This year we’ve seen municipal school board meetings disrupted by aggressively angry crowds, threatening harm and violence against elected school board officials if they don’t set the pandemic masking policies demanded by the crowd. Many in those crowds don’t even have children attending schools in that district; they’re just angry about mask mandates.
We’ve also seen several State legislatures disrupted, swarmed by packs of aggressively angry armed men, threatening harm and violence against elected officials for setting–or even merely debating–state policies they opposed.
On January 6th, we saw the federal government disrupted and the US Capitol building breached by aggressively angry insurrectionists, threatening harm and violence against elected officials for certifying the legitimate election of the next president.
This is fractal insurrection. Insurrection is a complex dynamical system that’s self-similar across different scales. Zoom in on any part or facet of the intimidation and aggression, and it looks the same as the larger view. The intimidation and aggression seen at school board meetings is the same as the intimidation and aggression seen at state capitols, which is the same as that seen at the US Capitol.
These insurrections are recursive; they’re created, nurtured, fueled in the same way. Wrap lies and disinformation around one or more tiny kernel of truth, repeat it, add a dash of victimization, repeat, a wee bit of conspiracy theory, repeat, increase the urgency, repeat, and the cascade effect drives it farther and faster. Repeat the process over and over in an ongoing closed feedback loop, most often in social media, which promotes self-reinforcing partisan bubbles. The forces that drive people to storm the US Capitol to stop the transfer of presidential power are the same forces that drive people to a school board meeting to stop schools from requiring mask/vax mandates.
The sad thing is, that process can be considerably disrupted if social media were held accountable for the spread of lies, disinformation, and threatening behavior. There’s a place for unpopular (or even flat out offensive) opinions on social media, but those opinions can be expressed without lies, disinformation, or threats.
For example, it’s one thing to express the opinion that President Uncle Joe Biden is feeble and intellectually infirm, but it’s another thing to claim he ordered Alec Baldwin to murder Halyna Hutchins because she’d been a journalist in her native Ukraine and had uncovered information demonstrating Hunter Biden was a criminal. (And yes, that’s an actual conspiracy theory I’ve seen espoused on social media.)
So long as social media is more focused on keeping (and monetizing) their members than on their civic responsibility, we’re going to continue to see this sort of fractal insurrection expand to other arenas of social interaction.