Factionalism has killed online discourse

Patrick Kane, World News Editor

I think we can all agree that in this post-2016, post-Trump world we live in, politics have gotten so much dumber. As our politics have gotten dumber, so has our political discourse. And, like everything that already sucks to begin with, the Internet makes it exponentially worse.

A little over a week ago, I tweeted something about my congresswoman, Shontel Brown. For those that do not know, Brown is notable for emerging victorious in a highly-contentious primary election in 2021 against Bernie Sanders alum Nina Turner. The primary became a proxy war between insurgent progressives and establishment moderates and, if I can be honest, was just extremely toxic on all sides.

Now, she has a not-insignificant following online which I find odd. She, for the most part, is a relatively unknown backbencher. The average Democratic voter probably has no clue who she is, unlike say Jim Clyburn, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Hakeem Jeffries, Adam Schiff or Katie Porter. She’s a line vote, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but let’s not pretend she’s this god-tier legislator. She’s probably on par with the likes of Mike Thompson, Robin Kelly, Grace Meng and Rick Larsen (those are all real people, I promise), in stark contrast to her predecessor, current U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge.

Brown has sponsored some unpassed legislation and co-sponsored others, sure, but my point is, at only a year-and-a-half into her congressional career, she hasn’t really done a lot to establish this fanbase she seems to have. The reason she has one, I believe, is because she beat Turner (who I admit to voting for in the 2022 primary) who is widely reviled in anti-Sanders Democratic circles for controversial statements concerning President Joe Biden.

Now, I replied to a tweet of a mutual follower of mine who commented on a gimmick account’s post about Brown’s Zoom background during a TV interview that took a weird, out-of-left-field potshot at Turner, commenting on the factionalism surrounding Brown’s online popularity.

The tweet (which I have since deleted for reasons I shall soon get into) read, hand to God, as such:

Does anyone actually like Shontel Brown? Not the fact she beat Nina Turner. Like, the actual politician Shontel Brown?

Now, despite my constant presence on Twitter (much to the detriment of my sanity), I admittedly don’t have much of a following. Hence, most of the questions I posit end up being rhetorical. I tweeted that without a second thought and then went about my day because my life doesn’t revolve around social media. I soon realized that that was a mistake.

The next morning, I wake up, shower, get dressed, get ready for the day, etc. I check my phone and noticed that I had a lot of Twitter notifications. Like, a lot a lot. The tweet I absent-mindedly sent out the previous day had left its “target audience” and was found by Brown’s terminally-online fanbase.

Now, some were Clevelanders who voted for Brown and responded with statements along the lines of “Well, she’s been elected twice, so…” or listed off stuff she believes in (which, for the most part, is baseline Democratic policies that I would hope a Democratic congresswoman would support). Some were trollish personal attacks calling me a “butthurt socialist” and others combined the two. The thing I found funny was that most of them weren’t even from Cleveland. Or even Ohio, for that matter. 

That’s not to say that just because you’re not from an area doesn’t mean you can’t like a politician from there. For example, I like Rep. Rashida Tlaib but I’m definitely not from Detroit. But again, this isn’t someone with a noticeable brand and policy platform like Tlaib; this was a dime-a-dozen Democrat.

However, among the replies were some that I had long been familiar with; those whose online brain rot rivaled that of even the most hardline MAGA true believers.

For those of you not in the know (which if so, consider yourself lucky), KHive (a play on Beyonce’s ‘BeyHive’) is what online proponents of Vice-President Kamala Harris label themselves. While they do adore Harris feverishly, they can be more accurately described as Hillary Clinton supporters who are unable to move past the 2016 election and think Bernie Sanders is Satan incarnate. As such, they love to get involved in online spats like the one between Brown and Turner. They are also pretty notorious for online harassment campaigns that rival that of KPop stans. As such, they are now mainly seen as a niche group of terminally-online losers who no one likes or respects. But, when they come after you, they are vicious.

I was initially a little taken aback by my sudden popularity. I responded to a few of the replies initially but that just led to more engagement. I tweeted about the situation a few times which just garnered more interaction. It eventually got to the point where I noticed users were going through my account and replying to random tweets of mine from months prior. 

