(Note: Since I am not primarily a blogger, this series may not cover the most recent events in real-time. My goal is to make a larger point. I hope you’ll read on anyway.)
In part one I discussed how all the infighting in conservative new media, and the feeling that we need spam-block vengeance on Twitter, comes from the manipulation of well-meaning but naive people who haven’t spent a whole lot of time on computer networks. The latest fad in the conservative civil war is the “Twitter Gulag Defense Network,” or TGDN, essentially a “follow chain” marketed as a way to make a Twitter account more resistant to false and repeated spam reports that was first exposed as “Twitter Gulag” months ago right here at The Trenches. However, there is no evidence that having more than 3,000 followers makes your account more resistant to spam-block. As conservatives, I would hope none of you need to be told that simply not engaging leftist trolls on Twitter is the best protection against spam-blocks, and leaves you with more time to take action that will actually move our communities forward.
One night, when TGDN was just a few days old, I went to bed after having a lighthearted conversation with some online friends about how ridiculous it was. Less than an hour later, I’d gone back to my computer, and began following everyone I could on the TGDN lists.
I’d like to tell you why.
I am a horrible marketer. I couldn’t sell teeth to Barney Frank. People tell me I’m smart, I’m talented, and I’m principled. But then when I spend nine months self-producing an entire album that has since had nothing but positive reviews since the day it was released, most of those people say “Congratulations!” and go away, like they’re outside a magic bubble of hundreds of thousands of fans who live in a fantasy world where the cream rises to the top. This is the cross I bear. I’m a hard worker with a great product, and most people are too busy buying fear, uncertainty, and doubt from our conservative “celebrities” to care.
(By the way, I know music is subjective and personal. Trust me, I hate 99% of the crap that’s out there. But I also know that conservatives are the worst when it comes to media and entertainment, and the music/art/TV/film that’s out there is too often badly produced, and much of it looks and sounds as though some enterprising shyster is explicitly pandering to a niche market, hoping to make a fast buck. Capitalizing does not necessarily make you a capitalist.)
I have also been fairly principled when it comes to social media. We’ve all heard of people who “friend” everyone only to spam them; people who follow everyone and unfollow those that don’t follow back (“follower churning”), or people who look to “follow chains” that are predicated on a false premise (like, oh, I don’t know, spam-block protection). Somehow, back in the day, I learned, right or wrong, that these practices were frowned upon. For better or worse, I simply followed/friended people I truly liked, and if someone wanted to keep abreast of what I was doing, they could follow me. I also expected those in our movement with the greatest reach to tell others about the good things going on in our movement. After all, they claim to love this country, love our founding principles, and desired to improve the culture. Why wouldn’t they?
In my own naiveté, that’s how I thought it worked.
With no real capital to speak of, no marketing experience, and zero sales acumen, I concentrated on posting status updates as if the whole world already cared (the old “act successful to be successful” school of thought), and making the most kickass product I possibly could. I thought I was “playing the game;” asking politely to be interviewed, fussing over every detail of press releases, doing my best to sound professional and engaging on the occasional interview I scored. I found I was competing with people who instead are little more than professional complainers, creating no new content, and getting fat off of riffing the news or posting lists of companies to boycott because they do business with them durn librulls.
I have long been critical of the more popular figures in our new media communities. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t have to be a soulless caricature of a used car salesman in order to make them care about what I’m doing. Instead I have seen a constant stream of hypocrisy: Many in our ranks bemoan our inability to take back the culture, or they list “changing the culture” among their goals. But I’ve got content that can change the culture (not all by itself, but you have to lead by example), and I have offered it to them. Not just because it’s complete, expertly produced, and ready to distribute like any professionally produced media, but because I truly believe it’s good enough to help advance our agenda.
