Similarities between some male-dominated online communities

The Guardian had a great article today that makes explicit many of the connections between the so-called “alt-right” and other predominantly male online movements/communities such as #Gamergate. I’d extend their analysis by adding two more communities: free, libre, and open source software (FLOSS) developers, and pro-Trump communities like the_donald on Reddit. Like Gamergate and alt-right, these are male online communities that have the same predictable speaking style and culture as referenced in the Guardian article:

Prominent supporters on Twitter, in subreddits and on forums like 8Chan, developed a range of pernicious rhetorical devices and defences to distance themselves from threats to women and minorities in the industry: the targets were lying or exaggerating, they were too precious; a language of dismissal and belittlement was formed against them. Safe spaces, snowflakes, unicorns, cry bullies…. These techniques, forged in Gamergate, have become the standard toolset of far-right voices online.

I’ve built data sets of insults, gender stereotypes, double entendres (e.g. “that’s what she said” jokes) and so on using the 90+% male FLOSS developer community, and earlier this year I worked with a student and another colleague to build a machine learning classifier that could automatically detect the abusive speech style of Linus Torvalds as compared to other Linux maintainers.

After doing this work, I think there are a few other characteristics in common between all these communities:

  • Their members engage in hero worship of strong, identifiable male leaders. Moreover, these hero-leaders are always excused when they behave badly.
    • Trump in the_donald,
    • Torvalds in FLOSS,
    • Robert E. Lee/Stonewall Jackson and a large cast of other generals and ancestors to worship in neo-confederate communities,
    • even Cernovich in the allegedly “leaderless” Gamergate
  • Their members believe that meritocracy is the ideal arbiter, and that they have been victimized in the past by non-meritocratic institutions or systems. Examples of this are replete in discussions of:
    • affirmative action,
    • the obsession with illegal immigration,
    • jobs lost to foreign nations,
    • software projects that are in jeopardy because standards weren’t high enough,
    • strivers” as a euphemism for white supremacy, etc.
  • Their members fetishize their hero as a David up against some Goliath

So yes, Guardian, it is all very predictable.