1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 #Twitterstorians take on trolls: the case of Kevin Kruse and Dinesh D’Souza

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3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 That the Internet can be a hive of disinformation and echo chambers is news to few, but the existence of Twitter has only exacerbated the issue. Whereas once one would have to write op-eds and Letters to the Editor in newspapers or magazines, now all one has to do is dash off a pithy 140-280 character message that your followers can read, share, and respond to within seconds of posting. The confluence of quick writing and mass exposure leads to bad facts spreading faster than ever with little to no consequence and millions of people taking that as their basis of opinion. This could lead to debate, but more often leads to venomous mudslinging and attacks, leading nowhere. As well, this public exposure of ‘dirty laundry’ also lends itself to corrections by users more knowledgeable on the topic, to either shut down the misinformation being spread, or better inform the online public regarding the spurious content.

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5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The ‘Twitter war’ between historian Kevin Kruse and conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza has been one for the ages, wherein Kruse tries to use his skills as a historian to address the patently false and self-serving ‘history’ that D’Souza tries to peddle to the public. D’Souza’s presence in the media zeitgeist has been stoking the fires of U.S. nationalism and xenophobia through his repeated claim that U.S. society is the apogee of civilization, and the reason for so much discord and resentment is the ‘liberal agenda,’ as he has explained in his books and documentaries. In recent years, D’Souza has become a pundit for the Trump administration, which he believes works in favor of the working class, as much as the Roosevelt administration did during the Great Depression; in fact, Trump has so admired his work that he pardoned D’Souza from a conviction he was serving for breaking federal laws regarding campaign finances. In a recent documentary, Death of a Nation: Can We Save America a Second Time?, D’Souza likens Trump to Abraham Lincoln and Democrats to the Nazis, which earned him a premiere hosted by Donald Trump, Jr., who commented: “You see the Nazi platform in the early 1930s and what was actually put out there … and you look at it compared to, like, the DNC platform of today, and you’re saying, man, those things are awfully similar, to a point where it’s actually scary.” (Frum) It is this faith in the documentary, so inculcated by television-based documentary programs and the belief in their truth telling, that D’Souza is banking on when he makes bold, non-factual statements that he is somehow able to pass off as veracious history.

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7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 On Twitter, D’Souza uses his pop cultural clout to comment speciously on any ‘social’ topic, his favorite being the racist past of the Democratic Party and how they remain such in the present day, ignoring the mid-twentieth century shift in light of the civil rights movement, when the Democrats supported civil rights while Republican politicians baited racist reaction for their base of support. On 2 July, 2018, D’Souza posted the following challenge on Twitter: “Okay let’s see a list of the 200 or so racist Dixiecrats who switched parties and became Republicans. Put up or shut up.” Kruse took up the offer by pithily explaining the history of the Democrats’ stance on race issues, and deftly revealed that, in fact, Democratic politicians switched to the Republican Party in reaction to popular (that is, voters) Democratic shifts in favor of civil rights. D’Souza, as is his manner, reacted not by engaging in debate with counter-evidence or even questions, but by deriding Kruse’s work as “obscure quibbles,” claiming that he is “too wimpy to publicly debate which is the party of fascism and racism.” The rest of their argument goes on as such, with D’Souza offering diversionary tweets with insults and spurious claims (without much supporting evidence), while Kruse seeks to give D’Souza factual details based on actual quotations, video, documents, and secondary works by experts in the field. There is not much budging or conciliation between them, so the work would seem more or less futile. Kruse explains that his Twitter corrections “aren’t aimed at him or his followers,” but at people who “don’t have the actual facts at hand and have to encounter this nonsense from friends or family members in the real world, and, of course random partisans here on the internet.” While D’Souza’s approach to their back-and-forth on Twitter is more akin to a battle, with shows of force and bombast, Kruse seeks to let the facts speak for themselves when D’Souza makes an over-the-top claim. When D’Souza claims to speak on history with authority, but no evidence, Kruse feels that it is his job as a historian to intervene and show people like D’Souza and his ilk where their conclusions are inaccurate. In taking to Twitter and offering nuggets of information to casual users and historians alike, Kruse’s work makes history and a basic understanding of the discipline and its reliance on evidence and research available to members of the general public.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 It is telling that Kruse has little hope in D’Souza and his followers changing their minds based on his presentation of evidence and authoritative opinion. He believes them resigned to their long-held ‘conclusions’ on the matter, which allow them to speak with authority; these are beliefs that they learnt from school, television, family, and to hear them repeated on Twitter gives some semblance of validation, even ‘proof’ that they were right. For people like Kruse to intrude with ‘facts’ is to disturb the comfort of their ‘truth,’ and so it can be nothing but falsehood. Such intrusions call for irascible trolling with pithy, counterfactual claims that sound as if they were but common sense. These sorts of responses seek to call out the debaters, the ‘explainers,’ who think themselves smarter than others, and so are elitists bent on making others look stupid. This is an anti-intellectual strain of ‘discourse’ that is all too common in mass media, from television and radio punditry, social media, and, as of late, the federal government, that refuses to engage in debate and find out the facts based on evidence and cooperation in their revelation. It is perhaps telling that D’Souza’s Twitter profile has 1.09 million followers, while Kruse’s has a mere 225 thousand– D’Souza, after all, is a well-known figure in the media and a conservative darling, while Kruse is known among his colleagues, readers, and followers on social media. D’Souza has the advantage of using pop culture, such as his schlocky documentaries and books (with such titles as America: Imagine the World Without Her and The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left) to reach a wider audience and tap into their anxieties, hopes, and fears at the click of a button. The ease of access to a D’Souza documentary compared with a book by Kruse is a key issue that historians face (and they must) in order to allay the misconceptions and misinformation peddled as historical facts. Kruse is attempting to use Twitter as his approachable net to cast in hopes of catching interested readers and users to history, as well as to answer their historical queries and address topics of popular conversation with the evidence itself. It is yet to be seen if this interface will bear any fruit, as a casual scroll down D’Souza’s Twitter page shows effusive praise for his work and the belief that he is presenting factual information. Perhaps it will, but pseudo-historians like D’Souza still command attention on the television and computer screens– historians dedicated to their craft and the pursuit of historical truths will need to find a way into that space in order to reach the audiences who would otherwise be turning elsewhere for their information. D’Souza and figures like him must be challenged, but done in a manner that is not elitist, paternalistic, or dull: in this, taking a few cues from D’Souza himself could aid historians seeking a wider audience. For now, books, articles, Twitter debates, and the odd appearance in a documentary are the weapons in the historian’s arsenal, and they are behooved to use them in the most efficient and edifying manner possible.

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12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 SOURCES

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14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Frum, David. “Dinesh D’Souza and the Decline of Conservatism.” The Atlantic. (Aug 12, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/08/dinesh-dsouza-is-making-a-comeback/567233/

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16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Heer, Jeet. “Dinesh D’Souza gets a history lesson on Twitter.” The New Republic. (7/3/18). Retrieved from https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/169492.

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18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Seal, Andy. “The D’Souza Line: When Correcting Bad History Is a Lost Cause (And When It’s Not)” Society for U.S. Intellectual History. (May 21, 2018). Retrieved from https://s-usih.org/2018/05/the-dsouza-line-when-correcting-bad-history-on-twitter-is-a-lost-cause-and-when-its-not/.


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