Life at № 42 by E.M. Coutinho
As promised I’ve been preparing various posts on the internet branch of the anti-gay Grace Church Seattle.
If you’re late to the party and want some background, you can find it here:
As this is a blog and not a book, I’m breaking up my analysis into categories. The first topic I want to address is the deceptive nature of the Askthebigot website.
What led up to me researching, identifying and then exposing the identity of its author, Katy Faust, was twofold. Firstly it was a launchpad for anonymous anti-lgbt propaganda. Secondly there was the obviously suspicious nature of the site. The first thing any wordpress user notes when they arrive at Askthebigot is there’s something that sets it apart entirely from all other wordpress blogs. The overwhelming majority of her commenters and supporters are not wordpress users. Their screen names don’t link back to gravatar, profile pages or the commenter’s own blog. A red flag as wordpress is first and foremost a blogging community, made up first and foremost of bloggers.
So I had to ask myself, what’s going on here? Who are these people? Where are they coming from? How did they end up here? And the more I observed the development of the comments the more it became clear that the entire operation was a racket.
If you enjoyed The Mentalist or White Collar, you’ll enjoy what comes next. The deception on Askthebigot attempts to (ab)use a psychological concept called social proof, “where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation.” In this version this method uses a claque, something that was popular in the times of Nero and still operates at the Bolshoi today. Here’s a visual:
The accomplices set the tone for the deception. This can be done in a variety of ways. It can even be done mechanically. Remember the canned laughter of 80’s and 90’s sitcoms? An obvious variety of manipulation. It reassures the viewer that what he’s watching is funny and cues him in on what he should think is funny, all at the same time. The problem is claque manipulation isn’t always benign. It can even be dangerous. In the 19th century claques blackmailed playwrights threatening to boo their productions off the stage if they didn’t pay up. At the Bolshoi they can destroy or make a dancer’s career.
The Askthebigot apparatus uses a two-pronged scheme. First it reinforces consensus within the group. That’s the backbone of cults and other authoritarian structures. In that sense it functions as an echo chamber. Claims are made and repeated, then re-repeated and eventually some variation of the claim is perceived as fact by those within the group. Evidence that discredits their ideology is simply ignored.
The second part is they use this fabricated consensus to propagandize their ideology. Anyone arriving at that blog gets the very false impression that there is a near absolute societal consensus in line with their propaganda.
When a dissenter posts a comment he/she is mobbed. At first this was done in a somewhat haphazard manner and mainly by garden variety right wing Christians who were in contact with Faust. This changed on October 6th, 2014 with the publication of this post. Behind the scenes an anti-gay jihadist militia was born. You can find some of their names listed together here.
From that point on the mobbing was very well orchestrated. The charismatic leader remains ‘above the fray’, leaving the dirty work to the others. The shill commenters take on roles/personas. One pretends they’re interested in science/biology but only actually promotes obscure claims that are unsupported by established science. Another takes the I’m friendly and curious angle, all the while feeding traditional anti-gay stereotypes into the discussion to reinforce prejudices. Another takes a pseudo-feminist angle and attempts to turn the discussion on its head by proposing that supporting lgbt rights is an attempt by white males to oppress women- I know, that last one takes some serious acrobatics.
Fortunately in the age of information this sort of scam isn’t far-reaching. Their claims can be discredited in the time it takes to do a google search. That’s not to say that what they do is harmless. It absolutely isn’t. Their aim is to create a hostile environment for LGBT individuals and that has serious and verifiable consequences. LGBT teens are at higher risk for suicidal thoughts, behaviors, suicide attempts, and suicide itself. Risk for dating violence is higher, risk for rape is higher. Risk of drug use and homelessness is higher. What Faust does with her cohorts is create an environment that fosters and promotes the very sort of propaganda and discrimination that increases those risks, foments marginalization and ultimately justifies violence against members of the LGBT community.
Coming soon: Part II where I’ll focus on the profiles of some of the Askthebigot commenters and their personal motivations. Namely: