If you follow a lot of politically-minded or media-involved people on Twitter, there was one topic of interest online Friday that incited visceral feelings of anger on both sides of the aisle: the hiring and subsequent shaming of Sarah Jeong and The New York Times.
The issue at hand was the political correctness, or lack thereof, of Jeong’s tweets, which openly mocked white people. But what the conversation has largely failed to take into account is the fact that the situation was precipitated by an alt-right trolling campaign that has target other liberal-leaning media and entertainment figures who have come under fire recently for past social media offenses. And that in itself is more worrisome than any series of tweets.
Why Is the Internet Upset About The New York Times’ New Hire?
30-year-old Jeong is an accomplished technology journalist and lawyer who worked at The Verge as a senior writer until announcing her new position on The New York Times editorial board as its lead technology writer this week. Since then, users of 4chan’s /pol/, or “politically incorrect” discussion board dug up past tweets of Jeong to label her as an anti-white racist.
Jeong has since publicly apologized for her past tweets, which she says were a form of “counter-trolling” the “torrents of online hate” that she received as a young, Asian woman. She alleges that her tweets, which were barbed with racial gallows humor, were intended as satire rather than harassment.
A quick review of the most incendiary tweets include “#CancelWhitePeople,” “Dumbass fucking white people marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants,” and “Are white people genetically predisposed to burn faster in the sun, thus logically being only fit to live underground like groveling goblins.” The tweets are harsh and colorful, posted in 2014, and are certainly comparable to plenty of internet speech on both the right and left.
Not only are Jeong’s tweets old, purposefully taken out of context, and curated with the intent of getting her fired, but her so-called racist rhetoric is simply an imitation of the white, privileged insults hurled at Jeong, her gender, and her race previously. When Jeong’s detractors equate her tweets with anti-white racism, they choose to ignore both the hypocrisy of the alt-right in painting her with a very specific picture and the false equivalency of hurting people’s feelings with the actual systemic oppression and marginalization of non-white people.
The Verge published an editorial defending its senior writer, calling the “abusive backlash… dishonest and outrageous.” It asked newsrooms to identify online trolls as strategically dividing and conquering publications one colleague at a time and compared the tactics to Gamergate. The New York Times issued a similarly intentioned statement, noting that it does not condone Jeong’s tweets.
What Do 4chan and Alt-Right Trolls Have to Do With Sarah Jeong?
If this scenario sounds eerily similar to one that occurred just two weeks ago with the firing of Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, that’s because the key instigators are the same exact breed. 4chan, the photo-based forum that spawned nude celebrity photo leak “The Fappening” and breeds incel and conspiracy theorist communities, has a forum of users hell-bent on exacting revenge on liberals.
The furor was arguably ignited after the firing of Roseanne Barr, who regularly endorsed conspiracy theories like “QAnon” born on 4chan. Barr, was removed from her position due to a racist tweet, has since apologized, but other alt-right trolls are using the opportunity to seek revenge on liberal members of the media.
Then, 4chan went after Rick and Morty creator Dan Harmon and female comedian Sarah Silverman. Now, the target has shifted to Jeong. But it’s clear that getting outspoken liberals fired isn’t the endgame. It’s creating further polarization, especially in the American media, and to divide and conquer similar-minded liberals. Trolls are wielding political correctness, not because they care about being offensive, but because they know the left does. Like The Verge warned, intimidation method is an attempt to “discredit and undo” the work journalists, media figures, and, more broadly, liberals do — by turning the left against itself.
Without dredging up too much /pol/ and alt-right internet history, because it’s overwhelmingly nuanced, not to mention depressing, the exact process is called “redpilling normies.” Taking the “red pill” is a reference to The Matrix, when Neo chooses knowledge, freedom, and uncertainty in the form of the red pill over the blissful ignorance of the blue pill. “Normies” are the uninitiated, the casual people unaware of what the alt-right believes. The act of “redpilling” is thus, as Vice puts it, is to “convince other white people that we’re better than others.”
How Have Liberal and Conservative Media Outlets Responded?
On one hand, journalists seem to have overwhelmingly embraced Jeong, tweets and all. The post- (or perhaps, more accurately, mid-)#MeToo media community, apart from a few outliers, is generally willing to trust women when they save they’ve been unfairly harassed and trolled. Also, technology reporters are more than familiar with alt-right tactics and quickly catching on to the new slash-and-burn witch hunt phenomenon. In Jeong’s case, she reports on the same toxicity in communities that spawns groups like /pol/, so there may be a personal twinge of resentment in its attack on her.
But Republican political figures like Mike Huckabee has leveraged this new supposed anti-white threat to further attack the “fake news media” and support President Donald Trump, who would surely love an opportunity to paint The New York Times as hypocritical. Right wing sites like The Daily Caller and Breitbart News have seized on “reverse racism” with delight. Trolls continue to harass Jeong, and other accounts in defense of her.
With any luck, the internet will become acquainted enough with 4chan trolls that it can dismiss their scare tactics before it gets sucked under.