Culture Feature

Is Parler Dangerous? Everything You Need to Know About Online Extremism

Conservatives are leaving mainstream social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook in favor of far-right echo chambers.

Parler Logo

As Twitter and Facebook attempt to crack down on misinformation and extremist rhetoric, many right-wing Americans are swearing off the social media platforms all together.

In their place, conservatives are turning to platforms like Parler that emphasize free speech and promise to never censor users' content—no matter how violent it gets. Parler was the No. 1 free app downloaded through Apple's App Store and Google Play on Tuesday, according to market research firm SensorTower, thanks to a mass conservative exodus from more mainstream platforms.

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What Is Antifa? The Truth Behind the Tweets

Donald Trump clearly hates antifa. But what actually is antifa and why does it matter?

Donald Trump has declared antifa as public enemy #1

Alexandra Ivey

If you've watched Fox News recently, you have almost certainly heard the term "antifa" uttered with an air of sinister mystery and more than a hint of contempt, but what actually is it?

Antifa, pronounced "AN-tee-fuh," is short for antifascists. Antifa is not really an organization, as they have no leader, no hierarchy, and no regular meetings or gatherings. It is instead a left-wing political ideology that aims to eradicate fascism and white nationalism through the use of both nonviolent and violent direct action rather than policy reform. Essentially, they are a group characterized entirely by opposition to one thing: fascism.

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Culture News

Should IKEA Increase Security Based on One Woman in a Graphic Viral Video?

In response to the adult content of an isolated incident posted online, the Swedish retailer is embracing the panopticon

A video of a woman masturbating in an IKEA recently went viral on Chinese social media.

In response, the Swedish retailer has announced plans to increase cleaning and security in their stores, stating that they are "taking the matter very seriously" and are committed to creating "a safe, comfortable and healthy shopping experience and environment."

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This Content Is Dangerous: Trauma in the Age of YouTube

Digital space is both the crime scene and respite.

Remember when a great concern of the zeitgeist was whether playing violent video games would encourage violent behavior?

For over 50 years, intense research was dedicated to deciphering whether violence in the media can predispose viewers to violent behaviors. The 2019 answer (despite people like Trump falsely clinging to the outdated debate) is no; in fact, violent media is more likely to cause crippling trauma than indoctrinate you.

This week, The Verge's Casey Newton recounted interviews with 100 moderators of "violent extremism" on YouTube and Google. Based on testimonies of American-based employees (nevermind the small army of "cleaners" that tech companies amass overseas to exploit cheap labor), the litany of moderators' documented mental health issues range from anxiety and depression to insomnia and other intense PTSD symptoms. And it's no secret to the managers at Google and YouTube. Those who deem themselves to be "the lucky ones" are granted paid leave to address the mental health concerns that have regularly arisen among moderators who are expected to spend full work days viewing footage of child abuse (of both physical and sexual nature), beheadings, mass shootings, and other forms of extreme violence.

The banned content is divided into queues, reports The Verge. From copyright issues, hate speech, and harassment to violent extremism (VE) and adult sexual content, hundreds of moderators are contracted either in-house or through outside companies like an Austin-based outfit called Accenture. Many are immigrants who jumped at the opportunity to work for a major media company like Google. "When we migrated to the USA, our college degrees were not recognized," says a man identified as Michael. "So we just started doing anything. We needed to start working and making money."

Considering there are videos with disturbing content under the guise of Peppa Pig clips in order to slip into kid-friendly digital spaces, moderators do feel a sense of social responsibility and satisfaction for removing dangerous and inappropriate content from the Internet. But, of course, the company's bottom lines don't prioritize a safer digital space, but rather capital and ad revenue. Similar to Amazon's notorious workers' rights abuses, Google has imposed increasingly inhumane and bizarre restrictions on their moderators, from increasing their quotas to banning cell phones and then pens and paper from the floor and limiting time for bathroom breaks. "They treat us very bad," Michael adds. "There's so many ways to abuse you if you're not doing what they like." Michael works for Accenture, where the average pay is $18.50 or about $37,000 a year, but an in-house moderator for Google, a woman identified as Daisy, described her full-time position in the California headquarters as ideal on paper. She earned about $75,000 a year with good benefits, not including a grant of Google stock valuing about $15,000. Ultimately, she left the job with long-lasting PTSD symptoms, because, she said, "Your entire day is looking at bodies on the floor of a theater. Your neurons are just not working the way they usually would. It slows everything down."

