There’s a video titled “The Internet: Where religions come to die.” Putting your personal feelings on religion aside, the video makes a strong point that the more extreme versions of Christianity, Islam or any number of cults rely heavily on peer pressure and conformity. This coercion is required in order to keep people from questioning whether Jesus really said “Fags must die” while he was riding on the back of a velociraptor on Noah’s Ark.
But you can’t do that in cyberspace. This is why conservatism withers and dies online.
Eric Boehlert wrote an article about this phenomena in which he shined a light on the “Friends of Hamas” debacle that embarrassed the hell out of the right-wing media machine and the GOP. Basically, they took an obvious bit of satire and, as Boehlert explains, “the fact that the scary sounding group doesn’t exist didn’t stop a right-wing site from pushing the tall tale; a tale that quickly ricocheted across the conservative media landscape and was touted as a Deeply Troubling Development.”
But that the right is so credulous is only part of the problem and not even the main part. The real problem for conservatives when it comes to the internet is the same problem religious extremism has: It cannot stand up to criticism.
Conservative ideology demands to be taken at face value. Questions are discouraged and individuality is openly mocked (even as they pretend to a “frontier spirit”). That’s great at town meetings or family gatherings where intense social pressure can be brought to bear, but it absolutely does not work on the internet. Obedience is in short supply in online forums like Facebook and Youtube. Conformity is simply an alien concept to cyberspace.
To further compound the problem is that the internet has an annoying habit of rooting out misinformation in a rather brutal fashion. This puts right-wing ideology under extreme duress. For instance, claiming that evolution is a “lie straight from the pit of hell” outside of the comfortable confines of Fox News or CPAC leaves conservatives open to public shaming and ridicule. Over time, conservatives have found it nearly impossible to propagate their…ahem…unique ideas about American history, President Obama’s ancestry and similar tenets of conservative faith beyond the limited reach of World Net Daily and other right-wing websites. Declaring right-wing “facts” in an open forum not completely dominated by conservatives generally leads to immediate and heavy push back and, as Stephen Colbert famously noted, “Reality has a liberal bias.”
The bottom line is, you cannot persuade the undecided with bullshit when the facts are presented. Misinformation requires a vacuum to operate in and the internet is anything but devoid of information.
The right understands this on a simplistic level but doesn’t know how to properly deal with it. As usual, their solutions are superficial and don’t come close to addressing the underlying cause, specifically the dishonesty inherent in right-wing ideology. Instead, they create ever more right-wing websites like Conservapedia and, most recently, The Tea Party Community. The former to lure people away from the “liberal” (read as: factual) Wikipedia and the latter to escape the “censorship” (read as: public humiliation) of Facebook. Conservatives are trying to build an ideologically friendly internet just as they created an alternate media machine to tell them only what they wanted to hear.
And we all saw how well that worked in the 2012 election.
Walling themselves off from critique and inquiry will make the right feel better for a little while but it will do nothing to grow their
religion political movement. Unfortunately (for them, anyway), it will lead to a continuation of the bizarre bubble in which conservatives literally had no idea that they were not just losing the 2012 election but losing it badly. This, in turn, will lead to even more extreme beliefs and conspiracy theories.
It’s kind of like watching the conservative movement devolve into the Morlocks:
The internet is a big scary place filled with liberals, their damned facts and, worst of all, questions. Questions are to conservatives like sunlight to the Morlocks: it burns!. As I’ve said, many times before, the almost inevitable collapse of the modern conservative movement will hurt America in the short run but benefit the country over time. The faster the moderates can banish the Morlocks back to the fever swamps of the far right freakshow, the better off we’ll all be.
It just can’t happen soon enough.