Guest Post: The Power of the Internet – An Opinion on Assassination Nation

The internet is a two-faced jerk. It can make us feel loved and precious and hyped up to soaring heights, or it can leave us lonely and hated and at the absolute bottom of a bottomless pit of rage. It has the unique power to universally unite us as people. It has the historically unparalleled power of dividing us and creating problems where there were none before. And the extreme ambivalence I feel when thinking about this two-faced jerk results from the fact that embracing the good side means the acceptance of the bad side. As I open my door wide to the beautiful face of the internet, the ugly face sneaks in behind my back while me and the beautiful face hug it out in the doorway. I invite one face into my house, but both faces come in.

The internet’s good side is its magical power to connect people from all over the world. It enables me to see and hear things from remote cultures that I would otherwise never come in contact with, thus broadening my horizon, forming me into a more complete, more tolerant and educated being.

The internet enables me to share my creativity with others in the hopes of making their day a little bit better. And the very best thing about it is that entire generations can share their experiences with one another, be it through memes, or tweets, or TikToks, sending out into the world the very clear message that we all need to hear: you are not alone.

Especially now, in pandemic times, the internet and its ability to connect us are more important than ever. I know a video call with my friends will never replace their actual presence in my living room, but it offers me something of a reprieve until I can hug them in person again. And seeing my exact experience and feelings summed up in a meme created by someone from the other side of the world on Facebook reminds me, again, that I am not alone in this.

So the internet’s best side brings people together to create something beautiful. However, there is a dangerous downside. The troublesome thing is the reason why people get together, because it can be to share love or creativity, but it can also be in order to unite against someone else and ostracize them.

The internet’s bad side that piggybacks on the good side is the way in which it has changed the way we communicate with one another. It has completely deconstructed the notion of facts, as David Mitchell explained on the Graham Norton Show: thanks to the internet, the truth may never be recognized as such again. There is no certainty of factual evidence on the internet, because the internet has given everybody the chance to share their thoughts on any matter, and the result is an endless web of facts mingled with opinions that are then misunderstood as facts and again mingled with opinions until nobody can actually comprehend what is true and what is not. There is no way to share your thoughts without them being misconstrued by someone else, and that is one of the big downsides to the internet’s ability to give everybody a voice: people think that because they have the opportunity to express their opinion, their opinion is automatically important, and it is not. Your opinion on a subject needs to be informed, or it is completely useless, but this idea of information is rendered more and more obsolete.

The result of this desire to share your thoughts on any subject with anyone simply because the opportunity is there has led to what I would like to call audience entitlement. Everyone obviously is entitled to their thoughts and opinions. Your mind cannot be controlled, it is yours and yours alone. The problematic thing about the internet’s open platform of opinions, however, is that people appear to have developed the feeling that because they have an opinion, it needs to be listened to. And while this feeling of being entitled to an audience in itself might not be inherently problematic, it very much becomes so once it leads to what Joe Rogan once called “recreational outrage.” People become habitually upset about things they read on the internet and, thanks to their audience entitlement, share their outrage and demand it to be taken seriously. If enough people share their outrage about the same thing on social media, their combined outrage is bundled into a shitstorm. And there have been outrages that were completely justified. The internet pools and combines worldwide forces to fight against injustice and that is beautiful. The issue is that it has become habitual, recreational, for people to try and kickstart shitstorms. In the process, we become desensitized to our own outrage and its consequences. And this desensitization is the bad consequence of the beautiful unification of the people.

The bad is created out of the good, then. The question I have come to ask myself is: is the good created out of the bad? Do they condition one another, or is it a one-way street that ends in doom and destruction? I have to admit I am not sure I have a definite answer, but Sam Levinson’s 2018 film Assassination Nation opts for the pessimistic view that yes, it is a one-way street, yes, it does end in doom and destruction, and that is because it is human nature. It is the human way of handling things, and it has been since colonial times, if not before that.

The film uses the analogy of the witch hunt to make this drive to destroy explicit. The city in which the plot takes place is Salem, Massachusetts, which is historically known for the Salem Witch trials, during which women were burnt at the stake or otherwise executed over accusations of witchcraft that the accused failed to disprove. What the film makes clear through the connection created between the history of witch trials and the postmodern process of the online shitstorm is that both kinds of hunts are not about the accused’s actual culpability. They are about scapegoating.

