Sunday, October 18, 2015

Bernie fans meme'd me again. Will Sanders speak out?

Even though I've had publication offers for this story from Vox, The Atlantic, Salon and The Washington Post, I've decided that it's too important to risk any kind of editorial filter whatsoever -- so I'm posting it here so that I can put this in my own words.

Last night, I was meme'd again by a Bernie Sanders fan. The attack was completely unprovoked. Late in the evening before I went to bed, I tweeted out a link to "Here Comes the Berniebro," a fun article that my friend Robinson Meyer just published in The Atlantic. This morning I woke up to this:

This may seem like the work of some lone psychopath, but it's not. This kind of thing is happening to me constantly. In the past month alone I've been meme'd more than 17 times. All of them came from apparent Bernie Sanders supporters who I have never even met in real life, but who have apparently been using Twitter to monitor my tweets and respond to them.

For many Americans, this isn't an unusual story: this morning I took an informal survey of my coworkers after our editorial meeting and found no less than six colleagues who have been meme'd by a Sanders supporter this year. The memes vary, but many of the details are quite similar. Here, for instance, is the person who attacked me:

Male? Check. White? Check. Early twenties / late teens? Check. Glance at this guy's timeline and you'll see a deceptively ordinary kid who likes video games and tweets inside jokes and cat pictures to his friends. But dig through his replies, and you'll notice a disturbing trend: clearly, @GamerMFA has taken an interest in Bernie Sanders and even searches for the Senator's name to talk about him with people he has never met. Sometimes he'll even attack people who criticize Sanders. For instance, just a week before his tweet to me, @GamerMFA tweeted this at Amanda Marcotte:

Bravely, Amanda refused to be intimidated: on Thursday, she published a piece in Salon speaking out against the "Bernie Sanders truthers" swarming the "social media debates," and the next day Salon ran a second article by Amanda where she decried the "Sanders supporters" and their reckless, reactionary propensity towards "sharing memes". Unlike her critics, Amanda has been studying the polls closely, and the data suggests all of those .jpgs will almost certainly spell the difference between victory and defeat: "they run a strong chance of running off undecided voters" who would have supporters Bernie Sanders but for the memes, she writes.

The real left owes a debt of gratitude to Democrats like Amanda who are willing to stand up to the social media tactics of Bernie Sanders fans, but we also have a major question: where has Bernie been in all of this?

Does Sanders not realize how many critics on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Sina Weibo stand in constant risk of continued memeing and trolling from several of his supporters? Does he not understand that his entire campaign stands on the very precipice of continuing opprobrium from some of the accounts with the bluest checkmarks on Twitter? How many more brutal zingers shot from Brookyln to Dupont Circle over the office Slack account can democratic socialism take? How many more embarrassing tweets from ridiculous 17-year-olds, gleefully RT'd by professional political analysts?

A close look at the data suggests that it may already be too late. Take his internet trolls out of the picture, and my model suggests (in red) that Sanders would have assumed a commanding lead more than a month ago, running as many as 20 points ahead of Clinton in national polls. But with so many ruthless Bernie Sanders memes still at large, the picture, of course, looks quite different.