Indianapolis readers of this blog may remember P.E. MacAllister, now deceased. P.E. was a local businessman/philanthropist, the sort of Republican who used to exist “back in the day”–a model citizen who placed good government above partisanship, and when a Democrat was elected Mayor, willingly worked with him on city projects.
P.E. was also a serious biblical scholar, who wrote a book called–if memory serves–The Tongue of the Serpent. It was in his book (which he graciously gifted me) that I encountered the origins of scapegoating.
Evidently, in biblical times, the inhabitants of a village would come together, and one of them would lay hands on the head of a live goat while confessing all the iniquities of the people– all their transgressions, all their sins. They would put those sins on the head of the goat, and send it away into the wilderness.
Where is that goat when you need it…??? Ah, well….
Scapegoating, as we all know, has evolved, with various marginalized folks taking the place of the goat. It now works with other unfortunate practices, especially hate speech and disinformation, and the prevalence and impact of all of those practices has been magnified by social media.
The Brookings Institution has published a report suggesting how concerned folks might deal with these techniques of spreading online racism. The report, titled “Bystander Intervention on Social Media,” stresses the need for online interventions against the “very real threats that can grow out of online abuse,” and identifies four primary discourses for spreading racism online: stereotyping, scapegoating, allegations of reverse racism, and echo chambers.
The researchers wanted to identify effective strategies available to bystanders that might be used to combat hate speech and misinformation online. At a time when many of us feel helpless to counter the mounting threats we face–growing tribalism, the rise of autocracy, climate change, etc. etc.–it’s comforting to be told that there is actually something individuals can do about at least one of the challenges we face–online racism.
We found that people of color are being targeted by organized misinformation efforts using digital technologies. We identified four primary racist discourses that operate on social media: stereotyping, scapegoating, allegations of reverse racism, and echo chambers. For example, Trump’s March 2020 tweet involves scapegoating in that he blames Chinese people and China for the spread of coronavirus in the U.S., thereby absolving his government of responsibility. Addressing racism on social media requires understanding that users who spread racist misinformation do so differently, sometimes compounding multiple forms of racism in just one post.
The researchers identified several techniques for combating online racism, and emphasized that they aren’t equally effective.
For instance, our study reveals that education and evidence-based or content-moderated discourse are prosocial techniques. These reactions to racist posts foster dialogue in the same way that they seek to debunk racist rhetoric. On the other hand, some methods, such as callouts, ridicule, and insults, were antisocial. These methods failed to minimize the hostility amongst users or against persons of color. Therefore, Internet users who want to speak out against online racism must consider the purpose of their interactions. If they want to reduce the presence of racism on social media, they must keep in mind that certain approaches may have the opposite effect.
Effective or not, the use of any intervention tactics was relatively rare. Most users on the platforms analyzed by the researchers simply refrained from intervening in racist conversations entirely. Only around one in every six Twitter conversations and somewhat fewer than 40% of Reddit discussions included any bystander behavior. The authors say that needs to change.
As the article concluded:
“Silence and inaction do nothing but cause biased perpetrator behaviors to proliferate as they feel unquestioned.” This is one of the most important implications from our analysis. Targeted aggressions can have real consequences on a victim’s mental and physical health. When bystanders step in and help to make aggressions visible, disarm the situation, educate the perpetrator, and seek external reinforcement or support, these approaches provide crucial support in preventing some of the most detrimental effects. Understanding the best strategies for online bystander intervention is the first step in targeting aggression online. If we want to see a genuine change in how social media users discuss racism, we must foster a digital culture that values prosocial discourse.
Distasteful as it can be to engage with bigots, we need to take this advice seriously.
22 thoughts on “Scapegoating”
“The researchers wanted to identify effective strategies available to bystanders that might be used to combat hate speech and misinformation online.”
Unfortunately; today the “bystanders” in the Senate are the mute and idle Republicans who ignore the simple strategy of upholding their own Oath of Office to combat the Judas Goat, disguising himself as the scapegoat, in the 2020 presidential election. They have lost sight, if they ever knew it, of the old legal term, “He who is silent appears to consent.” And it appears to be working for them as they stall out all legal action by the January 6th Select Committee to carry out confirmation of the perpetrators of the obvious reality of the insurrection.