At that point, I realized that I actually had stuff I had to do today and didn’t feel like dealing with my phone vibrating all day due to healthcare executives from Maryland calling me names. I left conversions and started blocking folks. That didn’t do much so, eventually, I just decided to delete the original tweet. That slowed it down but nevertheless, they persisted. Finally, I decided to go private. At that point, I got some lunch, prepared for my Nationalism & Citizenship presentation and then went to work because, as I said, my life doesn’t revolve around social media.

The next day I made my account public again after the attention had mostly died down. I figured I had blocked enough people and left enough conversations that my phone wouldn’t be vibrating all day. Nevertheless, I found what happened incredibly interesting as I could now confirm from personal experience that my thoughts on the death of political discourse were true.

Simply put, the Internet, due to its large platform and string of information, has ruined political debate and discussion to the point where it is just factionalist dogfighting. Instead of talking about the benefits or validity of policy and political beliefs, it is a free-for-all between the Bernie Bros, KHive, MAGA, etc. Though I posed what was a largely rhetorical question, the responses were basically trolling attacks and self-righteous indignation (highlighted by the amount of “because she beat Nina Turner” responses I got, which shows how much they paid attention to the original quarry).

The following weekend after this all went down, I went back and gandered through the replies for the purpose of this piece. There was at least 150 total, and most of them I found pretty comical. Some posted my profile picture and made fun of my personal appearance (shoutout to the fellow who called me “Mustachioed Ron Weasley.” That immediately went into the Twitter bio). Some took shots at the fact I go to John Carroll University (a “private liberal arts college,” as one so eloquently put it). Others called me a whiny commie or various “-ists” and “-isms.” One individual I had replied to wondered if Shaker Heights and Beachwood were actually suburbs which, at that point, I understood the cognitive capacities I was dealing with here.

A random tweet I didn’t even think twice about became ground zero for factionalist dogpiling. Honestly, I don’t care, I truly don’t. In the world we live in, you have to have thick skin, especially as an aspiring journalist. But I was fascinated by what I saw, so I felt compelled to pen this obituary to intellectual thought and discourse. But again, as someone looking at a career in politics or political journalism, I don’t think it bodes well for political thought and discussion for it to become nothing but a flame war.

Now, I will admit: I don’t like Shontel Brown, and there are reasons for this. Most of it stems from an alleged corruption scandal from her time on the Cuyahoga County Council. Some of it comes from the fact that she was one of the original beneficiaries of the super PACs run by disgraced FTX head Sam Bankman-Fried who is now under investigation for suspected fraud (I have been very clear about my thoughts on cryptocurrency in the past). Finally, she was one of the many, many Democrats who voted to crush the impending rail strike in December, another issue for which I’ve made my disdain known. That said, I’m not just this mindless hater. I voted for her in November. I just believe in holding my elected representatives to a higher standard, not just engaging in mindless sycophancy.

I will say though, I had only one sane, rational conversation. It was with a gentleman from Cleveland. We talked about the question, clarified some things, found some common ground and eventually reached an understanding of each other. While that was a nice change of pace and a pleasant distraction from users with names like “SlayQueenHarris2024” calling me a butthurt “Bernie Bro,” it proved only to be a speck of light in the darkness of ridiculous discourse.

Now, while I rally against this factionalism, I don’t want people to think I’m above it all, because I’m not. I took a victory lap when John Fetterman won the primary for the Pennsylvania Senate race and, believe me, I dogged on some of the more obnoxious Conor Lamb supporters. Additionally, I do enjoy occasionally popping into the comments section of Anthony Fantano videos to call him a moron. Unfortunately though, I think that’s just what the Internet is at this point and none of us are immune to it.

Ultimately, if there is anything I can learn from this experience, it’s that tribalism is now a staple of online political discourse and that no one’s mind is going to get changed. So you might as well speak your truth and be prepared for the headaches that come along with that. Because politics are dumber now, which in turn means all of us that follow politics have to become dumber along with it.

Now, if any of you are actually interested in my takes (both good and bad, evidently), you can come view and engage with my incoherent ramblings at @therealpatkane.