Specifically, a moderator's job is to view at least 5 hours of content every day; that's five hours of watching mass shootings, hate speech and harassment, graphic crimes against children as young as three years old, and images of dead bodies as the result of domestic and foreign terrorism (such as ISIS or a man shooting his girlfriend on camera). "You never know when you're going to see the thing you can't unsee until you see it," Newton concludes from her 100 interviews. Some moderators suffered severe mental health effects after a few weeks, while others endured years before they were forced to take leave, quit, or hospitalize themselves.

social media danger "Virus" by Carolina Rodriguez Fuenmayor

Secondhand Trauma

"Every gunshot, every death, he experiences as if it might be real," Newton writes about one moderator's trauma. And that's what it is: trauma in the age of YouTube. While the human condition has been documented to bend under the weight of atrocities since ancient civilizations' records of soldiers committing suicide, the term "posttraumatic stress disorder" was only acknowledged in the 1970s amidst the domestic fallout of the Vietnam War.

Today, studies estimate that 8 million Americans aged 18 and over display symptoms of PTSD, which is about 3.6% of the U.S. adult population. Furthermore, 67% of individuals "exposed to mass violence have been shown to develop PTSD, a higher rate than those exposed to natural disasters or other types of traumatic events," according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. And the more traumatic events one is exposed to, the higher the risk of developing PTSD symptoms.

When it comes to "secondary" trauma, experiencing mental and emotional distress from exposure to another's experience is generally associated with therapists and social workers. The contagion of secondhand trauma was already known before YouTube began in 2005, and social scientists across the board have concluded that "vicarious traumatization," "secondary traumatic stress (STS)," or "indirect trauma" is a real, clinical effect from graphic media in the news cycle. One study found, in reference to press coverage of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, "Unlike direct exposure to a collective trauma, which can end when the acute phase of the event is over, media exposure keeps the acute stressor active and alive in one's mind. In so doing, repeated media exposure may contribute to the development of trauma-related disorders by prolonging or exacerbating acute trauma-related symptoms."

In the age of increasingly pervasive media coverage and exposure to all varieties of human behavior, secondary trauma is inevitable. Yet, among the general public it's often unacknowledged, or even mocked. Newton recounted, "In therapy, Daisy learned that the declining productivity that frustrated her managers was not her fault. Her therapist had worked with other former content moderators and explained that people respond differently to repeated exposure to disturbing images. Some overeat and gain weight. Some exercise compulsively. Some, like Daisy, experience exhaustion and fatigue."

"All the evil of humanity, just raining in on you," Daisy told Newton. "That's what it felt like — like there was no escape. And then someone [her manager] told you, 'Well, you got to get back in there. Just keep on doing it.'"

social media danger "Sorrow and Fire" by Carolina Rodriguez Fuenmayor

Broadcasting Trauma

What constitutes "traumatic" media? The World Health Organization has gone so far as to define "violence" for the international community: "the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation." With the average U.S. adult spending over 11 hours a day "listening to, watching, reading or generally interacting with media," a digital user is exposed to real-world violence, global acts of terrorism, intimate partner violence (IPT), and casualties of freak accidents on a daily basis. While streaming entertainment occupies much of that time, radio reaches up to 92% on a weekly basis, while live TV "still accounts for a majority of an adult's media usage, with four hours and 46 minutes being spent with the platform daily," according to Nielson.

The problem with media is no longer as simple as violent video games. What streams in live news reports are increasing incidents of far-right terrorism (up 320% over the past five years) and increasing numbers of casualties. Meanwhile, shootings in the U.S. have intensified in frequency and fatalities, with gun deaths reaching the highest number per capita in more than 20 years (12 gun deaths per 100,000 people).With social media, you can view police shootouts live on Twitter, watch a mass shooter's livestream of his attack, see fatal police brutality caught on tape, or witness someone commit suicide on Facebook.

Who's policing this content? Instagram and Facebook are ostensibly cracking down on their community guidelines by demoting potentially injurious content—or debating before congress the limitations of both free speech and Mark Zuckerberg's latent humanity. As of November 2019, Twitter allows some sensitive material to be placed behind a content warning, provided it serves the purpose "to show what's happening in the world," but bans posts that "have the potential to normalize violence and cause distress to those who view them," including "gratuitous gore," "hateful imagery," "graphic violence" or adult sexual content. What happens after you hit the "report" button? At Google (and its property YouTube), it falls to the underpaid, overworked, and neglected moderators who are denied lunch breaks and vacation time if their queue has a heavy backlog of footage.

But what the Hell are we supposed to do about it? If we stumble across these images—even view some of them in full—do we become culpable for their existence?

