It happened in January with Krystina Arielle, host of the Star Wars podcast. At some point, she rubbed someone in the Star Wars fandom the wrong way. To get back at her, they combed Arielle’s Twitter feed for the perfect post. Upon finding it, the person screenshot and reposted a simple misreading of Arielle’s post that should have been easy to clear up. Instead, it opened a Pandora’s box of trolls that were only tamed when the official Star Wars account spoke out against the behavior. Even then, it was a while before the controversy died down.
Arielle was the victim of weaponized outrage and she was not the first victim. The sad part is, she is not the last. In fact, a month later I experienced a similar weaponized outrage after enraging a few prolific members of the Snyder Cut fandom. It happened again last week when the same fans tried to use weaponized outrage again after I shared a fan theory about the Flash in Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
Weaponized outrage is a form of anti-black racism that is often targeted at Black women in the fandoms, especially journalists. It is not exclusive to this group, however. The practice is usually initiated by a white person hoping to use some of their knowledge of the way white people handle racism in order to target BIPOC. The goal is to silence the target, the tear down their platform so that the person can no longer say the things that infuriated the white fan in the first place.
It is a growing practice that you need to know how to spot and how to react in order to squash the attack before it causes harm.
It’s Fueled by White Fragility on Race
Writer Katy Waldman for The New Yorker offered a great insight into what white fragility is while reviewing sociologist Robin DiAngelo’s book.
“She argues that our largely segregated society is set up to insulate whites from racial discomfort, so that they fall to pieces at the first application of stress — such as, for instance, when someone suggests that “flesh-toned” may not be an appropriate name for a beige crayon. Unused to unpleasantness (more than unused to it — racial hierarchies tell white people that they are entitled to peace and deference), they lack the “racial stamina” to engage in difficult conversations.
Waldman says that certain terms “trigger” this response, terms that social media has coined to describe whiteness at it’s most absurd (“wypipo,” “Karen,” white nonsense). However, the triggers can be ideas that decenter whiteness in a conversation. Terms that target ableism, sexism, and misgendering have also set off similar responses.
Once this discomfort is triggered, the person has a rage reaction intended to shut down the talk and get it out of their protected space. This is why they will react as Sharon Osbourne did recently on The Talk, like her life depends on proving the initial trigger wrong or to put enough doubt to prevent the follow-up self-reflection that will be required of them in the next part of the conversation.
Osbourne went into a rage, raising her voice accusing her cohost Sheryl Underwood of setting her up and demanding that the woman educate Osbourne on racism. This was not Underwood’s responsibility as Osbourne’s rage was a white fragility response to questions about her friend Piers Morgan’s racist comments about Megan Markle.
Osbourne was uncomfortable and her rage prevented the follow-up self reflection and questioning that the woman was not ready for. Instead of excusing herself or taking a beat to put her emotions in check, Osbourne reacted to shut down the uncomfortable conversation before it required her to face darks truths about her friendship. This is the ultimate goal of white fragility. Weaponized outrage relies on the first part of this, the rage/emotional response to a trigger.
It’s Used to Silent and to Maintain Status
In fandoms, regular people with lives that are mundane in real life, can create huge platforms and position themselves to be prominent in a large population. This position is precarious, as it often rests on an illusion of power. The person has not used their skills, craft, work, or some other way you earn the position. Instead, it was won by strategic maneuvering and power struggles that would make a politician blush. To maintain this status, they must silence and dismiss all adversaries.
This is where I come in. In January, I reviewed a book that part of the Snyder Cut fandom backed with their platforms. It the book failed, then they would as well as their positions were already built on shaky ground. Their response was to silence me and to discredit my work. In turn, the book review would carry no weight. However, this did not work. I am a critic, professor, and journalist who has been very prolific and in some prominent publications. IT takes more than one disputed review to take my well earned platform down.
So, they tried weaponized outrage by taking a tweet I made about a film at Sundance and misreading it slightly to sound as if I were slandering an entire nation of people. Hundreds of people sounded off, drowning out my Sundance coverage and a other posts I made. Their play used anti-blackness as a topping to the attack. I should note that most of the angry comments were from white people.
It’s Based on a Misreading and is Therefore Best Fought with Information
When you get to the bottom of these weaponized outrage posts, you will see that the original post wasn’t anything like the attackers stated. However, they did not lie, but simply amplified one part of the post until it became a trigger for white fragility.
Krystina Arielle is the best example. Here was her tweet:
She didn’t say anything untoward or false. However, the way that the post was amplified, it triggered people by making them believe Arielle was saying that all white people terrible and needed to be taken to task over any efforts they made to get rid of racism. She was saying nothing of the sort. But, the idea of white people never being able to do enough to seem anti-racist did trigger many people.
In my case, several people from the country that I allegedly slandered came forward to state how I was in fact not doing that in my posts. The creators of the film I was posting about praised my posts for getting the word out about their work. This counter attack of accurate information forced the people to calm down and look at what they were responding to.
The same happened to Arielle. A number of articles, including this one from Gizmodo, laid out the facts and clearly defined the absurdity of the whole ordeal. Then, the official Star Wars account chimed in. This counterattack of information helped to eventually quell the deluge of hate.
It’s a Form of Censorship
Never forget that the end result of weaponized outrage is censorship. The attackers will feign disgust, amplify triggering ideas, and promote a misleading narrative in order to stoke white fragility. That becomes a roar that stamps down the idea or ideas, eventually cautioning others from broaching the same subject.
In my case, the weaponized outrage was meant to teach me to stop speaking out against certain factions within the fandom. For Arielle, there were a number of racist fans that were upset when she was given her position over the podcast. Their attack was meant to get her to step down. In Sheryl Underwood’s case, Osbourne wanted to prevent Underwood and anyone else from questioning her friendship. This is intimidation in order to manipulate the the work of journalists. It is indeed censorship.
It’s Dependent on Solidarity
The only way that weaponized outrage works is in the numbers of people who become enraged enough to react to the tactic. The people who use this form of intimidation, essentially cyberbullying, depend on getting swarm of white people mad enough to react — to not only react, but to keep badgering until the regular person is now trolling.
This form of solidarity is key. The moment that the enraged reactors calm down and actually read the original post, that’s when the tide turns and the attacks die down. Some of these, like the Star Wars people attacking Arielle have fiercely loyal followers who believe and react not matter what. These are most dangerous as they will SWAT (call police to report a dangerous situation that brings out heavily armed police and could end up in a tragedy) and send death threats. It’s no wonder that the practice of weaponized outrage is one that comes from the alt-right internet trolls who have mastered such tactics.
So, when you are out surfing social media and you see a post that gets you all riled up, take a beat.
— — Ask yourself why did a social media post triggered such a reaction with you?
— — Follow the retweets to the original post and read the comments. You will find the misreading that way.
— — Retweet/share/repost the education attempts. They need the amplification.
— — Report the posts that appear to be harassing the user or fanning the flames.
— — Spread the word about the situation so that others can avoid it or work to amplify the facts of the post.
Weaponized outrage is caused by bad actors who have even worse intentions. These people do not have the fan community’s best interests in mind and their involvement needs to be reevaluated. The only way that we can dismantle these types of cyberbullying practices is to topple the platforms of these bad actors. Without a platform, their harmful acts can do no harm.