Disinformation

Antifa, the intellectual dark web, and the internet’s twisted cylinder debates over media bias

You may have not heard of Eoin Lenihan, who has a PhD in Pedagogy and a skeletal and clunky website promoting his educational consulting services. Lenihan also has a side hustle that has him now banned on Twitter. Following the fallout from the ban sucked me into a world of red-pillers, the intellectual dark web, and the internet’s twisted cylinder debates over media bias.

Lenihan, who claims he’s been studying online extremism since 2016, was a panelist at a forum last October on radicalization at the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (the independent political party foundation of Germany’s centrist Christian Democratic Union). During this roundtable, he explained that he thought there was a gap in research on the extreme left. And so he set out to conduct a network analysis of Antfi and Antifa related Twitter accounts.

In an article he wrote last Wednesday for Quillette, he proclaimed “15 verified national-level journalists” downplayed violence by and promoted talking points of Antifa in their articles. Lenihan cited “anecdotal evidence” that there was an “overall correlation between the level of their online engagement with Antifa and the manner by which these journalists treated Antifa in their published journalism” by ascertaining that these journalists, who cover political extremism, follow a large number of anti-fascist Twitter accounts.

Lenihan’s article spread fast on conservative websites and in right-wing media, from Reddit’s The New Right, to PJ Media, Breitbart and the like, and then Lenihan’s Twitter account got suspended (Twitter has not responded to its reasons yet). It’s striking how fast Lenihan’s article took flight in right-wing media, and the news of Twitter’s action, in turn, was immediately picked up by many of the same news sources. RT ran with the headline “Twitter bans researcher who exposed journalist ties to Antifa.”

But according to Yochai Benkler, a law professor at Harvard and a co-director of the university’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, this turns out is actually not surprising at all. In his book, co-authored with Harvard researchers Robert Faris, and Hal Roberts, “Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics,” they set out how we shouldn’t blame Facebook for the spread of falsehoods, but right-wing media instead.

Most American news outlets try to adhere to facts. When something proves erroneous, they run corrections, or, as Benkler and his co-authors write, “they check each other.” Far-left Web sites post as many bogus stories as far-right ones do, but mainstream and liberal news organizations tend to ignore suspiciously extreme material. Conservative media outlets, however, focus more intently on confirming their audience’s biases, and are much more susceptible to disinformation, propaganda, and outright falsehoods (as judged by neutral fact-checking organizations such as PolitiFact).” (The New Yorker)

If you’d ask Quillette’s editor-in-chief Claire Lehman, who refers to Quilette as being “like Slate, but more serious, more intellectual, and without any Regressive Leftism” (something which I found on Slate), she’d tell you that her site breaks free from bias and the “puritanical partisan hysteria.”

Lehman and her site were discussed in a notorious NYT article last year on the “Intellectual Dark Web,” a loose group of individuals such as Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, and Ben Shapiro, who consider themselves heretical intelligentsia trying to survive political correctness.

Shapiro this week found himself in different controversy. The lawyers for a 21-year-old in Indiana who pleaded guilty to defacing a synagogue with Nazi symbolism argued against their client getting prison time by claiming he was radicalized by his 17-year-old wife who foisted on him incendiary articles from Fox News, Breitbart — and articles written by Shapiro.

Shapiro tweeted that the idea that he could be inspiration to the synagogue vandal is absurd: “Yes, if there’s one thing I’m known for — as one of the most prominent Orthodox Jews, targets of the alt-right, and critics of the alt-right in America — it’s directing Nazis to attack synagogues. What garbage.”

But it’s Shapiro’s notion that his sentiments and ideas are off-limits to anti-Semites – and could not be inspiration for anti-Semitic acts – because he’s Jewish is itself absurd. It’s also a fact that Shapiro was cited by the defendant as a source of inspiration, pointed out by Emily Gorcenski, who broke the story.

And that’s how we get back to Lenihan, who accuses Gorcenski — among others — for shaming “individuals she deems to be fascists before they have received due process.” Gorcenski, a data-scientist, is a well-known activist who studies open court documents and leaked Discord chats to expose members of the Alt-Right. And according to Lenihan, that’s bias.

Inge Snip

Inge worked as Coda Story's Impact Editor to solidify Coda Story's thinking on how Coda's journalism sparks change. She's also worked with UNDP, UNICEF, Forbes, Outriders, and EurasiaNet.

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