Navigating coded language online

As far as grassroots political movements go, The Women’s March on Washington, and the sister marches that took place worldwide, were a resounding success. A worldwide, peaceful protest that seemed to give hope to progressives worldwide that we might actually pull through the populist political wave.

Yet, it didn’t take long for right-wing voices to get to work in an attempt to delegitimize a citizen’s right to protest. In the age of Twitter, that work has taken on a new face and new language. Language that is almost never overt, instead relying on dog whistle phrases that use hidden meaning to demean and divide.

Dog whistle politics (the method used by Kellie Leitch when she says she wants to screen immigrants for “Canadian Values”) are nothing new. But on Twitter, those dog whistles are even more potent, with more people “in the know” than ever before. That was evidenced by the straw-grasping attempts to paint the Women’s Marches, and often feminist movements in general, in a negative light.

Much like they way women are held to impossible standards in society, the way people protest is also always under scrutiny in an attempt to police the way citizens voice their concerns. If you keep your activism online then you’re nothing but a slacktivist that isn’t willing to actually stand-up for what you believe in. Not only does this leave out the important work of activists online, but it assumes all activists are physically and mentally able to demonstrate in person. Yet, the point of this argument is it’s lack of nuance, and as we saw on January 21st, the flipside of this is that when you actually protest in person, you’re called a lazy feminazi who is inconveniencing people and needs to get a job.

Since this casual gaslighting is already so prevalent, and it’s only going to get worse in the next four years, I wanted to write a beginners guide to the coded language used to attack progressive, feminist, and women’s rights issues online.

First, let’s start with a topic that unfortunately has become synonymous with using Twitter in 2017:

Generic Racism

“((( )))” – Probably the most well known Twitter slur are the triple parentheses. Also known as “the echo,” the parentheses are a way for far-right trolls to target Jewish people online. The users who had their name placed in the echo would be cyber-assaulted by a brigade of white-supremacists. Of course, that hatred also often spread to women and non-Jewish progressives who happened to get in their way as well.

“Globalist” – A term the alt-right uses for anyone that still has the gall to strive for open borders instead of rampant isolationism and xenophobia. Note: A “globalist” is a strawman that no progressives actually identify as, but throughout the US Presidential election campaign, Hillary Clinton was labeled as a (((globalist))) online enough that it essentially became a meme on it’s own.

“14” – This is an especially coded phrase, and although it doesn’t directly fit into a feminist framework, it’s still an important thing to watch for. Instead of just a harmless number, 14 is a white supremacist dog whistle that references a 14-word slogan used by white supremacists and white nationalists alike. That fun slogan, “we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” was recently shouted out by conservative commentator Ann Coulter in a tweet that she sent out earlier this month.

Generic Regressive Rhetoric

Alright, now that we’ve gotten racism out of the way, let’s move into the realms of misogyny, and general regressive argument codes.

“Virtue Signaling” – Ahhhh, good ol’ virtue signalling. The newest tool to shut up dissent from the right is the idea that any virtue signalling, typically defined as  “the expression or promotion of viewpoints by a speaker, done primarily to enhance their standing within a social group,” is a left wing propaganda tool. It often carries the notion that no actions are done without self-serving aims, therefore all virtue signalling is an attempt to paint oneself as more morally righteous than their counterparts. The term stems from a 2015 article by James Bartholemew, that paints all progressives as slacktivists that only argue for equality because it makes them sound good, without ever doing any work. In theory, this may seem like a way to attack the religious right, or even some stagnant forms of capitalist “white feminism,” but in reality, virtue signalling is used to shut down progressive arguments by framing them in self-serving aims.

“White-knighting” – White-knighting is like the cousin of virtue signalling, but with more focus, and only ever used on men. As any male feminist allies can likely attest, there’s literally nothing you can do to argue for women’s rights, or help further the feminist cause without ultimately doing it for the reward of sex. At least that’s what any men’s rights activists will often argue online. Not only does the phrase white knight imply that women are lesser to men and undeserving of our help without the promise of sex, but it also attempts to bolster toxic masculinity by punishing men who deviate from hegemonic gender performances.

To be fair, white-knighting got it’s roots as a takedown of the kind of men who do only fake interest in feminist issues with the aims of getting sex in return, but it’s use on legitimate male allies means that we’re always fighting to prove that we belong and that we are striving to dismantle patriarchy alongside our female activists.

“Cuck / Beta” – The bread-and-butter alt-right rhetoric, Cuck (and Beta, often interchangeable, but slightly different) are related to white-knighting in their roots of shaming men.  

Call it an upside of living in Alberta, but our twitter-using populace doesn’t try that hard to hide their qualms with others.  No, the veil on that hatred is thinner than the crowds in attendance at Trump’s inauguration.

The Rebel Media’s attempt to infiltrate the Edmonton Women’s March this past weekend didn’t exactly go so well, but the ensuing video, and right-wing online backlash to it, did serve to highlight just how prevalent the use of these terms are in the right wing community (it also gave me this hilarious tweet from “Rebel Commander” Ezra Levant).

I believe what Ezra is asking for here, is copious amounts of cuckold pornography to be sent to his DMs?

I believe what Ezra is asking for here, is copious amounts of cuckold pornography to be sent to his DMs?

Ezra’s cuck hunt is just the latest example of the alt-right’s attempt to insult men by attacking their sexuality. The cuckold fetish is a subset of consenting men that allow their significant others to have sex with other men while they watch (or, in the case of the alt-right nightmare, are forced to watch). In use online, the subtextual meaning of being a cuck is that you are so emasculated, so pitiful in your ability to pleasure women, that you would let another man have sex with your wife – or even worse, have your masculinity diminished BY A WOMAN!

This not only disparages men by assuming they would want full control over what their wife can and can’t do, but it also seems to assume that all men should strive for power in heteronormative, patriarchally-enforced, monogamous relationships. It’s ultimately indicative of the alt-right mindset towards women, that the worst thing you can call a man is someone who has had their power taken away by a woman.

“Special Snowflake” – From what research I did on this piece, it seems that calling leftists SJWs is out, snowflakes is now in. Ask for basic human rights for trans students to have gender-neutral bathrooms? Special snowflake. Ask that people call you a different pronoun? Special snowflake. These days, it’s been shortened to just snowflake, and it seems completely detached from it’s original meaning, but it still implies that all progressives are easily offended and out of touch.

It’s never a fun experience to be attacked by people from the alt-right, but if there’s any takeaway from this at all, it’s that these coded insults are always up for re-defining. Take the (((echo))) for example, it was co-opted by Jewish and non-Jewish twitter users alike to essentially make the signifier meaningless.

In the same vein, if making women subservient to men is the only way to achieve respect in the eyes of the alt-right, then I’m proud to be a “beta” and a “cuck,” and you should be too.

But, there’s still one last phrase to define.

“Pepe the Frog” – Y’know what? Let’s just have the leader of the alt-right himself, Mr. “peaceful ethnic cleansing,” Richard Spencer explain this one.