“Silence and inaction do nothing but cause biased perpetrator behaviors to proliferate as they feel unquestioned.”
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” ― Elie Wiesel.
Individual efforts to reduce racist behavior, online or in person, are important, but would be more effective in combination with sound policy. Individual and personal behavior works hand-in-glove with sound policy, whatever the desired result.
Braver Angels was formed in 2016 There is a national event tonigh. Go to their website. They are attempting to bring red and blue together.
What’s odd about racism is some blacks seem okay with it. There seems to be a growing number of black Republicans in our society who’ve traded in their kinfolk for standing or money in society just like the white folk does.
What do you call that?
I don’t like racists, but I always wonder about those who’ve sold out for whatever reason. Lot’s of sinners in the church today.
I imagine the prosocial argument is correct, but it sure doesn’t feel appropriate. It’s exhausting to be constantly besieged by arsonist lunatics and always having to be the adult in the room who has to treat the crazies like we’re Stuart Smalley. It’s deeply obnoxious that decent people are always expected to say “Hey, guy who’s screaming obscenities at random minorities – we want you to know you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and gosh darn it – people like you!”
Always expected to smile and be kind when we see the attacker, lest we upset a loony and make them sad. Like I said, maybe it is indeed more helpful but it sure is exhausting to be made of olive branches when your surrounded by the aforementioned arsonists.
One aspect of this is what I call “deflection of attention” from the real causes of people’s troubles. If low-to-middle income whites can be distracted from looking at what global capitalism does to destroy their families and communities by deflecting their (often justified) frustrations onto people of color and immigrants, they can be enlisted as allies in supporting the very people who are responsible. It’s easy to do, because humans naturally admire and look up to those whom they perceive as very successful, and also it’s just not safe to direct resentment at those who have power over you. So you deflect those emotions onto those who can’t harm you, including your own family (domestic violence) as well as people of color.
“ When bystanders step in and help to make aggressions visible, disarm the situation, educate the perpetrator, and seek external reinforcement or support, these approaches provide crucial support in preventing some of the most detrimental effects”.
I really struggle with the pro-social approach to intervening in racist behavior on social media. First, I have to admit that most of my interactions on social media involve other people who hold similar beliefs and values as I do – that’s because of who I choose to follow and interact with. But when I DO encounter a racist or hateful comments on social media, I find it laughable that anything I do is going to “educate the perpetrator”. They more typically know that they’re racist and what effect they’re after.
So mostly I just click “report” the offending comment or tweet and hope that its author gets his or her account suspended as a result. If I comment on the offense at all it is something like “^^^ this (might be/is/definitely is) racist/misogynist/hate speech) and leave it at that. I see little benefit, if any, in engaging with the offender.
Todd, what do you call that? It’s called naked personal ambition where a person puts themself and their goals above all else, no matter the consequences or optics. And we shouldn’t expect 100% of people of color to somehow be perfectly homogenous in their values and virtuous because we don’t expect that of white people do we?
I will step in when one of my FB friends makes a racist statement or any derogatory post that I know to be untrue. On the other hand, I generally won’t even bother to read a post that screams bigotry, if it’s from a group or someone I suspect is a bot. Maybe I should shoulder more of the burden, but I’m just too damned tired these days.
We are one human family.
We will survive together, or perish together.
Continuing to think about it, I’m not sure prosocial is even that helpful on the internet. It seems to me that there are only 3 categories of awful on the internet.
1) Trolls – you can’t reason with them by definition. They WANT you to argue. They “believe” whatever is convenient at the moment to annoy people. They are Schrodinger’s asshole.
2) True Believers – you can’t reason with them by definition. Their bigotry/misogamy/etc. is a core belief. No random Facebook/twitter/whatever user is going to break through to a True Believer ever.
3) Just Ignorant. This group seems so small that you may never legitimately encounter it online. You could maybe help out here, but odds are you’ll never meet this person.
Prosocial isn’t any good for way more than 2/3rds of the internet.
