I’d Rather Have a Swarm of H8ers than an Enlightened Digital Subject

Haters, haterz, h8ers, etc. Underneath the adult anxiety over cyberbullying, or the cultural narrative of the general degeneracy of a civilizational dream of American empire resultant of ubiquitous social media amongst children, is the ambient noise of haters. The irrational swarm of the Internet whose actions always sit perilously on the periphery of the liberal economy of knowledge of the rational self.

In my dissertation I write about the recourse to a fantasy that the Internet user is an Enlightenment subject, a rational individual actor who merely makes use of new technological extensions by threading them through a set of idealized protocols of rationalism, intentionality, and responsibility. Never mind that there is very little available to invest in this liberal fantasy offline, but its insistent cultural production in narrative framings of the child online, in particular, the child in need of rescue from responsible adults in order to use social media respectably, contributes to the perhaps widening aporia between adults and children in the contemporary moment–the generational crisis in technically mediated knowledge, a fight over the very governability of the child.

The persistence of the fantasy that the Internet user should be an Enlightenment subject in a public sphere, a mere technological extension of the commons, is one of the reasons that haters seem to produce purely irrational speech, devoid of sense or intention. Yet, precisely for its marginalization outside the fantasy economy of the digital subject, I would propose that the networked effect of haters maps out a compelling account of the operation of the digital and the partially inhuman, affective virality of the “social” in social media.

A philology of haters can quite seriously begin at Urban Dictionary. Although some of the user-generated entries on that site emphasize that haters are “really” just jealous of success or are insecure–individualized, psychologizing tropes that have to produce a pathology to rationalize social media–one popular definition (in that it has been given a lot of thumbs-up by users relative to others) moves haters towards the viral, even as it rehearses the language of the bully:

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 2.48.05 PMStill, part of what gets obscured in this definition is that haters are often a racialized swarm, and the condescending definitions of them as such dismiss their genealogy in minoritarian cultural production as a case of an ahistorical irrationality attributed especially to blackness in the United States:

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 2.57.45 PMMadonna made headlines last week, too, for her own appropriation of blackness on Instagram after tagging a photo of her son with a hashtag of the n-word, only to apologize  by blaming haters for blowing the incident out of proportions with “#get off my dick haters.”

Why the facile recourse to blaming haters, then? They serve as an alibi for an adult white digital subject like Madonna seeking to prove her enlightened responsibility after its embarrassing dissolution by precisely vilifying the critics of her online racism as themselves irrational hate-mongers who will latch onto anything to ruin her, without reason. As Lisa Nakamura has compellingly written, so-called “glitch racism” narratives are part of the problem in making racism the exception to the rule online rather than seeing one as immanent to the other. So, rather than asking who haters are or what motivates them, I would suggest that haters aren’t really “people” at all in the sense of the ideal, modern, self-contained individual (a fantasy that doesn’t exist, period, online or offline).  Instead, haters can be thought of as an affective swarm, utterly impersonal and immanent to social media, an emergent capacity of networked media in its endless becoming. As the entry on Urban Dictionary reminds us, haters “just hate you for no reason.” Rather than trying to create a reason after the fact, as so much anxiety over the Internet does and some new media studies replicates in its phenomenological, humanist presumptions, taking haters as a swarm-effect, a viral horde of anti-production within social media, reorients the set of questions that are important to ask about how the relation between adults and child and between the generations is being reconfigured by the digital.

When it comes to understanding the operation of social media and the user, then, I’d rather have a swarm of haters than the fantasy of an Enlightened digital subject.

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