Right-wing activists are using Twitter's trans policies to silence their critics

The next wave of online tactics used by the alt-right are being deployed, right now, in the world of comics. How long before they hit the mainstream?

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

The next set of tactics that right wing online activists will deploy to suppress voices they disagree with are being honed over in the comics community right now, in a movement called Comicsgate. Anyone interested in politics, journalism or the way our communities develop should be paying attention.

Here's a site I don't quote from very often: Bleeding Cool. It's a site that reports on comics and geek media generally, since before it all became cool and big box office. And one of its lead writers, Rich Johnson (who is also, just to make things even more complex, Guido Fawkes's cartoonist…) has been tracking a new right wing movement in comics, Comicsgate.

It alleges that "social justice" influences on comics — infusing them with politics — are ruining their comics, and that right-wing aligned creators are being frozen out. The Washington Post ran a good explainer on the movement.

Johnson has been tracking it for some time, and he's just reported on how they are manipulating Twitter's policies on transphobic language to get their critics banned:

So what have a number of Comicsgaters done? Some have systematically removed any previous transphobic comments they may have posted, editing their profiles so that they now appear to identify as non-binary, changing their pronoun preference to they/them or similar – and then reporting any anti-Comicsgater who has referred to them as he or him (and it usually is he or him) for hate speech. And getting them suspended or banned off Twitter. It’s a deliberate misunderstanding and mocking of the common trans refrain of “to be trans you only have to say you’re trans,” which is meant to encourage people who don’t have the access or desire to medically or physically transition and reassure them that their gender is still valid and self-identification is more than enough.

Why does this matter? Many of the techniques we saw pioneered in the Gamergate movement back in 2014 found their way into the mainstream alt-right movement by 2016. And we're seeing the inlfunce of that in British politics right now, with the Gamergate fellow traveller Sargon of Akkad (née Carl Benjamin) standing as a UKIP candidate in the European Parliament elections.

What happened with Gamergate is happening again

Keza MacDonald, who was the UK editor of gaming site Kotakuduring the height of Gamergate, has dug into this for the The Guardian:

What people such as Benjamin want, with his disgusting speculation about whether female politicians are rape-worthy, is to bring the rank misogyny of the worst online spaces into public life. It is Trumpian trolling transferred into British politics. People such as Benjamin believe in a form of free speech with impunity that dictates that if women wish to exist publicly, create things or have an opinion, they should expect all the harassment, degrading commentary and ceaseless mean-spirited scrutiny that will inevitably follow. This was the message of Gamergate, back in 2014. It is now the message of a significant swathe of fringe politics, usually packaged with a heavy dose of racism.

What was seen by the majority of mainstream journalists in 2014 as a fringe concerns, a spat in the irrelevance of gaming, is now playing out on a very public stage as part of our elections. And this drift from the niche corners of the internet to the ballot box is only going to continue.

As  MacDonald puts it:

You can’t pretend the internet and what happens there is some weird alternative reality any more, not when young men radicalised by 8chanand incel forumsgo out and commit mass shootings, leaving behind manifestos written in the meme-languageof their favourite haunts.

If you want to understand the coming changes to our political discourse, you need to understand what's gestating in other corners of the internet - and that includes Comicsgate.

comicsgategamergatealt right mediaactivistsX (Twitter)Social MediaPolitics

Adam Tinworth Twitter

Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.