So I offered it to them. All of them. Malkin. Loesch. Beck. Hannity. Zo. Lewis. O’Connor. Dollard. LaDuke. Fingers. Schlichter. Kruiser. Crowder. Erickson. Christoph. Fox News. The Blaze. Twitchy. Newsmax. Howe. That Tea Party magazine. Few had the courtesy to even write back. Some slander me to this day because I dared to ask for help. Hell, I sent press releases to The American Spectator, until they literally told me “We are not interested in this, or any of your releases. Don’t contact us again.” I lost a friend who claimed he was going to promote the crap out of me on the Young Republicans circuit and get me to CPAC, but reneged when Brooks took note of me. His reason? “That guy’s an anti-Semite.” My reply? “That ‘anti-Semite’ has helped me reach ten times the people you have. What does that say about conservatives?” We haven’t spoken since.
(Technically, anything times zero is zero, but I digress.)
The title of that album I self-produced last year was The Solution is the Problem. When I am asked what the title means, one thing I use as an example is how our new media “celebrities” won’t answer most people if they ask nicely for help; but if you call them a nasty name, they’ll spend hours flaming you and encourage their followers to pile on with insults and vitriol. The fact that I can’t get Michelle Malkin’s attention if I offer her free stuff that helps advance her stated goals, but I can get her attention if I call her the C-word, speaks volumes about her real goals.
Sadly, Andrew Breitbart was like this in the last months of his life. If I’d repeatedly called him a meth-addled faggot he would’ve tangoed with me all night long. But when I had something that could advance our goals for the culture, he couldn’t make time for me. By the way, if you mention this to anyone who works for Breitbart, Inc., they will accuse you of “pissing on Andrew’s grave,” and declare you persona non grata in their circles. A stellar piece on Solution and my attempts to improve the conservative movement by example, written by a Breitbart contributor, was removed by an editor after he was told about a tweet in which I said that I wish I could’ve spoken to Andrew when he was alive, and I was disappointed that he was too busy retweeting morons. A stream of profanity-laden, slanderous tweets ensued, during which he told me he was going to shut me up once and for all.
So I often wondered how some people on Twitter got hundreds of thousands of followers, besides celebrity status or idol worship. I also wondered how some people were “following” tens of thousands of people. When I was following just 300 people, my timeline went by too fast to keep up with at times. What purpose could there be in trying to make sense of a timeline with 40,000 people on it?
Regardless of how they managed following hundreds of thousands of people, it was clear to me that these people had, and wanted to keep, immense power and unquestioned influence. It was also clear that what they were doing with that power was not helping the movement, or the ideology. Try as I might, well-produced and critically acclaimed content that could very well make more moderate Americans say “this is a conservative?” and question their bias against our ideology, was ignored or attacked with impotent rage. Many of these people, starting out as bloggers, seemed to have some sort of myopic view that long-form complaining on a free WordPress site would magically send the “liberals” running for the hills, leaving us free to assume control.
The “pajamas media” certainly had an effect eight or ten years ago – which, in Internet time, is about a century. But people are interested in more than reading complaints. Left or right, most people are interested in more than the pseudo-intellectual ramblings of someone patting themselves on the back for thinking they have the moral high ground. People, regardless of their political stripes, consume media. They listen to music, watch television and movies, and peruse YouTube. And Barack Obama’s re-election in November 2012 against our supposed effort proves that our ideological opponents are better at getting their message across.
Leftist multimedia isn’t like conservative multimedia. You don’t see TV shows and movies that consist solely of a slideshow of stolen images that overtly reference their values set to a stolen MP3 of secular praise music, or the national anthem of Cuba. The top-grossing movies aren’t blatant morality plays, documentaries that outline vague evidence that Ronald Reagan was the anti-Christ, or fairy tales that take place in a bubble where everyone has radically far-left values, on top of a liberal Walton Mountain. Their songwriters aren’t two-bit neocon Weird Al Yankovics who do funny voices and sing about how freedom sucks. Why? Because it doesn’t work. The left expertly inserts its value system subtly into everyday things to which the average American can relate. Relationships, work, struggle, fear, anger, love, family, resistance. Our attempts at media are self-aggrandizing lectures, end-zone dances, smug grasps at intellectual superiority. Few people really enjoy being lectured to.
