The overblown 'Bernie Bros' phenomenon says more about social media than Bernie Sanders

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"Bernie Bros" is a disingenuous narrative that diminishes Bernie Sanders's large base of female supporters.
  • "Bernie Bros" is a disingenuous narrative that diminishes Bernie Sanders's large base of female supporters.

Social media can be useful as a browseable depository of human knowledge and news. Other times it's a swirling maelstrom of profound stupidity. 

Case in point: my first tweet to ever go truly viral wasn't promoting an interesting story or a devastatingly incisive observation. It was a throwaway joke I cracked about Lady Gaga during the Super Bowl. She was belting out the National Anthem while donning a look that struck me as a natty version of Zuul from Ghostbusters. "BREAKING: Lady Gaga will make a surprise re-appearance at the halftime show," I tweeted, attaching a screenshot of Sigourney Weaver as the possessed Dana Barrett.

A couple of journalists with sizable numbers of followers retweeted it and a few hardcore Lady Gaga fans found it—many of whom took the tweet as true breaking news. Within seconds, my notifications feed was flooded with hundreds of retweets, likes, and mentions from Gaga's army of Little Monsters. Some freaked out in a positive way: "AAAAAAHHHHH," one person wrote, "IM GOING TO TOPPLE OVER AND DIE."

But for every tweet of glee there was something negative, from those who angrily told me I had "no right" to play with their emotions or spread lies about Lady Gaga's halftime whereabouts ("DONT FUCKING PLAY WITH THIS SHIT") to people who sent me vague threats and implications of violence. "I swear to god if youre lying about this," one person wrote. Said another: "If this isnt true, you know we're all coming after you." And after Lady Gaga failed to appear along with Coldplay and Beyonce, someone tweeted, "Break your neck."

Based on the outrage directed my way, I could have made broad statements about the average person who is a passionate supporter of Lady Gaga and concluded that the singer's fans are disproportionately angry and unhinged people. Conceivably, I could've labeled them "Lady Gaga Loonies" and written a hasty think piece theorizing that there's something inherent in the music of Lady Gaga that inspires a mob of millennials to harass people online. "Lady Gaga fans are Little Monsters After All" would've made a fine headline. But making sweeping generalizations about hundreds of thousands of people would count as irresponsible journalism.

Someone should tell that to the dozens of journalists and talking heads behind the "Bernie Bros" phenomenon. In case you haven't been privy to this media controversy, the Bernie Bro is thought to be a pernicious breed of dude: a thoughtless, dickish guy who loves Bernie Sanders and hates Hillary Clinton because she's an aggressive, power-hungry woman. In the anonymous playground of the Internet, the Bernie Bro jumps into the Twitter mentions of Hillary supporters and begins harassing them and posting sexist memes with all of the grace of a frat party keg stand.

It's a label that coalesced around an Atlantic essay last October and soon made the think piece rounds among the elite liberal think piece factories of Vox and Salon and The Guardian before worming its way into the mainstream media. Time warned about "the guy who floods Internet comment boards accusing Clinton supporters of voting with their 'vaginas.'" Yahoo published a piece with the headline declaring "the Bernie Bros rule the Internet."

The volume of the narrative has become so loud that Bill Clinton even jumped in, stating that bloggers "who have gone online to defend Hillary, to explain why they supported her, have been subject to vicious trolling and attacks that are literally too profane often, not to mention sexist, to repeat." Sanders himself eventually felt the need to address the Bernie Bros uproar, telling CNN, "We don't want that crap."

A future Bernie Bro meets the man himself
  • A future Bernie Bro meets the man himself

The problem with this whole Bernie Bros phenomenon? At best it's an exaggeration, and at worst a disingenuous Sasquatch-like tall tale that diminishes Sanders's large base of female supporters. In the New Hampshire primary, 82 percent of women under 30 voted for Sanders, who defeated Clinton with 60 percent of the vote. Not exactly a bro brigade.

The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald believes Bernie Bros are being used as a prop by Clinton supporters to discredit Sanders based on some examples of his worst disciples.

"The goal," he wrote, "is to inherently delegitimize all critics of Hillary Clinton by accusing them of, or at least associating them with, sexism, thus distracting attention away from Clinton's policy views, funding, and political history and directing it toward the online behavior of anonymous, random, isolated people on the Internet claiming to be Sanders supporters."

Proponents of the Bernie Bros story offer up examples of abuse, but it's all anecdotal. The aforementioned Time article acknowledges "it's hard to quantify the BernieBro phenomenon online." So, why's this a story again?

It's true that some Sanders followers online have inevitably crossed the line from reasonable discourse to name-calling and sexist remarks. But all of social media has a very real problem with vile rhetoric and harassment. Dive into the Twitter mentions of nearly every politician, celebrity, and public figure and you'll surely find personal attacks, racist and sexist and homophobic remarks—even death threats. When the actress and model Emily Ratajkowski recently posted her support of Sanders on her social media accounts, she was bombarded with comments about her stupidity, and how she should "shut up and show your tits."

To single out one problematic sliver of political candidate’s social media following and call that minority segment a "trend" isn’t just silly, it’s intellectually dishonest. The truth is, when it comes to the world of social media, we're all Little Monsters.


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