By David Futrelle
Over the weekend, I put up a brief post about the sudden proliferation of “NPC” accounts on Twitter — noting the small irony that right-wing trolls were using a veritable army of sockpuppet accounts all spouting identical rhetoric and posting identical memes in order to prove that liberals and leftist are soulless, robotic “Non-Player Characters.”
Naturally, my mentions on Twitter were quickly overrun by, well, a veritable army of sockpuppet accounts all spouting identical rhetoric and posting identical memes in order to prove that I’m a soulless, robotic “Non-Player Character.”. After my post was retweeted by Paul Joseph Watson, the Boy Wonder of Infowars, the NPC meme sockpuppets were joined by an assortment of other far-right trolls.
Their message? Aside from a few who insisted I had failed to properly appreciate the glorious humor of their “parady “accounts, most responded with variations of the classic argument beloved by five-year-olds: No, u! By noticing their meme campaign, they declared in unison, I had proven that I was the real NPC.
Some had slightly more sophisticated arguments than “no, u.” Some of them insisted that the fact that I was just so darn mad about the NPC memes proved that I was a soulless NPC.
Yes, they are seriously claiming that the fact that I have emotions means that I’m a robot, because of course robots are so well-known for *looks at notes again* having strong feelings about things.
That said, my post about the NPC meme army wasn’t an angry one; I was, rather, a bit bemused that so many trolls were throwing themselves so enthusiastically into a meme campaign that was such an obvious self-own, revealing them, not the SJWs they were trying so ineptly to “parady,” to be the most prone to robotically repeating the same jokes, the same memes, the same accusations, over and over and over again, many of them using sockpuppet accounts created just for that purpose.
The one aspect of the NPC meme that does make me a bit angry, and more than a bit sad, is its dehumanizing nature. As I noted in my first post on the subject, the person who got the meme going in the first place was a 4chan anon who argued, in all seriousness, that those he disagrees with have no souls. As I pointed out in a tweet, this kind of dehumanizing rhetoric has historically been used to justify violence — up to an including literal genocide — towards those deemed less than human.
Naturally, the NPC memers have a response to this, which is that anyone who points out that their dehumanizing meme is dehumanizing is, you guessed it, less than fully human. I’ve already pointed out the strangeness of this logic on Twitter:
trolls: *create NPC meme that literally denies the humanity of people who disagree with them by saying they're preprogrammed automatons*
people who disagree with them: huh, this meme that literally dehumanizes me is kinda dehumanizing
trolls: this somehow proves you're an NPC! https://t.co/p4tOTSy7YN
— David Futrelle (@DavidFutrelle) October 15, 2018
Here’s that meme in full:
Needless to say, the independent-minded thinkers who mock so-called SJWs for taking offense at their dehumanizing meme get quite offended if you suggest that they might be acting a bit robotically.
Indeed, many of them seem to be nursing deep grudges at all those who may have accused them of being Russian bots — or who have simply noted that many of their favorite meme campaigns have gotten the support of actual, honest-to-goodness Russian bots.
There are so many of these guys that when I tried to fit a bunch of them in a single screenshot I ended up with this blurry, glitchy mess.
The reddest and maddest of the Russian-bot-complainers was probably this guy.
Do they have a little bit of a point here? Is being called a Russian bot equivalent to being called an NPC?
Here’s the thing. NPCs don’t exist, at least not outside of tabletop and video games. The meme — which, as I said, was invented by someone who literally thinks his opponents don;t have souls — is intended to suggest that actual human beings are somehow less than humans.
Russian bots, on the other hand, are very much real and used to create all sorts of shenanigans on the internet, often with the help of paid Russian trolls, who are also a real thing. Numerous detailed studies have shown that Russian bots (and Russian trolls connected to an entity called the Internet Research Agency) have been involved in all sorts of social media campaigns in an attempt to influence political discussions and sow discord generally. Russian bots may have been responsible for the disastrous victories of Trump and Brexit. They’ve pushed anti-vaccine propaganda on Twitter, exploited the death of college student Mollie Tibbits to divert attention from the legal woes of former Trump pals Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, and helped to sharpen political divisions generally.
These Russian bots and trolls have something of a symbiotic relation with right-wingers and channer shitposters generally — amplifying the complaints of both groups and having their own disinformation campaigns assisted by both groups in return.
It’s true that some liberals area bit too quick to cry “bot” when faced with right-wing Twitter trolls who are more likely assholes of the human variety.
But when people call right-wing trolls “bots” they aren’t saying that the people who disagree with them are less than human, They’re suggesting that certain twitter accounts are so predictable and unimaginative and repetitive that they might just be Russian bots. Given that thousands of accounts like these have in the past been unmasked as actual Russian bots, it’s really not an unjustified accusation at all.
But I’m not going to accuse any of those who descended upon my post of being literal bots, though for all I know some of them might be. I’m going to pay them the great compliment of treating them as human beings — albeit some of the shittiest and most pathetic human beings on planet earth, the sort of people who make me sometimes wonder if maybe the inevitable robot takeover of planet earth might turn out to be, well, something of an upgrade.
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