The far-right’s targeting of academics has gained exponential momentum with the rise of authoritarian populism. From fascist Hindutva politics to white supremacy to far-right Zionism, the targeting of academics through disinformation-based hate campaigns drives both political markets and profits.
The power of the disinformation campaigns is held up by the networked structure, generating swarms, mobilizing email campaigns and complaints targeting academics. Such swarm-based campaigns are accompanied by wild conspiracy theories, propaganda messages inciting violence, death threats and rape threats.
Having experienced the targeted attacks of the far right across the three key drivers of disinformation and hate, Hindutva, white supremacy, and far-right Zionism, I am struck by the convergence of the strategies deployed by the far-right disinformation infrastructure, interfacing with each other and amplifying the hate.
First consider the messaging structure of disinformation and hate.
At the core of the disinformation infrastructure targeting academics is majoritarian grievance, performed as a communicative inversion, the turning of materiality on its head. The hegemonic sites of power and control that perpetrate racist violence are turned into victims of racism of anti-racist critiques.
Anti-racist academics, activists, and movements are labeled as racist with the goal of silencing the voices from the raced margins.
Communities at the margins and academics working with communities at the margins are turned into threats to the majority culture. The language of racism, operationalised in the literature in relationship to power, control, and majoritarianism, is communicatively inverted, with communities at the margins challenging the racism being ironically portrayed as racist. This communicative inversion is strategic. Its goal: to retain the hegemony of the supremacist position and ensure the perpetuation of violence with impunity.
Far-right movements thrive on the performance of victimhood and grievance. This performance of grievance enables hegemonic groups in power to play the victim, and in doing so, call for the silencing of minority voices while carrying out violence directed at minority groups at the margins. Consider here the violent rape threats targeting Muslim women journalists, academics, and activists that are exponentially amplified through digital technologies.
Algorithmic misogyny works hand-in-hand with the violent misogyny of Hindutva seeking to silence the voices of Muslim women participating in democratic processes and documenting Hindutva hate.
Minority voices are portrayed in racist language, as threats to be removed, inciting and legitimizing violence. The marking of Muslims as “the other” to incite violence toward Muslims forms the infrastructure of genocidal hate, from Myanmar to India. Over the last five years, Muslims in India have experienced unprecedented levels of violence directed at them by Hindutva, with scholarship pointing toward an impending genocide of Muslims if the hate is unchecked. Critical to this infrastructure of hate is the mobilisation of hate on digital platforms, with platform corporations such as Meta and Google profiting from the proliferation of hate.
Consider here the workings of Hindutva propaganda in calling for violence directed at Muslims, materialising in offline violence targeting Muslims, accompanied by the concoction of propaganda terms such as “Hindu hate” and “Hindu phobia” to silence the voicing of this hate. These terms, “Hindu hate” and “Hinduphobia” are communicative inversions, and are hate constructs, much like “The great replacement theory,” legitimizing and calling for violence toward the target groups and toward the voices of academics, activists, and civil society groups witnessing the hate.
Consider the role played by Hindutva hate propaganda platforms such as Stop Hindu Hate Advocacy Network (SHHAN) with twitter handle @Hinduhate in continually manufacturing propaganda, denying and diverting the extreme violence that is being carried out on Muslims in India. Note that the violence organised by Hindutva groups set a mosque on fire and killed a Muslim cleric. Subsequent state action targeted Muslim communities. The narratives of Western media bias and racism are deployed to perform grievance, dangerously at work to erase the witnessing accounts of the violence.
Propaganda platforms such as SHHAN, operating through anonymous accounts, concoct propaganda precisely to turn off the lights as hate and violence are unleashed.
Figure 1: Note here the reference to Western media and allusion to racism as a strategy for communicatively inverting Islamophobic violence.
I am one among many academics and activists, a number of us practicing Hindus, who are the targets of SHHAN’s propaganda infrastructure. As noted by the Aotearoa Alliance of Progressive Indians (AAPI), SHHAN cooks up conspiracy theories with wild conjectures, linking us to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI. The wild conspiracy theories dished out by SHHAN work alongside the Hindutva twitter handle from Australia @SarahLGates1, Hindutva media in India and in the diaspora, and Hindutva activists based in Aotearoa to frame narratives through the Official Information Act (OIA) to connect CARE, Massey University, and me to the CCP.
The communicative inversion, silencing, and further, erasure, of the voices witnessing the genocidal hate is critical to the perpetration of genocide. Once the registers for accounting for the violence have been silenced, the murders and rapes of minorities can be mobilised in full effect. We have witnessed this in hate regimes such as Myanmar, where shutting down international coverage was critical to the genocide of Rohingya Muslims.
The messaging structure of hate is complemented by the platform structure. The algorithmic structure of platforms, built on racist, gendered values, drives profits through the monetization of hate. Hate generates virality, which in turn lies at the core of the profit model for platforms. Consider the role of Facebook in leading to the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.
Hate groups targeting academics carry out the campaigns through the digital economy of media influencers, who direct online trolls, identifying the subjects of attacks, mobilising action, and building up campaigns. The scale of violence online builds exponentially, drawing on fear and anxiety that crystallize mobs. These mobs are ready to take violent action both offline and online.
The volume of hate is amplified manifold by anonymous accounts, sock puppets, fake websites, automated bots, and troll farms.
The role of media influencers, politicians, and propaganda channels calling for the targeted attacks is often hidden. The messages calling for the targeted attacks are often coded, wrapped up in dehumanising language. The targets of the attacks are reduced to “less than human,” compared to animals (rodents, pigs etc.) or referred to as cancer or malignancy. The process of dehumanisation then serves as the basis for the calls to raise complaints as the first step toward building the infrastructure of violence.
The goal of the organised hate targeting critical voices (academics, journalists, activists) is to secure total narrative control. Note here the murder of the journalist Gauri Lankesh carried out by Hindutva extremists.
As a powerful exemplar of communicative inversion, these strategies of attacking academics are framed by disinformation producers as struggles for free speech, attempts at securing public accountability, or safeguarding youth/students from radical academic propaganda/brainwashing.
These communicative inversions are however easily unpacked once we start critically analysing them. And this is why disinformation producers are so bent on suspending critical literacy.