But conservative new media seems to believe, against half a century of evidence, that being right automatically makes you successful. The online right wing is largely responsible for another four years of Barack Obama, because they gained so much visceral satisfaction from their school-marmy finger wagging, they forgot to check if it was actually working.
So by the time I was having that lighthearted conversation with my Twitter friends about TGDN being a dumb idea, I was pretty fed up with the “cool kids” in our online middle school, and I was engaging people one-on-one – which is exhausting, by the way, and leaves me little time to actually create content – in the hopes that I could make a few people see it from my perspective.
I had never had much personal interaction with Todd Kincannon, but what little I saw struck me as being more of the same. Mini-Malkin. I was even a little jealous; after all, nobody ever asked me to send them a picture of my crotch. Least of all a woman. I can’t win for losing.
And then it hit me.
If I follow everyone in TGDN, they’re required to follow me back.
Kincannon had just given away the keys to the kingdom.
I could build relationships directly with conservatives, instead of waiting for King Andrew, Queen Michelle, Prince Dana, or the rodeo clown to get a clue. My fate won’t be decided by someone who is making seven figures off our continued suffering! I wouldn’t have to lick the boots of the idiots Andrew left in charge, or pretend to be friends with them, so I could stealthily get them to broadcast my message. I wouldn’t have to write an essay about my music!
(Oh, wait… um, maybe not that last thing.)
In short: These idiots who keep us living under Obama, buying their books, and pushing this Casiophonic pseudo-country Weird-Al crap on us didn’t control me anymore.
But I’d still have about an equal number of followers, making my timeline unreadable. I then realized I could maintain my sanity by making myself a list of people whose tweets I want to see no matter what, and make that my primary timeline. (Yes, I am this retarded, I thought of this only a few weeks ago.) Then I could visit my real timeline when time and mental energy permitted, and find even more good people. I knew others would do the same. I’m sure some would put me on their lists, or strike up a conversation with me. I told myself this was an experiment – research and development, if you will – and if it didn’t work, I was already married to my principles enough that I could back out of it and go back to my 400 or so followers that I gained doing it the idealistic way.
I jumped out of bed and I followed TGDN members until Twitter told me I could follow no more.
Immediately my tweets got retweeted more. People engaged with me more. I met some pretty cool people. The audience for my live recording sessions doubled. (The new album, by the way, will be called #TheAntisocialNetwork). Of course, there was the occasional “I’m a better Christian than you and we need to do the worst possible job of reclaiming the culture because we’re supposed to suffer in this life” type, but certainly nothing I couldn’t handle. You have a nice life, misreader of the Bible.
As I said above, somehow in the formative years of my values system, I got the notion that anything like this that gets you more followers is a trick, or a hoax, or an unethical thing. Maybe I’m wrong. It may always seem to me like people follow back out of some sort of guilt, or feeling of obligation. I really don’t want to be one of these people who claims to want to win the culture by whatever means are necessary – those types are already embarrassing our movement. I would’ve been more than happy to have Malkin, Beck, or the fratboys at Breitbart tell you about what I was doing. You’ve got to wonder if they’re seeing so much success from empty anti-Obama sentiment that they don’t want to risk being made obsolete by an improved America.
So is Todd Kincannon a hero, because he put me in touch with all these Twitter people? Not exactly. He coincidentally created the “network” on which I finally decided to experiment; he was in the right place at the right time in terms of my disappointment with our movement. It’s human nature; unless something is right in front of us, it’s easy to ignore it, and passionate people are easier to manipulate. What’s truly disappointing is I had to do something that could be considered unethical – in effect risking that people will blame me instead of our “celebrities” – to have my voice heard in our own communities. I guess the solution is the problem after all.
Statistically, maybe one out of every hundred follow-backs turned into a working relationship. And I don’t continue contacting people who say they don’t want to be contacted (which is more than I can say for Ben Howe and the frat pack). But these are the terrible tools Twitter – and by extension, human nature – has given us to work with. If there were better tools, I’d prefer to use them.
Next time I’ll talk about the hubris that destroyed TGDN, and how rare it is in our communities that someone with malicious intent actually gets hoisted on their own petard.