12 votes

Is it just me or did the edgy socialism that blew up during the pandemic kind of die down?

This might just be because of the change I’ve made in my online behavior, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

I’ve talked many many times about my long stint on Twitter. Specifically the brief stint where I was highly active on leftist twitter from early to mid 2020 (where I managed to get around two thousand followers which seems crazy to me now considering I’m just a random guy). Back then tensions were high. People were getting laid off, high profile civil rights protests were happening, and there was nothing much to do but to be online. Personally my internship I had lined up during the summer (since I was just about to graduate college) ended up getting cancelled which led me to a period of depression. It’s also the reason I started spending so much time on Twitter and what led me to drink heavily and gain a bunch of weight. I imagine a lot of people who became extremely online during this period were in similar boats.

Anyways, I made a couple of online friends during this time period. It initially started as “Bernie” or “Rose” twitter. We were all pretty normal social democrats supporting Sanders for the presidency (which before Super Tuesday seemed like a big possibility). And then when it became clear that Biden would be the democratic nominee, a lot of people ended up going to the dark side. They started using hammer and sickle emojis on their display name. Started talking about how they were going to read Marx and Lenin (but they never did). They started making memes about how awesome Castro and Mao were. Bios went from “BernieOrBust” to “Marixst-Leninist-Maoist.”

A lot of talk started happening of “grow your own garden the end of the world is near” and also “arm yourselves comrades the class war is among us.” Somehow everyone became very fond of the second amendment. There were twitter accounts LARPing about joining the Socialist Rifle Association, e-girls were taking provocative pictures of themselves posing with automatic rifles in front of a Soviet flag. It became a whole thing. Some of this online behavior was covered in articles like The Cut's Before We Make Out, Wanna Dismantle Capitalism?

I ended up disconnecting from all this around September/October of 2020. I actually ended up voting for Biden in November which I wasn’t planning on when I was addicted to Twitter. I go a little bit into this detox here.

Fast forward to this year. A wave of mass shootings happen. Something that used to be a normal thing pre-pandemic but which stopped/slowed down thanks to lockdowns and schools remaining closed. With all of this in the news again, I start thinking back to the friends I used to have. And their gun loving, revolutionary wanting, “libs get the bullet too” type of tweets that they were writing back in 2020. I don’t remember most of them let alone their names. But I do remember a few.

I look them up. And there are dozens of tweets about the need for gun control. They’re talking about how nobody actually needs guns, and all of the typical liberal arguments in favor of gun control. A stark contrast to what they were saying before. They still have “socialist” in their display names and bios, though from the retweets I saw of them they were no longer following the “Mao is cool” type of people. For lack of a better term, they calmed down. They don’t long for a revolution to happen. They don’t want blood on the streets.

I think what had happened is that they all forgot what mass shootings were. How destructive they were. And now that society is mostly back to normal, including mass shootings, they remembered what that was like.

Now this is too niche of a corner on twitter to talk about in terms of larger online behavior. But back in 2020, I did predict that when Biden became president a lot of these online socialists would retreat into the liberals that they used to be. And it seems like that has happened, at least to some extent.

I mean, I’m glad for them. They seem more balanced, and it’s good that they eventually found themselves like I did (even if I did it a little quicker than they did). But it is still an interesting progression that a lot of my former online friends took.

13 comments

  1. Whom
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    I don't really see less of what you call "edgy socialism," but that's likely because you'd call my politics and the places I frequented both earlier and now "edgy" and they haven't changed that...
    • Exemplary

    I don't really see less of what you call "edgy socialism," but that's likely because you'd call my politics and the places I frequented both earlier and now "edgy" and they haven't changed that much. I can't speak for Twitter or anything like that. Avoiding the topic of gun control as I disagree with the consensus in places like this and greatly admire the Socialist Rifle Association and such, I will say that a first world revolutionary socialist's views toward political violence do tend to cool down and become more practical the longer they hold those views. They may still believe in the necessity of violent revolution at some point (as I do), but they aren't pumped and ready for any fight they can find. They realize that revolution won't come today or tomorrow and the real work in front of us is a lot of mundane and boring organizing and public messaging...violence only becomes necessary/useful in retaliation when we have a mass movement making demands and those in power start to crack down on us as they reject change hold onto that power. They may know it's the inevitable result, but aren't exactly bouncing up and down for when we're attacked and need to fight back.

