The Growth Of Nazi Propaganda Online
An Internet Citizen’s Perspective — Part I
It seems like every time I make pointed commentary on the encroaching goals of White Nationalist rhetoric, I find people considering me more and more paranoid, or experiencing some level of exhaustion that I’m once again bringing up the subject. In response, I thought it might be a good idea to talk a little about what I’ve seen in the past, and why this problem is one that should be taken seriously by everyone who has a stake in American politics (i.e. everybody who isn’t yet identifying themselves as National Socialists)
I consider myself someone who is fairly well traveled in online social circles. For many years, I acted as a moderator on so-called “default” subreddits on reddit.com. I spent my free time (who would do such a thing!?) helping to moderate communities of tens of millions of people, which means that I’ve seen some shit in my time.
The length of my tenure stretched from 2011 to around 2015. In that time, I’ve seen the rise and fall of any number of rhetorical efforts that fall right, left, center, and even some off into an unknown inter-dimensional realm of politics that exists free of any form of established logic or rationality. It’s this last category that we’ll be focusing on for the duration of this essay.
The Past — (Teil eins)
In order to understand our current set of circumstances, we have to understand our past.
The Internet used to be a place for rejects. People who were misunderstood by their families, or by society as a whole found a home online connecting with people who shared their viewpoints and interests. For example, in the early years of the Internet, fetish communities found a home on the web where people who shared their interest in kinky taboo sex rituals like tickling could satisfy their wont. Out of this basic format, cultures began to spring up around online forums and message boards.
As time went on, virtual message boards and IRC chats ruled this communication medium, connecting people with any set of interests you can imagine. After years of growth, even fetish communities experienced a broadening of space that led to “rule 34”, a concept that dictates that, “if you can imagine it, there is porn for it!”
It used to be that “Internet culture” was a niche domain of politics with rules and traditions unto itself. The crossover between online political realities and offline, “real world” political realities never intersected. Frankly, the realities of online communication are buried under too many layers of oddly defined irony, cynicism, and nihilism to have existed much past the computer monitor. But as time went on, things changed.
As technology became more intertwined with life offline, and the amount of “Internet denizens” increased, the aspects of pessimistic online communication that made it hard for things like online ‘in-jokes’ to translate into the real world weren’t considered insurmountable obstacles anymore.
Sites like Reddit, Twitter, and 4chan were becoming popular and were actually starting to wield real power. In 2008, the dark-horse election of Barack Obama likely wouldn’t have been possible without Obama’s dogged online interactions, but this election was merely a preview of the power that Internet communities held.
By 2011, groups like “Anonymous” were pulling off attacks on major corporations like Bank Of America and Mastercard that fundamentally changed the way companies reacted to online criticism. In February of 2011, Anonymous got backdoor access into a private intelligence firm — HB Gary — and by the spring, Middle Eastern countries were cracking down on Internet Service Provider (ISP) access to their citizens for organizing protests and uprisings.
These actions in large part were carried out through the use of condensed information bursts, delivering critical organizing information and political concepts in brief, easy to understand pieces. The Internet meme was in its infancy, but it wouldn’t be long before it would be grown up, and weaponized to great effect.