In-Group and out-Group Communication

I’m obviously not a know-it-all when it comes to building a large platform. So this is a bit of a brainstorming article.

There are multiple ways to engage politically and everybody must find his or her loopholes to make a difference. Our situations are very different. While one person has more time and resources, the other has less reputation to lose and can dare more. While one person may have useful talents, the other has a short drive to the local protest march. When it comes to persuasion, I’m not disqualifying any measures outside needless violence. Political changes happen through communication and I will focus on that.

I understand that many of you are frustrated. German-Czech Blogger Dushan Wegner had a recent article on the necessity of spreading information, titled “Inform Your Neighbour like Yourself.” Re-published on the fairly popular aggregate blog Achgut. It drew 31 comments, all of which gave personal accounts on how futile their efforts have been so far. So let’s have a realistic view.

There is a benefit for communicating with your ideological in-group as well as with the out-group. You can go into greater depths with your in-group debates. And this is essential. The in-group is less homogenous than you think and you will only find out where you stand when you pit your views against some of your friends. Be careful with your tone. Debates are more like martial arts than like brawls. Agree to disagree in minor things and be civil afterwards. As a general rule, let others cut ties with you and never do that to others!

As things are, the major communication channels are controlled by others and many of those that seem to superficially agree with you might be delusional with far-fetched conspiracy theories or may have an authoritarian stroke. The first ones are at best a strategic liability and they can at worst be manipulated to turn against you. The second ones are the people you don’t want to succeed. There is no point in replacing a tsar with a Lenin. Checking these things out, giving tips for fact checking, plausibility testing (Occam’s razor) and clean communication is worthwhile for some time. Still, don’t turn in-group communication into some self-absorbing social endeavor. People get impatient.

You want to win. And while you start with the like-minded, you ultimately want to change minds. Even this starts at the in-group level. We are social animals and facilitate an impulse through our larger social spheres, through families, acquaintances and even strangers like taxi drivers or hairdressers. One of my favorite anecdote about Margarete Thatcher is that people often did not know where she got all the extra information and intellectual impulses from. Eventually her cabinet found out that she had a very knowledgable hairdresser. Your voice matters.

The in-group can also turn into a production site for ideas and tools. The weird forum 4chan/pol/ once produced a large amount of jokey pictures (“memes”) that would later circle through the wider public. And besides pure communication, art is important. If you see a way to utilize your skill set, go for it! The left does it, too. Hollywood is populated with people on the left because they sing better, look hotter, cry on command and are overtly perfect. At least this is what the left believes. The reality is that they promote each other on the basis of ideological alliance. Most people only learn on an emotional basis and spreading information is not enough to touch them. You convince with music, captivating stories, interactive (mobile phone?) games, dances, comic books, novels, theater plays and movies. And some of it might even slip through major channels before people notice your heretic messages. Just choose the largest outlets that are available to you, an outlet that accommodates your level of anonymity and is bearable in terms of censorship frustrations.

Last weekend I jumped on the ZEIT online comment section. It is probably the widest read comment section in the German-speaking world that also reaches lefties, although I should add mostly hardcore lefties. I have noticed a recent transformation that gives me hope. More and more conservative voices pierced through and I assumed that a critical mass of frustrated readers overwhelmed the censors and the paid propagandists.

Still many comments disappear and for whatever reason ZEIT leaves an “explanation” as to why so they can educate commenters about what they should say. Because of the sheer size of the platform, there seems to be at least five censorship boards dealing with the comments. One section of articles that is targeting the youth and has a separate orange style, can only be commented on when you log in with a Facebook account. So I had four left.

Because each of the censorship boards are over-challenged there are denunciation buttons. I am a free speech absolutist, but this does not work in a place where everybody but yourself is against freedom. You have to go down into the mud pit for a while. The first thing I did was reporting people who trivialize the Nazis to trash the opposition. To my surprise some of the comments eventually disappeared. I realized that the vast team of censors are low-paid students and not professional ideologues.

So I dropped short comments. ZEIT online checks new contributors for a volley of comments until they let you into the wilderness where the others will control you with the denunciation feature. Once you get denounced, you are back in the one-by-one monitoring mode. I think I was out of the mode on the four separate boards for a total of maybe 5 comments until some ass got me back.

I knew before that only a fraction of my comments will go through. So I opened the comment pages on separate tabs and browsed through them, leaving short, quippy remarks. Two reasons: 1. You don’t want to lose too much text to the censors and 2. you convince people by making them laugh or really, really angry (Ann Coulter wisdom). I noticed that I was blocked on some levels of the censorship structure because the comments on some articles would not go through anymore. Once all comments seemed to go nowhere I realized that I’m still writing to an audience: the censors.

I mean, you have all these kids deleting comments and I made them delete innocent comments complaining about antisemitism. Their boss may have said so, but …hm…deep down Germans know that there is something wrong with stifling discussion on Jew hatred. Actually, one passed and was then removed with the message that it were off-topic. The article was about “everyday racism.” I let it be known that a first step would be not to give the antisemites in Merkel’s government a pass as they refuse to classify Hezbollah as a racist terror organization. After they declared the comment “off-topic,” I wrote that antisemitism apparently does not count as racism and repeated it. It did not go through and I was blocked on this board immediately, but I’m sure that was a traumatising student job for some censors. Once no comments on any articles went through, I went for short jokes that did not necessarily have a political intent. So I tried to make the censors laugh. That caused a bit of a problem apparently because people cannot hide laughter and yet it is forbidden when it’s “racist”. So I got the complete treat.

Other bloggers tried to play the ZEIT platform, too. Luisman says that he was out after only three comments. I assume they were rather angry comments, but he also did it two years back. And I remember that I was on with a different user name for less than 20 comments and I did not get blocked then (I actually threw away the paper with my password for the sheer anger when they deleted a few of my remarks), but I noticed the short fuse of the censor who engaged with me over email at the time.  American Viewer had a long comment history on ZEIT online until they wanted him to provide evidence that the neo-Nazi serial murder trial “NSU case” was more expensive than the actual Nuremberg Trials. He quoted their own articles, linked to a website tool to calculate the adjustment for the inflation, and even penned down the calculation itself. Faced with the facts, they shut down his account.

Of course, I had a small range and a short time. I was not expecting more. I’m actually surprised that I did last as long as I did. For whatever outlets you have, embrace them. If they are big enough make sure that you have some control over what reaches the wider public. If you are able to give newspaper interviews, make sure you are guaranteed to read and approve or deny the final text. Audio and video interactions with the media should be live. Of course, the precautions are lesser when you deal with trustworthy people. Rebecca Hargreaves adds some of her views in the video on top (although I think she made the wrong decision because she is articulate enough to give unfair editing not a chance).

Ultimately, changing the platforms to nice conservative safe spaces is not an alternative to interacting with the left. As stated above you can further some goals within your in-group, but you should be aware of the shifting texture of the audience as you move through the wider public. Nevertheless, every platform is only temporary. Don’t put your heart into one!

If possible use multiple outlets, from your dinner table over Facebook to Telegram. WordPress allows you to upload your content on various internet places at once. You cannot and should not attend all these places. Let the computer do it for you. Just register and flush it out in hope that people find it.

I spent some time on the comment section of blogger Juergen Fritz until he closed it because of the EU data protection directive panic. But while I was there, I tried to hint to other bloggers and youtubers, to connect readers with each other. Whatever your ideas are to get the word out, let me know…by getting your word out.

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