If it's too perfect to be true...

Don't believe everything you read, especially if you really want to believe it.

When I first came across this story, still going viral on right-wing Twitter, a few days ago, I figured it was so over the top that it has to be some kind of hoax:

Dallas-based Black Lives Matter group is asking wealthy White liberals to pledge their children will not attend an Ivy League school or another ranked in a commonly used list of the top 50 in the United States.

Dallas Justice Now, which has been devoted to defunding the Dallas Police Department, has now launched a college pledge they say will demonstrate support for the Black Lives Matter cause more than a yard sign or small donation.

The group says it will name all in the Highland Park Independent School District who sign — and do not sign — the pledge.

“Talk is not enough,” the group says in its “Open Letter to Wealthy White Liberals of HPISD.” The letter is available online and is being sent to the 95% White residents of Highland Park and University Park, according to Dallas Justice.

“As a white person with privilege both from my whiteness and my neighborhood, I recognize the need to make sacrifices for the purpose of correcting hundreds of years or murder, slavery, discrimination and lack of educational and economic opportunities perpetrated upon people of color,” the pledge reads.

BLM activists acting like Maoist cultural revolutionaries, and putting sanctimonious limousine liberals on the spot. If you wanted to make Black Lives Matter look like a totalitarian movement, you couldn’t find a more perfect example than this.

Well, the alt-weekly Dallas Observer did some digging, and guess what?

…Scant public information is available about Dallas Justice Now or its leadership. The group hasn’t replied to the Observer’s inquires, but the group’s website traces back to a right-wing PR firm called Arena. Online research also connects Arena to Keep Dallas Safe, an organization run by a confirmed astroturfer, suggesting there may be deeper connections between these efforts in terms of funders and strategy.

One of the local anti-fascists who combed through the website’s history told the Observer that they “noticed [Dallas Justice Now] had backdated blog posts from before their website was up, and so we started looking through their posts.” (The researcher requested to remain anonymous.)

It didn’t take long for the researchers to locate source code that led back to Arena in an archived version of Dallas Justice Now’s website. From there, they found a server that showed several similar testing sites, including one for Keep Dallas Safe.

Profiles on GitHub, a website where computer programmers share their work, confirm that the template that these staging websites use, including the ones for Dallas Justice Now, was created by individuals who work at Arena.

Arena has worked for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Michigan Republican Party and various other right-wing politicians and political campaigns. They also appear to have worked with Keep Dallas Safe, according to the Luceo Solutions site index as well as source code of the Keep Dallas Safe staging website. (Earlier this year, Keep Dallas Safe targeted candidates in the Dallas City Council election with false claims that they intended to defund the police.)

Always be suspicious of any story that perfectly confirms all of your preconceived notions about politics and society, especially when it makes your opponents look like cartoon characters or mustache-twirling villains. Always.

There was a time when I thought Matt Walsh was at least an interesting commentator, even when I didn’t agree with him.

What can I say? We all think some really stupid things when we’re young and naive. (In my early forties, in my case.)

Walsh was trending recently because of his completely-what-you’d-expect take on Simone Biles withdrawing from the Olympics. Charlie Warzel asks why he was trending:

The reference here is a very stupid tweet from a writer who relishes in culture war skirmishes (his ragebait take before this one was that ‘men and women aren’t equal’). He’s a troll who thrives off of engagement, and this take is a clown show. But that’s a feature, not a bug. When “libs” dunk on him for being aggressively wrong, he can use the reaction to say that somebody like Biles is ‘untouchable’ and that the left ‘worships’ her and that the ‘self-care’ millennial attitude is an epidemic that is weakening America’s status as a world power. My god I’m exhausted.

Anyhow, this is a bad tweet and likely also bait. Sadly, we’re probably not going to stop people from dunking on Twitter because it is cathartic and the planet is dying and, hey, get your kicks while you can.

But! Twitter definitely doesn’t have to go ahead and single this little culture war skirmish out as breaking news. I’ve already written at length why this is bad but it bears repeating. Essentially, Twitter has decided that ‘Troll Makes Bad Tweet’ is major, national news, which it is not. While not 100% analogous, this type of ‘trending’ aggregation is somewhat similar to what places like Fox News do when they pick out tiny local stories and broadcast them to big national audiences. It distorts reality, flattens context, and invites a whole bunch of people to jump in and get good and mad.

Mostly, this is just stupid. But I also think it’s instructive as to how we’ve ended up where we are, discourse-wise.


The Twitter trending widget yet again both facilitates and perfectly illustrates this dynamic. Matt Walsh’s factually wrong tweet is arguably the least helpful lens through which to consume or even discuss this news story. Click on it and you will learn nothing. You might laugh or get angry; You might join in on a dunk. But I promise you’ll actually learn nothing.

What will happen though, is that you will be forced — if just for a moment — to view Biles’ story through the flattened, shitty culture war lens. Maybe that will mean nothing to you, and you’ll go about your day unperturbed. More likely, it’ll stick around in your head as a tiny data point. Depending on your ideology, you might see it as further proof that MAGA-adjacent chuds are awful, racist jabronis looking to weaponize every story. Or you might see it as proof that the left is DEFENDING THEIR QUEEN or glorifying failure. In either instance, you just get the feeling that you’re surrounded by people who are deeply foolish and deranged — perhaps dangerously so. This realization might not send you into a depression, but it just generally feels bad.

Engaging with Twitter’s latest trending beef will not lead you to a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the issue. It will, however, help convince you that the broader cultural and political discourse is unredeemably toxic — a mindset that hails you, as user, to join in and fight, as there are clearly assholes everywhere that need defeating.

And this is the signal, out of millions, that Twitter decided to boost.

Whenever you’re angry about something you read online, try to remember that someone out there wants you to be angry about this one bad opinion. The algorithm demands blood.

Incidentally, this is the best take on the Biles/Jordan comparison:

He was busy saving the Tune Squad, duh.