I find myself once again in election hell. Being a woman on the internet is generally hard but it’s particularly difficult during an election cycle. This is especially true if you support a woman running for a higher elected office such as President. It was hard during the 2016 election cycle and history repeated itself for the 2020 election.
The past two election cycles featured several brilliant and imminently qualified women running for this nation’s highest office. Being human, they had flaws. Being women, their flaws were often blown out proportion in comparison to their male counterparts and unforgiven by those who hold women to higher standards. Narratives against them were manufactured that had little basis in reality and were entirely rooted in misogyny,
Misogyny is deeply rooted in America in ways we are only now starting to comprehend and combat. Considering how deeply embedded it is, running for an office of power is difficult under the best of circumstances. It is extremely problematic when a candidate relies upon a misogynist troll army designed to take down the women running for office.
Bernie Sanders has such an army. During the 2016 election cycle, that army engaged in misogynistic attacks on Hillary Clinton as well as her supporters. They spread negative information, some of it untrue, and misogynistic memes designed to boost his candidacy. While it is clear the origin of some of the disinformation had Russian ties; troll armies rarely care about things such as truth or origin. Their sole purpose is to intimidate, harass and silence in service to their purpose. In Sanders’ case, that purported purpose is his election.
Despite their origins, troll armies expand and enlarge to form identities often reflecting the loudest among them. Humans are pack animals. Herd mentality develops and forms an identity. Oftentimes those involved have no little recognition of what is happening. When carried to extremes, it can become quite dangerous.
The 2016 disinformation problem was included in the Mueller Report. Sanders knew about the disinformation campaign against Hillary Clinton then lied about whether he ever communicated it to her campaign. Her campaign had publicly raised questions about it weeks earlier. Pro Sanders facebook pages were infiltrated and spread of disinformation immediately prior to the election was rampant. Seemingly there was little concerted effort to combat it. We are still sorting through it’s impact.
Disinformation on social media is particularly hard to battle when coupled with tactics that encourage online harassment.
Here’s how it works. Bad faith actors post inaccurate information on social media. Sometimes it contains a bit of truth that gets distorted out of proportion. It starts to spread. Other users post on the thread trying to discuss the issue or correct disinformation and get swarmed by the army. Sometimes they are threatened and doxxed. The harassment is intended to prohibit correction of disinformation or clarify the issues. The harassment becomes the issue and the disinformation spreads.
Online harassment happens to everyone but it is particularly difficult for women who suffer daily from efforts to silence their voice. When combined with abuse, it adds an increased burden. Abusive behavior is defined as threatening or harassing behavior designed to control it’s intended target. Abusive behavior silences. It causes symptoms such as depression and withdrawal. For survivors of abuse, it is particularly difficult. There are far too many survivors.
But surely you say a progressive movement wouldn’t rely on tactics seeking to diminish the participation of marginalized groups? LOL PLZ.
When confronted with questions regarding his troll army, Sanders has been either dismissive or brief. He can afford to be both since his troll army does the heavy lifting while he reaps its benefits. When those affected by targeted harassment seek dialogue and discussion on the issue, they are met with similar dismissiveness, or mocking narratives on “mean tweets.” Efforts to combat or form true dialogue regarding the issues are few and far between.
Once again history repeated itself in this election cycle in efforts to take down both Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. Trump didn’t even have to deploy his tactics because Sanders has his own. The extent to which online harassment impacts voting is still being investigated but disinformation works. It undermines our democratic process.
Despite the appeal of some of Sanders’ policies, I am disgusted by his methods. He knows and understands what his troll army does. He simply doesn’t care because it works to his benefit.