In Assassination Nation, a group of teenaged girls are blamed for a hacker’s leak of personal information that concerns the entire town of Salem. The girls are actually innocent, but once the town has settled on them as the guilty parties, nobody cares to prove or disprove the assumption of their guilt. And as one Salem citizen after another becomes the victim of a shitstorm concerning their private data (now open for the whole world to see), these victims become the perpetrators of a new shitstorm, namely the hunt for witches. As the hunt for the four girls escalates into a massacre, people die, blood is spilt, and Salem becomes a battleground for a war that started online, but has entered the real world. The fascinating thing is that the film takes the idea of the recreational outrage of online shitstorms, which are a safe, sanitized form of hunting someone without ever having to actually face the victims, and places it in the analog world. An execution in the street is an online shitstorm taken to its logical extreme. As such, Assassination Nation is the satirical, over-the-top conclusion to the trend of online outrage. The internet brought us together for us to share love, but the film proposes that it inevitably transforms the world into an assassination nation.

I watched the film because I saw it in Amazon Prime, and I had no fleshed-out expectations; Wikipedia described it as a black comedy thriller, so I might have expected some laughs, but to be quite honest, it was a horror film to me. You can easily read Assassination Nation as a slasher, with the four girls at the center as the final girls and the entire town as the killers. Reading it like that makes the expectations heaved upon girls by patriarchal structures in the postmodern age even more explicit. The most horrific thing, however, must be the fact that these girls are innocent. They have done literally nothing to deserve the town’s persecution, and it does not matter at all. Nothing makes you feel powerless like telling the truth and being called a liar. The girls have the truth on their side, but we live in the age of alternative facts, so really, who cares? Apparently, we don’t want the truth. We just want someone to blame.

As such, I can’t really find humor in the film. It scares me too much. I am aware of its satirical exaggeration in the Tarantino-esque escalation of bloody violence, but it felt too real for me to be satire. Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian described the film as “social media revenge porn,” which best describes what Assassination Nation presents to the audience: the consequences of lives lived on social media that then (literally) bleed into the real world. Ultimately, the film seems to suggest that the two forms of life (online and offline) do not mix. The intersection between online and offline is also a one-way street. The real world barely affects the online world, but the online world has massive consequences for the real world.

That being said, I really enjoyed Assassination Nation for its artful inclusion of social media into the medium of film. I always enjoy films that explore the limits of the medium, and the internet is so much a part of our lives that we will cease to exist without it.

Miri

Guest Blogger: Miri

Follow Miri on Instagram: @miri_mh8

What I Learned from my Social Media Detox

Hey my loves,

So, it’s been a while, huh? Now, I wanted to share my experience about my month off of social media with you. I decided at the end of December 2018 that I needed a little break from social media, just to focus on my work for College as well as to concentrate on my mental health. 

Here’s what I did:

  • I rearranged all my apps into folders on my phone and shut down all notifications. The only noise my phone was making was when I got a phone call.
  • Rather than to completely shut of the notifications from WhatsApp and iMessage I let the messages pop up without making a sound, just so that if I were to pick up my phone I would see that somebody messaged me. I didn’t want to cut of contact to my friends, since I am not in school anymore so I rarely see everyone.
  • I also did not go on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat for an entire month. I did open Instagram once, but mainly because I’ve forgotten to turn of the notification count on it and got a message and it drove me insane not knowing what was going on. After that I turned that off, too.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Taking time off of social media is extremely hard and you need a lot of self-control. For the first few days I felt so much FOMO (fear of missing out) that I almost quit, but I kept telling myself: “Girl, it’s just pictures, it’s just some stupid news. You don’t have to see everything.” And that actually helped quite a lot.
  • I learned that I cherish a message a lot more when I actually take the time to properly read and answer and that I don’t need to answer right away. That the “sorry for answering so late”-feeling I got before, what just absolute garbage. I am not obliged to answer my messages with a certain time frame, I am not obliged to answer them at all. I answer, because I want to.
  • A lot of social media is fake. A lot of news are fake. A lot of what is shared is absolute nonsense.
  • I miss sharing moments with friends who cannot be there.
  • I like being connected to the world.
  • Being “offline” is the best way to re-center yourself and get a fresh perspective on things.
  • Sometimes a little deflection isn’t the worst, but not always necessary.
  • Put your phone down, when you want to go to sleep.

Have you ever gone a month offline? Tell me in the comments, I would love to know what your experiences were.

I wish you all a wonderful day!

XoXo, Jasmin.

The “Real Sexism” Incident

Well, then. I already shared my opinion on feminism with you, my hesitation to call myself a feminist because of the negative connotations, and that if feminism is all about equality, I guess I do consider myself a feminist. Actually, just now, while I was preparing to write this entry, I asked myself if there is such a thing as masculism, and if there is such a thing, what shapes it would take.