We've been fretting over the human condition's ability to withstand traumatic images since the dawn of photography, particularly after photographs of the 20th century's World Wars exposed inhumane suffering to international audiences for the first time. "Photographs of mutilated bodies certainly can be vivify the condemnation of war," writes Susan Sontag in 2003's Regarding the Pain of Others, "and may bring home, for a spell, a portion of its reality to those who have no experience of war at all." She also notes, "The photographs are a means of making 'real' (or 'more real') matters that the privileged and the merely safe might prefer to ignore." In contrast, photographer Ariella Azoulay challenges Sontag when she examines the fundamental power relations between viewer and object in her book, The Civil Contract of Photography, wherein she argues that a violent photograph demands that the viewer respond to the suffering depicted. If the role of a photograph is "creating the visual space for politics," then how much more does a moving image demand of us? Clicking the "report" button on Twitter? Writing to our congresspeople? Taking to the streets and rioting?

In her longform essay, Sontag wrote: "Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers. The question of what to do with the feelings that have been aroused, the knowledge that has been communicated. If one feels that there is nothing 'we' can do–but who is that 'we'?–and nothing 'they' can do either– and who are 'they'–then one starts to get bored, cynical, apathetic."

social media danger "This Life Will Tear You Apart" by Carolina Rodriguez Fuenmayor

Ultimately, Google's failure to properly respect and support the mental health of its content moderators reflects an American problem of exceptionalism and subsequent drive to optimize at all costs. What drives the average American to filter the world through their screens for half of their day is stress over keeping up with trends and current events, being the most productive, and then escaping those anxieties in their downtime: Digital space–the realm of the image–is both the crime scene and the respite. The injustice calling us to action—whether in the form of boycotts or Twitter rants—is the fact that media is being regulated by a small cohort of billion-dollar companies with little to no regard for actual human life. Governments expect tech companies to police their own services with no outside oversight, while Google, a company that made $136.22 billion in 2018, is "just now beginning to dabble in these minor, technology-based interventions, years after employees began to report diagnoses of PTSD to their managers," according to Newton.

"It sounds to me like this is not a you problem, this is a them problem," is what Daisy's therapist told her. "They are in charge of this. They created this job. They should be able to … put resources into making this job, which is never going to be easy — but at least minimize these effects as much as possible." As of this week, they're putting (minimal) effort into that. Google researchers are experimenting with using technological tools to ease moderators' emotional and mental distress from watching the Internet's most violent and abusive acts on a daily basis: They're thinking of blurring out faces, editing videos into black and white, or changing the color of blood to green–which is fitting: blood the color of money.

Culture News

Alec Baldwin Pleads Guilty to Punching a Man, Then Comments on a Terrorist

Baldwin took a deal with prosecutors and immediately took to Twitter to complain.

CBS News

Notorious hot-head Alec Baldwin will begin court-ordered anger management counseling.

The 60-year-old appeared before a judge on Wednesday to plead guilty to harassment. Back in November, the actor engaged in an altercation over a parking spot in Greenwich Village. While Baldwin denied getting physical with Wojciech Cieszkowski, the 49-year-old reported to police that SNL's favorite Trump actor had punched him in the face.

Prosecutor Ryan Lipes dropped initial charges of misdemeanor attempted assault, resulting in Baldwin paying a $120 fine and agreeing to complete anger management classes by March 27. On Wednesday, Lipes issued the statement, "We have had an opportunity to review video surveillance in this case, speak with the witnesses, review the medical records and speak with the victim. Given that Mr. Baldwin does not have a criminal record, we are prepared to offer a harassment violation in the second degree with the the condition that he completes the short anger management program."

Baldwin has a lengthy history of being arrested for violence, along with long Twitter rants attempting to justify his belligerent behavior. After the charges against him were filed in November, he posted, "New York City is a mismanaged carnival of stupidity that is desperate for revenue and anxious to criminalize behavior once thought benign."

But on Wednesday, Baldwin seemed to take a socially-conscious turn in his post-hearing Twitter rant. While embarrassment and pride surely contributed to him shaming the amount of press that converged inside the courthouse, he criticized the media's priorities, as well. He posted, "I pled guilty to a charge of harassment, a violation. In that bldg today there are 3 murder trials scheduled, one involving a white supremacist who killed someone in Times Square. All the press was outside the courtroom I was in."

He was referring to the case of James Harris Jackson, 30, who stabbed 66-year-old Timothy Caughman to death in 2017 as part of his "global, total war" on black communities. Jackson appeared in the same courthouse as Baldwin to plead guilty to murder and acts of terrorism.

It's as if criminal history was made twice on Wednesday: Jackson became the first white supremacist to be prosecuted on charges of terrorism in New York State, and Baldwin made a sound point about media's relationships with the criminal justice system by punching a guy in the face.


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

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In a way, Carrie is the anti-woman, the id inside all of the women who hate participating in passive aggressive female nomenclature.

