Image by geralt
Internet provocateurs are here and they’re not fading off into obscurity anytime soon. Thanks to the rising popularity of the internet, attention seekers are no longer stuck on the sidewalk, shouting for attention and stuffing pamphlets into your unwilling hands. In the past, they were relegated to pamphlets, council protests and letters to the editor. Now, they have the whole internet at their beck and call.
It’s well known: everyone on the internet is outraged. However, in this age of outrage porn, some people are more willing than others to lead the angry mob. On the Right, you have provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, who for years has created the news by saying outrageous things on Twitter, and when he was banned from Twitter, everywhere else he could get his “fabulous” fingers. Yiannopoulos says outrageous things because he knows the angry mob will react. But some people take him seriously? That’s true. And those people are dumber for it.
On the Left, you have Australian provocateur Clementine Ford. Much like Yiannopoulos, Ford baits people into reacting to her, and uses it to fuel her income. The radical feminist will say something outrageous on Facebook or Twitter, which will inevitably have a few anti-feminist commenters. Ford will cherry-pick a few of these responses, and display them to her followers as “proof” of the misogyny, rape and death threats she faces constantly. This makes her look like an innocent victim, and not an online provocateur cashing in on those who are so willing to be outraged.
It’s not just individuals who are cashing in on outrage for clicks and cash. 4chan users constantly make up ridiculous things—such as claiming everyday things like milk and the OK symbol are white supremacist symbols—and serious news sites like Al Jazeera take this seriously all the time. In 2014, Gamergate became a huge sensation because journalists melodramatically claimed that “Gamers are Dead”, headlines which purposefully baited video gamers into being outraged. Gawker Media and News of the World were notorious for writing content that would outrage readers and viewers, before this business model lead to their downfall.
Internet provocateurs want your attention, and they don’t care how they do it. The alleged epidemic of “fake news” is only rife because provocateurs do not care about giving us the facts, only about controlling our reactions. Reasonable debate is not profitable to internet provocateurs. Some of these attention seekers may believe their life on Facebook or Twitter is actually as dramatic as an episode of Bold and the Beautiful, but many—like Ford and Yiannopoulos—know it will keep their careers thriving. Most of these master-provokers don’t actually believe what they write and say, but don’t care enough to admit it.
If you want to stop provocateurs from profiting, they have to be ignored. If you abuse or criticize Clementine Ford, Anita Sarkeesian or Lauren Duca, you are only giving them ammunition to keep the outrage economy flowing. If you go into thirty-thread Twitter tirades on how Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson or Richard Spencer are normalizing white supremacy and Nazism, they will only use your own outrage to fuel their thriving careers.
Ignoring outrage artists doesn’t mean you are normalizing their abhorrent behavior. It means you are asking for public figures not to be attention-seeking dramatists, but more rational and sane sources of information. These provocateurs are not indicative of the wider population, but select, radical thought. Radicalism is only so prevalent in countries like the United States because we allow the outspoken extremists have the loudest voices. These people are the minority, and they shouldn’t be allowed such a massive platform, just because they know how to get the biggest reactions.
Online discussions rarely lead to someone changing their opinions, but that doesn’t mean we have to put the barest of effort into this engagement. Online provocateurs do not wish for longstanding change, despite their claims to the contrary. They just want your reactions, your clicks, and your cash.
If we stop giving attention to those who only wish to outrage us, maybe the internet can be used as a force for good. Leave the online ranters to themselves, ranting into the void.