    I've seen it happen to many "internet socialists" and I think it's a pretty natural evolution. That hot-headed LARPing step is just something a lot of us go through as part of our political evolution, and I'm guessing the people you followed have just moved on to the more jaded and grounded positions that tend to come later. If it is happening to a wider group, maybe a wave radicalized by the Trump years have moved past that step. I'm not sure.

    When I think of this process, I'm reminded of Godard's La Chinoise and both the strong criticism and loving look toward these LARPer types that movie has. There's this way so many of us flop around trying to be useful and get misguided trying to find some way to change the world we KNOW is necessary, to find some release for the revolutionary energy we found when our politics went in that direction and we educated ourselves. Once you've grown past that it's so easy to see what they have wrong...but unless they're actively causing harm, I have a lot of compassion for those types even as they annoy me. I love them and I love their enthusiasm, even if they're immaturely channeling it into what they think a communist needs to be like instead of really figuring out what they need to be like as communists (or other kinds of leftists) in their time and place.

    10 votes
  2. Adys
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    You might want to consider that a lot of the people you mention were very likely just Russian trolls. A high percentage of politics Twitter was driven by those. Lately those trolls are busy with...

    You might want to consider that a lot of the people you mention were very likely just Russian trolls. A high percentage of politics Twitter was driven by those.

    Lately those trolls are busy with other things. Might be why you’re seeing less activity there.

    13 votes
  3. vegai
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    I think February 24 2022 was a wake up call for a lot of people who were kinda confused about the subject of global security politics. A similar case happened in 1956, when USSR brutally crushed...

    I think February 24 2022 was a wake up call for a lot of people who were kinda confused about the subject of global security politics. A similar case happened in 1956, when USSR brutally crushed the Hungarian Revolution -- there was a lot of disillusionment about Soviet Union then too.

    We can see that some organizations are still suffering from cognitive dissonance. Amnesty International for instance. This is not to say that real Democratic Socialism isn't still a perfectly viable option, but it should be absolutely clear that Soviet-style Communism is not, and that there really is something significantly worse than USA out there.

    10 votes
  4. NaraVara
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    I've noticed it too, and I concur with a lot of people here saying it goes in waves. But I've also noticed that people are just checking out of social media more and switching to either less...

    I've noticed it too, and I concur with a lot of people here saying it goes in waves. But I've also noticed that people are just checking out of social media more and switching to either less algorithmically curated services (like Discords, Substacks, Twitch streams, or newsletters) or spending more time on TikTok which focuses less on explicitly political content (though it's political in a different way but no need to get into that now). That stuff clearly does have an impact on a lot of people in terms of creating information bubbles, dramatically skewing perspectives, and incentivizing holding and vocalizing extreme opinions. So spending less time engaging with it has definitely turned things over.

    The return of actual hobbies, like gardening or baking or making music has also helped. I think the feeds were deprioritizing that stuff for a while in favor of inflammatory political shit and that ended up having an impact. But TikTok is very much focused on showcasing talents and hobbies so I think that turned a lot of people's attention. Once the sea shanty revivals came into town people were singing again instead of making edgy memes about how much everything sucks. (This is all second hand, though. I'm not really on TikTok). It is kind of depressing to reflect on the extent to which large masses of people can have their entire personalities so strongly shaped by whatever media environment they happen to be inhabiting at the time, but the conclusions are undeniable.

    Also I think there was a short boomlet in people getting dogpiled online over transparently innocuous shit that I think caused a lot of people to introspect and reflect on their own online behavior. Personally, I noticed a gradual shift in how much people were willing to be engaged with Twitter when Lindsay Ellis got bullied through it. I think around that point people stopped extending the benefit of the doubt to bad actors who were nominally on "the right side."

