Content warning: discusses Gamergate

One of the most fascinating political ‘public relations’-plays in the world is something I like to call ‘strong and weak’. It’s something I first noticed in the continuing coverage of the conflict in Israel & Palestine, but once you spot it it becomes very clear very quickly that it’s used in all sorts of political situations. It effectively is used as such: we are ready and capable of overcoming this obstacle, but this obstacle is impossible to overcome. It presents the user as both strong and weak at the same time, sometimes contradicting itself, but usually using two seperate perspectives to get the advantages of both.

In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is used by both sides to justify violence. The Israeli miltary forces effectively have to ensure to the world and themselves that they are extremely prepared, and surely will be the victor in any armed conflict. At the same time, they have to emphasize how vulnerable their position is, and that their defenses are easily penetrated by terrorists. The violent Palestinian factions that oppose Israel need to emphasize that they are capable of eradicating Israel, but also that they are fighting a foe that has superior weaponry and military. The reason is simple: people won’t follow a losing faction, but they’re more likely to have sympathy for a losing side. Nobody feels bad for the winner, and nobody celebrates the loser. You don’t want to be on the losing side, but you can’t make a difference for a winner anyway.

It’s a similar thing you could’ve spotted in Gamergate. First, they hated and attacked just one person. Then they got too big and loud and things weren’t just bad – they looked bad from a PR perspective (yes, everything that interacts with an audience has PR, including things like that) too. Then it was two people and they had room to grow louder again. They grew too big, and then it was half a dozen people. Then it was all the games media. Then it was all the social media. Then it was all mainstream media. Then it was a conspiracy that included the US government. Eventually they settled on a perceived global culture of political correctness. You can trace that development – they needed to appear strong enough to change things but also weak enough that you can make a difference. So as the harassment increased, and things started looking bad bad, they grew too big to need more support. So an extra threat got added. Conspiracies appeared. First they were small, and eventually the conspiracy theories included the US government.

It’s an interesting dynamic to keep in mind, and a fascinating one to look for. You can see it currently in US election rhetoric – mostly on the Republican side, but also on the Democratic side. You can find it in Islamophobia everywhere. It’s in every good Kickstarter pitch. We can make this a reality, but we don’t stand a chance. It’s a proven tactic, a subtle and powerful one. It’s is also a delicate one – go too far one way or the other and you need to escalate the opposite one.

Duality is an extremely powerful way of communicating with crowds, which behave very different from individuals. This strong-weak duality just happens to be an example that I’ve come to spot easily.