Monday, April 13, 2009

Doing the devil’s work

Last week, an extremist christianist group ineptly launched a campaign against marriage equality featuring a TV ad using actors pretending to be real people to give credibility to the group’s lies and distortions. The deception was revealed by the Human Rights Campaign, which posted the actors’ audition tapes. The embarrassed haters responded by asserting copyright over the auditions and forcing YouTube to take them down, apparently hoping that hiding them would help them promote their lies without the general public knowing the truth.

The commercial is part of their hate campaign using as part of its acronym, “M4M”. A simple Google search would’ve shown this wasn’t a good idea for them. They also didn’t buy all the web domains with the full acronym of their hate campaign, so one has been set up to oppose them.

Add it all up and the hate group seems bumbling and buffoonish. But despite their ineptitude—or because of it—they received hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free publicity. As rational people laughed at the group’s cartoonish antics, their target audience found out about them—and may not have otherwise. Maybe the group’s stupidity was real, maybe it was an act to get a reaction, but in any case they got far more publicity than they or their far right backers could ever have funded.

As is so often the case, the centre and left did far more to advance the message of the haters than the haters themselves. They may have mocked the hate group or merely refuted the group’s lies, but in doing so they spoke only to people who already agreed with them, while helping to spread general awareness of the hate group and its campaign.

This is the dilemma for political bloggers: How much attention do we give to what our adversaries are doing? Do we ignore them and hope their project goes away, or do we take them on in the hope of stopping them? Neither approach is necessarily right or wrong, and both are fraught with potential danger. This week’s events demonstrate that conundrum with crystal clarity.

I think that the attention that we on the centre and left give to the antics of the right has to be determined, in part, by the scale of the threat. But whatever our response, we must make sure we don’t do the haters’ work for them: It’s tempting to link to the latest hate project in order to mock or refute it, but it’s not always the right choice. For one thing, the more links a site or video gets, the higher it will be in Google rankings.

It’s possible to refute the lies of the far right without calling attention to the haters themselves, which is why I seldom mention far right groups or their leaders by name or link to rightwing sites. For me, the issue isn’t any one group—since they’re all interlocked one way or another, anyway—but rather the lies, deceptions and distortions they use in their hate campaigns. For me, it’s important to fight the devil’s work without helping to advance that work. Sometimes it’s impossible to do the first without also doing the second, but we must be aware of that when we’re doing it. Otherwise, we may inadvertently help our enemies without even realising it, thereby helping the devil grow stronger, and that’s a bad thing.


epilonious said...

The way I see it, If you expose the lies, then the cycle set up is that they get lots of publicity, but also gets lots of negative attention for lying and otherwise being douches.

Sure, the 'wingnuts' will know about them and work to support them, but the people who are not wingnuts will look at it and go "oh, this is that group that lied, and these are the people that support them now".

Either way, such antics seem like final acts of desperation.

Arthur Schenck said...

I don't think there's any single rule that works all the time. Sometimes, a refutation of lies alone is sufficient, because the wingnuts all use the same talking points. But other times, it's necessary to refute specific cases.

And while I also think that bloggers mostly "preach to the choir" (regardless of their position on the political spectrum), when the talk becomes common enough the mainstream news media will notice and report it, and that's when the refutation of lies makes it to the vast majority of people who are between the ends of the spectrum. Well, sometimes.

Anyway, the trick is deciding when to refute and when to ignore.