Disinformation at Work: The OK Gesture is NOT a Hate Sign

I’m very happy to hear, courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League, that the “OK” symbol hasn’t been co-opted as a secret sign by White Nationalists after all.

Rumors that certain people allied with the Trump administration were showing their loyalty to white supremacy with the gesture have been filling my Facebook feed for about a month now. Most recently it was the loathsome Mike Cernovich and a reporter for Sputnik, Cassandra Fairbanks when they visited the White House. Emma Roller, a writer for Fusion, put out this tweet:

However, while their writing and politics might be racist as hell (at least Cernovich; I have no idea about Fairbanks), they’re not flashing a white power gang sign. According to the ADL, the idea comes from a 4Chan disinformation campaign:

The “OK” hand gesture hoax originated in February 2017 when an anonymous 4channer announced “Operation O-KKK,” telling other members that “we must flood Twitter and other social media websites…claiming that the OK hand sign is a symbol of white supremacy.” The user even provided a helpful graphic showing how the letters WP (for “white power”) could be traced within an “OK” gesture. The originator and others also suggested useful hashtags to help spread the hoax, such as #PowerHandPrivilege and #NotOkay. “Leftists have dug so deep down into their lunacy,” wrote the poster, “We must force [them] to dig more, until the rest of society ain’t going anywhere near that s***.”

Following the cues of the hoax’s originator, 4channers created fake e-mail and Twitter accounts and bombarded civil rights organizations, journalists, and others with messages furthering the “OK” hoax. Some of the hoaxers were possibly racists or white supremacists themselves, as parts of 4chan are something of a haven for them and the site itself has been a source of adherents of the alt right segment of the white supremacist movement.

When I first started seeing these claims myself, they seemed to fall in a weird sweet spot: At first whiff, they sounded like bullshit. But on the other hand, it was also just weird enough to be true. If you put a gun to my head and made me choose, I would have said “bullshit,” but in reality, I didn’t have enough facts on hand to say either way. So I’m really grateful to the folks at the ADL for giving me those facts. The alt-right has been getting insufferable since the article went up, claiming that it shows what fools and suckers all us SJW types are, but that makes it no less important to acknowledge the truth. We are better than they are in every way.

But on a larger level, the whole thing about the OK symbol is a really good example of the situation that we’re in and why we need to carefully apply skepticism to the media, even when the story seems to tally with what we already know or believe. Maybe especially then. We’re not in a “post-truth” era. Truth exists independently of us. But there are lots of people, at 4Chan and other places, working very hard to make sure that we can’t really know what the truth is.

My social media is flooded every day with outrageous claims, and some of the most frightening, outrageous ones turn out to be true. I’ve learned not to trust certain sources, or at least to double-check what they’re saying by following the links to their original sources. I never post anything directly from places like Occupy Democrats or The Palmer Report. Some of their stuff is made up of whole cloth while other pieces are solid facts viewed through a distorted lens of sensational headlines. Either way, they’re toxic to building and maintaining a genuine resistance to the things that are happening around us. Allowing ourselves to get scared or confused by disinformation campaigns like this one can kill us off.

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Disinformation at Work: The OK Gesture is NOT a Hate Sign

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