lecherous creepiness of his commentariat (which he keeps promising to clean up).