This week's edition of the always, always-excellent On the Media podcast featured an interview (MP3) with notorious (and self-confessed) media manipulator Ryan Holiday, whose book, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator describes his career in PR, in which he perfected the art of making terrible people rich by getting decent people to hate them.
At the core of Holiday's theory is the idea that young men with disposable income will do anything so long as someone tells them that they're forbidden to do so. He did this very successfully for Tucker Max, the "pick up artist" guru who provided advice to men on tricking or coercing women into having sex with them. Holiday describes how he defaced his client's own ads, tipped off activist groups to upcoming appearances in order to gin up controversy and ensure noisy demonstrations, and worked to encourage city bus companies to yank his clients' ads and activists to create petitions to cancel Max's speaking appearances.
He likens this to the Milo Yiannopoulos playbook, saying that Yiannopoulos identifies the people who will hate him who have the biggest public followings, then works to specifically offend those people so that they tell other people not to listen to him. Though most people will take the critics' advice, there is a large, widely distributed group of young men who will also encounter the message, decide that no one will tell them what to think, and thus become unquestioning Yiannopoulos brownshirts.
In an accompanying article in The Observer, Holiday described the tactic in detail, then offers a countermeasure: show up, listen respectfully, then devastate them from the floor with counterarguments. Don't let them be the underdog darlings of reactionary manbabies.
If you actually want to fight back against these trolls, here's a strategy to consider: Organize all you want, get as many people as you can to show up at their events, but don't try to shut them down. In fact, the only thing you should try to shut down are the instigators who try to incite violence. Regain the moral high ground by saying that you absolutely respect their right to free speech.
And then, actually listen and talk to them. To me, the most effective retorts against the alt-right were when Trevor Noah had Tomi Lahren on his show and when Elle Reeve profiled Richard Spencer for Vice. Both came off looking mostly like jokes. Tomi Lahren showed her age. Richard Spencer revealed his movement to be mostly a collection of a few thousand sad dorks. Wale's Twitter exchange with Tomi was effective too—there was no outrage, no opposition, just teasing.
They say sunlight is the best disinfectant. But it is also what allows you to see whether the emperor has any clothes. And it's this sad, and often pathetic reality, that the collective hysteria has beneficently covered up in those it's trying to fight. What should be seen as farce somehow looks like real fascism.
How To Counter Milo's Trolling Playbook [On the Media]