Watching Homeland is a uniquely satisfying experience for me. I am obsessed with everything Carrie Mathison (played by the fierce Claire Danes) does. From the way she haphazardly throws her kid's lunch together, to how she nonchalantly tucks her hair behind her ears before entering a deserted warehouse likely filled with killers and rapists. I could watch this character make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I love her, without condoning her. Does that make sense?

I don't tend to gravitate towards shows or films where it would be 100% unrealistic for me to emulate. I am not great at suspending reality, and usually avoid all sci-fi/superhero/action shows ect…I tend towards dramas and comedies, as I can always picture myself as a teacher, a lawyer, a professor, ect…but I could never picture myself as a CIA agent, using my actual physical body to beat-up criminals, running for my life, surviving POW experiences. No way. I am a petite Jewish gal with a propensity for long hot showers and my idea of adventure is leaving home without my phone charger. So why do I love this Mathison character so much?

In a way, Carrie is the anti-woman, the id inside all of the women who hate participating in passive aggressive female nomenclature. You know, the part of the woman (self included) who offers to help another woman with (insert any stereotypical female-driven event) when in reality she is at her brink, nearing domestic suicide. I have never seen this character plan (or attend for that matter) a baby shower, sit in on a PTA meeting, orchestrate the logistics of a family holiday, or even host a play date. While I haven't forgotten that she almost killed her baby several seasons back, and I recognize she almost dies in every episode, taking unbelievable risks fighting terrorism both domestic and abroad… I still find it unusual how much I love watching this character that on the surface, and perhaps even below it, I have nothing in common with.

I think I love this Carrie character so much simply because Carrie refuses to "do woman," the way society expects her, or any woman to do it. Women obviously have come along way, but there are still some basic ideals that no matter what, and no matter how liberal of a bubble you try and hide in, society does not allow for. The main one being, don't F*&% with Motherhood…with a capital M. Motherhood is unanimously agreed upon as being sacred. Fatherhood is not sacred. Fatherhood is valued, important, admired…but it is not sacred.

Being a fabulous father can mean paying child-support, being around on holidays and weekends, and not forgetting a birthday. And to be fare, even if you are tending to the vast emotional, physical, educational, social, and million other unique needs of a small child, if you are not financially providing for your child, society sees you as a week man, not-quite-cutting-it, and missing the mark on your man-hood responsibilities. Why? Because your role is not seen as sacred, it's seen as something to be performed. Now, if a mother decides to drop the ball on pretty much everything except financial security, she is seen as an evil Satin, narcissistic-workaholic who clearly doesn't love her children. I guess I love this character so much because there are some days, some moments, some milli-seconds that I don't want to be sacred! It's too much.

I know I know, she has bi-polar disorder, the plot is unrealistic, she is actually likely and technically un-fit to be a mother. I am not arguing or defending her abilities. I am just relishing, indulging in a momentary fascination, and realization that it is her refusal to accept her role as "sacred mother', that is momentarily inspirational for people like me, who feel guilty when we leave our kids with a responsible childcare provider for even a hot minute.

One last Carrie obsession. So many of Carrie's relationships on this show are with men (much like most high profile professional women). This means, most of her communication is concise, to the point, and filled with specific directions or demands. If someone is expressing an emotion to her, it's usually either a pat on the back (gratitude), or rage and anger due to her immense domestic or oversees F*&^ Up. What she doesn't face a lot of, is passive aggressive situations, social niceties, and hidden requests.

Obviously I do not want to be screamed at by the president of the United States or tortured and held at gunpoint… but guess what I also don't want?. To spend 30 minutes trying to discern if you DO or DO NOT want a 30th birthday party. If you are mad at me, just tell me, and get over it. If I am mad at you, let me tell you how you pissed me off, and I will get over it. If you wished I would support you in a specific way, tell me, and also don't deem me as the most selfish woman alive when I say 'no thanks, that doesn't appeal to me'. In fact, just assume I am in the CIA and have other extremely important duties, and your window to communicate with me is short.

Yes this CIA character analogy is TOTALLY far fetched. But wasn't it fun!? What if all women decided to be HUGE DISAPPOINTMENTs to each other… even just for a day or two. Go ahead, just pretend you have an EXTREMELY high profile job (you totally might) with the CIA and you can't make it to (insert any and every domestic-social expectation). You will still be seen as a HUGE DISAPOINTMENT… but people will say something like, 'she was a smart one…. likely too smart for her own good' and secretly admire your courage to disappoint!

Keeping the Real's Reel

By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, and a BA in Communication & Culture, and works with all kinds of people to improve their ability to work with all kinds of people. She can often be found hiding in her laundry room from her two children. More about her on her website.

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