How trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos monetize your hate, and what to do about it

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]

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  1. Jorpho says:

    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.

    What about that time the Ark Encounter got funded because so many people showed up to watch Bill Nye debate evolution?
    http://www.newsweek.com/creationist-ken-ham-raised-enough-money-after-bill-nye-debate-build-noahs-ark-230539

  2. How to Beat You (Spoiler: We Are!) - US Citizens

  3. I don't know about this. You're suggesting applying reason to an unreasonable situation. You're not going to "devastate them from the floor" regardless of how solid your arguments are. They don't acknowledge the existence of logical fallacies and will not recognize being caught in one.

    This is an intractable problem and engagement isn't going to make it go away. I believe the only solution is to promote education and specifically, critical thinking skills. It's a difficult, long-term solution but I don't see anything else. Shouting is ineffective, ignoring is dangerous and engaging provides validation.

  4. Am I to believe that Ryan Holiday is not still at it? Because this advice sure sounds a lot he's trying to hurt the cause he's giving advice to.

    The problem he monetized is that society is full of disaffected young people who are looking for a purpose and not finding any. So some charismatic person comes along and tells them they can do something important. That person could be selling them on internet trolling, terrorism, abortion protesting, or building housing for Habitat for Humanity. The cause is irrelevant.

    So if you want to beat these awful trolls, build a better society where fewer young people feel like their lives have no purpose and no hope. Fewer people will then buy into this shit, because they'll be too busy doing something actually worthwhile.

    In the mean time, don't let some asshole tell you to silence yourself because expressing yourself is bad strategy. Ryan Holiday is not your communications director. None of these idiots know what they are doing. If a hatemonger speaking in your neighbourhood makes you angry, go protest it. Be loud. Spend less time thinking about their strategy and more time thinking about yourself and what you want and how you feel. Things have always gotten better (in horrible fits and starts) because people acted the way they believed was the best way to act, not because yet another white man showed up and told everyone what to do.

    No matter how much they want it to be, this isn't all about them.

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