Political Instagram and the Post-Left

Joshua Citarella hat ein Essay/eBook über die neue Radikalisierung junger Linker auf Instagram geschrieben. Auffällig sind für mich beim ersten Querlesen eine bemerkenswerte Zivilisationsmüdigkeit (vor dem Hintergrund des Klimawandels) und (ausgerechnet) die Inklusion des Frühwerks des Dark Enlightenment/Neoreaktions-Denkers Nick Land, sowie die explizite Ablehnung der klassischen Linken. Und statt des Authoritarismus der Neuen Rechten entwickelt sich hier anscheinend ein radikaler Isolationismus des Individuums, der in einer extrem nihilistischen Weltsicht mündet.

Und bei all dem darf man nicht vergessen, dass es sich hier anscheinend um haufenweise komplett desorientierter Teenager handelt, die zu lange auf /pol/ unterwegs waren. „The left can’t meme“ – until the kids up the ante. Ich trauere jetzt schon um die gute alte Zeit der Culture/Meme-Wars 2016. Sehr gruselige Entwicklung.

Hier das PDF der Short-Version: Politigram & the Post-Left.

Politigrammers Politigrammers revel in adding as many prefixes and suffixes to their ideology as possible. Sometimes I think there are as many ideologies as there are members of Politigram. Some of the more unusual titles I’ve come across; National Trotskyism, Dharmic Eco-Reactionaryism, Libertarian Neo-Monarchism, Traditional Primitivist Caliphatism, Christian Bolshevism, the list goes on… Similar to the identity politics culture of Tumblr, these spaces are deeply individuated and users often list their relevant info at the header of their page.

The individuated style of these profiles implies a latent anti-collectivism within the culture and the platform itself. We might ask; what use is a political party of one? This is the topic for a whole other project. At the time, my interest in exploring this space is to find an online Left that can compete with the social media impact of the Alt-right. It seemed obvious that after the ubiquity of social media any progressive political movement would require some degree of a populist base. This base would need its own department of outreach; the memesters, the influencers and the online personalities that work to prime new followers for radicalization. The far-right did this extraordinarily well leading up to the 2016 presidential election. My practice became an extensive research project into the underbelly of online radical groups. I would find the counter-movement, prognosticate its rise and turn the tide of American politics! Or so i hoped.

In a strange way Instagram feels a bit like the old internet of portal links. The interface is clunky and filled with cumbersome click throughs. There is no easy way to use quantitative data or scrape analytics in this closed system. Politigram can’t be visualized from the outside. It must be explored qualitatively from within. Search results yield mainstream meme accounts, paid posts and merch stores ready to monetize their followings. Accounts which have been featured in the mainstream media, or have too many followers, are generally not trusted; they’re normies. Unlike on Facebook, Instagram users do not not mutually subscribe to each other’s posts when connecting. In a one-way subscriber system word-of-mouth has a high value. A shout-out from a more popular account can be a powerful endorsement. Otherwise, sifting through the comment threads is usually the best way to uncover the core accounts and OC tastemakers within the community.

Politigram is a haven for both ideologues and trolls. They are interested in experimenting and trying on new world-views. Remember, these are mostly kids in middle school and high school. Some users managed different accounts aligned with different ideologies. Users often evolved in their views, deleted all their content, changed their name and started fresh.

Many Politigrammers will periodically take various “political compass” tests and update their followers about how their views are evolving. This type of post is most commonly referred to as “my political journey”. Think of it as a viral personality quiz for political extremists. Users will discuss where they started and where they think they might be headed. While these quizzes are certainly reductive, they do seem to be relatively accurate in that members of closely affiliated groups score reasonably close to each other on a consistent basis.

Without psychologizing these users too much, there is most definitely a profile that applies to many of the edgelord teens. I try to keep in mind that these kids are products of their environments. They are shaped by cultural and economic forces beyond their immediate control. From their few and infrequent earnest personal posts, often deleted within minutes, one quickly learns that many of them struggle with depression, social isolation, family problems and trouble at school. For social outcasts, the temptation temptation to troll the real world and sow political chaos can often be overwhelming. At the same time it is hard to have sympathy for anyone who openly advocates violence against others. My rules for this research were to follow but not interact, and to report any credible threat of real world violence.

A full ethnography of Politigram is a project for someone with much more experience than I. These spaces bleed into nearly infinite subcultures. I sat down to write this essay because I was inspired by the story of a specific group of online left anarchist teens, whose political evolution is outlined in some detail in the latter portion of this book. I think their story might offer us some insight towards the the formation of young radicals under our current media paradigm. It might tell us something about what is happening in the minds of the young American malcontents. This particular group began as self described syndicalists, socialists or otherwise lefties. Over the course of three years they evolved into something much darker. These platform spaces accelerate radicalization in unprecedented ways.

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