    8 votes
  5. [3]
    knocklessmonster
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    I assume, like you, this is heavily from an American perspective. The Trump admin was something of an accelerationist force, and extreme positions also make people feel good. I never went too far...

    I assume, like you, this is heavily from an American perspective. The Trump admin was something of an accelerationist force, and extreme positions also make people feel good. I never went too far in one direction or another, but I'm sure you remember the feeling of righteousness, however much/little you had, when you were in a more extreme place ideologically. I'm still something of a sanctimonious progressive among my friends and family, but I've noticed I mellowed out after staying away from the political Internet.

    This seems to happen in waves, as well. In the mid to late 00s, into the early 10s things were swinging pretty far right, with the "center" being anti-SJW to some degree, BLM being the bad guy, and things just being... conservative as it followed the thought leadership of the time. In the 10s it changed and under Trump people were inspired to resist or conform, I guess, which polarized the people further.

    I guess my point is this just happens as a result of cultural forces and our quest for being our best selves. The worse the world seems, the more extreme our best self seems to need to be.

    6 votes
    1. [2]
      vord
      Link Parent
      I got some bad news for you friend, outside the internet this is very much still the norm.

      This seems to happen in waves, as well. In the mid to late 00s, into the early 10s things were swinging pretty far right, with the "center" being anti-SJW to some degree, BLM being the bad guy, and things just being... conservative

      I got some bad news for you friend, outside the internet this is very much still the norm.

      3 votes
  6. [6]
    rosco
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    I agree with you that places I frequented that were fairly pro-socialism or democratic socialism, particularly during the primary, felt different. There were more calls for violence, more derision...

    I agree with you that places I frequented that were fairly pro-socialism or democratic socialism, particularly during the primary, felt different. There were more calls for violence, more derision between progressive factions, more "memesque" behavior that you mention. I wonder about it too. Was it the fervor of having a viable candidate on the national stage? Was it external meddling to divide progressive voices and stir infighting? Or, is this what we do with power? Personally, I think there were bad actors/bots planting seeds that got people riled up and drove particularly hateful commentary.

    Unlike you, the folks I know personally felt much more hopeful and welcoming during that period. Face to face we had great conversation with Warren supporters that felt much more like "hey, if either of us get this we'll both be happy" (for context I was/am a Bernie supporter). I wrote postcards asking folks to vote, I helped register people in my local district. For the in-person politically engaged, it was a very hopeful time. But when I signed on to forums or reddit, the landscape took the turn that you talk about. It didn't feel like it translated to reality, not to the people I know well or the folks I interacted with. That's why I feel like it was an external force rather than an internal one. But maybe I'm just too close to it to see clearly.

    4 votes
    1. [5]
      cloud_loud
      Link Parent
      To be clear, I didn’t really have a problem with behavior during the primaries (Warren snake memes and all). Or the ChapoTrapHouse of it all. My main concern was post-Super Tuesday behavior. Which...

      To be clear, I didn’t really have a problem with behavior during the primaries (Warren snake memes and all). Or the ChapoTrapHouse of it all. My main concern was post-Super Tuesday behavior. Which I admit that I fell into, but I did have one friend that didn’t and when I reached out to her she went “yeah you all went crazy.”

      1 vote
      1. [4]
        vord
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        I think part of it being a large part of the nation didn't get even a chance to vote in the primary due to the pandemic, even symbolically. That and the whole 'Look at these 10 non-Bernie...

        I think part of it being a large part of the nation didn't get even a chance to vote in the primary due to the pandemic, even symbolically.

        That and the whole 'Look at these 10 non-Bernie progressive options, which then immediately threw their support behind Biden before Super Tuesday, stung. Remember how the majority, notably excepting Biden, supported Medicare for All
        ? Warren being the worst like that, and really make me think about how she was bait for the more centerist progressives.