The issue, to start this off more generally, with every social rights movement, political tendency or belief is that there are people who take it too literally, who go too far to promote it, who try suffocating everything that goes against their belief. I am not quite sure why that is. I guess humans are just bound to execute intolerance and destruction. Those people, the ones who take it too far, are called extremists. I already told you what I think about femen, but compared to other extremist groups, they are harmless, because writing stuff on your boobs does not have much of an effect, neither positive nor negative. Extremism can take much more dangerous forms, as we all know; the most prominent examples are al-Qaeda and the Aryan Brotherhood. People who terrorize and kill other people because of extremist believes. The backgrounds of extremism are normal things, painless things, that are unfortunately open to interpretation, like the Bible and the things people understand it as, a shocking example being the white supremacists who interpret the “creation” story in the Genesis book in the way that non-white people have no souls because they were made of mud.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, about a month ago, Jasmin sent me the link to Emma Watson’s #HeforShe speech, and, hesitant about the label “feminist” as I was, I posted the speech on twitter with nothing but the tag “Something to think about”. A short time after I had posted it, I received an answering tweet, and I thought, nice, I got a response! So I read the tweet and it had been sent by someone calling themselves @rapebombing. (A name that admittedly made me suspicious.) They had sent me a link, with the tag “Something else to think about”, and I thought, alright, give it a try, and what they had sent me was a site called realsexism.com, and for those of you whose attention was just grabbed, I think I will disappoint you in a minute, because none of the contents on this site were what anyone in their right mind could have called real.

What the Real Sexism Project appears to be about is that allegedly, men are the real victims of sexism. Now, I am not sure who ever claimed that men are never victim to sexism, but whoever concocted this site obviously believes sexism only sees females as the victims and men as the aggressors. Out of that mislead belief, the originator of realsexism.com collected a myriad of statistics and facts, some of whom are completely unconnected to the issue of sexism (e.g. “89 % of men will be the victim of at least one violent crime”), some of whom are enunciated a little too vaguely to be taken seriously (e.g. “40 – 70 % of domestic violence is against men”), and some of whom just plainly sound fictitious (e.g. “Court bias against men is at least 6 times bigger than racial bias”).  What the originator has done, as is common with extremists, is that they took studies and surveys from universities and other academic facilities and interpreted these in the way that they wanted to interpret them. This is how extremism works, how it always has worked and always will work – extremists will go to you and say, what I am saying is not wrong, and then they will show you their evidence, the evidence they apprehended by twisting and turning things, looking for loopholes and leeway.

“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that ain’t so.” Mark Twain

What depressed me for the rest of the day after I had received that tweet was that this person, whoever they might be, has a hundred and fifty-eight followers on twitter. A hundred and fifty-eight. This means that a hundred and fifty-eight people either believe in what this person says or even support it. A hundred and fifty-eight people does not sound like a scandalizing amount, but the issue is that this person, this extremist (or maybe it even is a group of extremists, who knows) is able to spread their extremist views on the internet just like other people are spreading cute cat gifs on 9gag and everybody in the entire world has unlimited access to it. The realization that people’s minds are weak enough to fall for it is depressing enough, but the internet has made it infinitely easy to spread your believes. Hell, I am feeding you my believes and thoughts right here, in the moment that you are reading this, as well as every time I post something on facebook or share something on twitter or write a story and publish it on fanfiction.net or archiveofourown.

What this boils down to is that extremists have always existed and will always exist, but the internet has changed the world, it has changed how people interact and how they gain knowledge, and on that day in September, when this person responded to my tweet for #HeforShe, I understood that nowadays it is ridiculously easy for extremists to gain followers, and it scares me. This person has a hundred and fifty-eight followers on twitter, and they will gain a lot more over time because humans are pliable and have to believe in something, and sometimes all it takes is one wrong turn.

What appealed to me about #HeforShe is that it is in no way extreme. Emma Watson’s speech was directed at women and men, and she accorded both sexes the right to equality and the ability to fight against discrimination, because #HeforShe is aware that both sexes are victim of discrimination, in all its different forms.

All I wish for today is that you, the readers, consider your believes and consider them carefully. There is no right way of thinking, but we all must be aware of the intrinsic truth that says that all humans are created equal and deserve equal rights and equal treatment, and should you ever come across anything that violates that truth, obviously or insidiously, you should think twice about believing it.

Don’t give extremists a chance.

“We came equals into this world, and equals shall we go out of it.” George Mason

Follow Miri on her personal Twitter account: OriginalSGreenD