Patrick writes, “And we shouldn’t expect 100% of people of color to somehow be perfectly homogenous in their values and virtuous because we don’t expect that of white people do we?”
I guess that goes for cross-dressers, gays, etc.
If they can toss aside their values for ambition, why should I take up their cause?
Careful now, this gets tricky…
p.s. eluding to identity politics
There are some people who will not respond to any attempt to confront racism. They are too stuck in their bigotry. I have heard that people who are labeled”white trash” tend to be more racist because they don’t want to see themselves as being at the bottom of the social hierarchy. I like the idea of reporting the post to the authorities to see if they can be taken off a social media site.
Racism and classicism are interdependent. There are African-Americans who have assimilated into white culture, who seem to believe that every black person should be able to succeed despite many forces against him/her i.e. familial dysfunction,system racism, intergenerational trauma, inequities in education and health care etc. Some of them have joined the GOP. I don’t know anyone of any race who succeeds without a leg up from someone or some good mentoring. None of us is totally self-reliant.
I don’t think we will ever overcome racism totally. I do believe it can be minimized effectively when people of different races live in the same neighborhood and become friends with one another. We need to sit down and eat together. What they call that? Oh, yes, “the welcome table”. It’s counterculture to the silos we live in on social media.
I second Wayne Moss’s recommendation. Braver Angels is a growing nationwide organization working to bring civil discourse back and tone down the divisiveness. Definitely worth investigating. They are grassroots and determined.
So, you think the only reason people of color might support the Republican Party is “ambition?” Ambition to do what? For 99% of people of color they have absolutely nothing to gain for voting Republican. You’re talking about 1% – people like those fools Candace Owens and Larry Elder. That’s a tiny percentage of people.
One thing you learn working in grass roots politics is that most people of color are not liberal. The most conservative part of the Democratic base is African-Americans. Hispanics likewise are more conservative than white Democrats, especially on social issues. That conservative African-Americans and Hispanics might want to vote Republican doesn’t require some nefarious personal motive to somehow (not sure how) get ahead financially.
Wouldn’t ‘anti-social’ media be a more accurate term?
And what does eluding mean? (He nit-picked.)
Perhaps those minority GOP members are just cynical and self-interested enough to take advantage of any part of the stacked system that is available to them, strictly on a personal level. There is likely little ideology and a lot of wily understanding of how and where the holes are in the system and how to exploit “the man”.
As far as how I react to blatant (or sometimes very subtle) racism/misogyny/xenophobia/homophobia on social media, I find a reputable source to refute any misinformation, then report it. It is a waste of time and energy to engage at all.
I do not engage in any other platforms, or blogs, but one. And the folks there are of a kind with anti-racists. I read HCR’s blog,
but there is no engagement there. Oh, and I just signed up for Thom Hartmann’s newsletter, but, again, no engagement there.
I will, however, forward today’s piece, Sheila, to others who most probably do engage.
I am partial to Kevin’s response, and do not believe that diehard bigots are available for change. Actually, I believe that change is the
thing that scares them the most, especially the change in the county’s demographics.
I agree with Mitch (as usual.) The idea that increasing numbers of us are recognizing the danger, hatred and ridiculousness of bigotry and are voting to reduce them in our government must be keeping conservatives awake at night…on their knees…praying to an impotent deity.
I recently had an argument with my daughter over her bigotry/racism. Her mother planted the seed but she nurtured the hate. I clearly pointed you cannot be a bigot and a Christian. She of course is an “Evangelical Christian”.
Tom: Likely ‘alluding’. Not even close to ‘eluding’. (She nitpicked, too!) This stuff (including all the other faux-pas) drives us bonkers, eh? Let ‘em off…it’s the holidays! Season’s Greetings, y’all!
Paul writes, “That conservative African-Americans and Hispanics might want to vote Republican doesn’t require some nefarious personal motive to somehow (not sure how) get ahead financially.”
No Paul, for one, after the Empire won on the battlefield, they sent in the “missionaries to enculturate the heathens.”
I do find watching our African-American descendants praising God and preaching about the Israelites quite interesting. Hasn’t someone told them they’re not Jewish or from the Middle East?
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