        3 votes
        1. [3]
          rosco
          Link Parent
          Yeah, honestly it all felt pretty terrible. When Warren put her weight behind Hillary in the 2016 election I was pretty disappointed. When she started doing the Bernie is anti-woman and I won't...

          Yeah, honestly it all felt pretty terrible. When Warren put her weight behind Hillary in the 2016 election I was pretty disappointed. When she started doing the Bernie is anti-woman and I won't even shake your hand stuff, that was kind of it for me. I still appreciate her progressive policies and attitude but, man, I have a hard time squaring her behavior during elections with her behavior in congress.

          As for everyone else, they all played ball with the party. A friend of mine provided insight during the election that I appreciated. Bernie isn't a democrat, at least in the traditional neo-liberal sense. Of course they circled the wagons. I'm just sad that we don't/can't have coalitions here so I can't be a socialist without tossing my presidential vote directly in the garbage.

          5 votes
          1. NaraVara
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            The edgy socialist accounts OP mentioned really did an impressive amount of weirdly skewed and borderline dishonest reporting that profoundly distorted peoples’ ideas about what candidates not...

            When Warren put her weight behind Hillary in the 2016 election I was pretty disappointed. When she started doing the Bernie is anti-woman and I won't even shake your hand stuff, that was kind of it for me.

            The edgy socialist accounts OP mentioned really did an impressive amount of weirdly skewed and borderline dishonest reporting that profoundly distorted peoples’ ideas about what candidates not named Bernie Sanders were actually doing and saying.

            I could basically identify who was in that rabbit hole by the weird funhouse mirror ideas they carried about the tactics and policies of candidates, like Warren and Buttigieg, where any basic political moves were depicted as ULTIMATE BETRAYAL and policy positions that the Sanders campaign more or less copied with barely any modification were depicted as neoliberal sellouts over minor administrative quibbles.

            Unfortunately for Sanders, their reach began and ended with the Twitterati.

            5 votes
          2. stu2b50
            Link Parent
            In many ways the way the US primary system works effectively has many of the same dynamics as a coalitional, multi-party system. The current democratic party can be seen as the leftish coalition,...

            In many ways the way the US primary system works effectively has many of the same dynamics as a coalitional, multi-party system. The current democratic party can be seen as the leftish coalition, composed of three parties: one, the largest single party of moderates, led by Joe Biden, next, one further to the left composed of congresspeople like AoC, Bernie, Warren, and so forth, and finally, a small center left party composed of Manchin and Sinema.

            In a multi-party system where the coalition leader becomes PM like the UK, well, certainly Biden is the overall leader of that coalition.

            For direct voting with runoffs or ranked choice, fudge it a bit and pretend the US primaries and the general election is just one long election. The party primaries are essentially the early rounds in a runoff system - the lower voting percentage candidates from a single coalition begin to drop out, and in the runoff votes they are redirected towards to the coalition members still in - definitely sounds like a primary. Of course, that's more the path of least resistance in a runoff election as opposed to being de facto codified in a primary, but due to the dynamics of having two coalition of similar size it practically becomes destiny.

            When you voted for Sanders in the 2020 primaries, it's essentially as if you voted for Sanders in a runoff/RC voting system and he was eliminated.

            Even in lawmaking it is similar - think of all the hullabaloo with the Inflation Reduction Act. Manchin and Simena were practically word for word representative of the small, kingmaker party in a tight elections.


            Another example: just think of French elections. They ended up looking a lot like 2020 US elections, no?

            In the first round (primaries, basically), Macron and Melenchon (Biden and Sanders) were the standouts from the left, while Le Pen (Trump) dominated their coalition. Melenchon was eliminated (Sanders losing the primary), and then the second round occurred with Macron vs. Le Pen (Biden vs. Trump). The left rallied around Macron, and the right rallied around Le Pen, and Macron ended with a healthy victory over Le Pen.

            Would you have felt the same as a Melenchon voter when he was eliminated and you basically had to vote for Macron?

            3 votes