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The best of the New Statesman 2018: Digital culture

From Russian agents on Tumblr to eco-fascists on Twitter.

The way in which we live our lives online is one of the most important stories of the 21st century. And in 2018 the New Statesman’s writers remained at the forefront of efforts to uncover, explain and contextualise the huge and sometimes very strange shifts in our digital world. 

“It could’ve been a government thing”: Why Gen Z thinks Madeleine McCann never existed

The internet has enabled the rise and spread of conspiracy theories, and been blamed for the real world consequences. But while fantastical theories such as Pizzagate or QAnon may have been nourished primarily via social media, it’s a little harder to blame the existence of continuing speculation about the disappearance of Madeline McCann on our digital world when newspapers have been speculating wildly for decades. As Amelia Tait wrote, blaming younger generations on the web obscures a much more complex picture.

How Love Island’s Alex became an incel icon

Old and new media do not exist in isolation from each other, and they can collide with unusual and unexpected results. One such example cropped up over the summer when the Incel community – young men online, who blame women for their lack of sexual relationships – embraced Alex, one of the contestants on reality TV show Love Island. As Sarah Manavis discovered, the perma-tanned doctor’s behaviour on the show provided an unhealthy role model for young disillusioned and dissatisfied men online.  

She says Facebook brainwashed her husband – he disagrees

Social media has also been blamed for the rise of Donald Trump and more extreme right wing views, and can even drive a wedge between loved ones, as Ameila Tait found when she interviewed an American couple: a woman who claims Facebook brainwashed her husband, and her husband who thinks it merely helped him open his eyes.

I hate myself lol: Why “laugh out loud” means everything but

Digital communication has helped turbo charge the evolution of language in strange and interesting ways, changing the meaning of phrases and words in unexpected ways. Amelia Tait explored one of the most striking shifts, in her look at how “Why “laugh out loud” came to mean everything but.

Forget Facebook, Russian agents have been pretending to be furries on Tumblr

One of the biggest stories of 2018 involved revelations about the activities of the Russian troll from the Internet Research Agency. But while debate continues to rage about the scale of its impact on democratic elections, Mic Wright examined one of the stranger pastimes of Russian agents, their attempt to disrupt the porn and K-pop loving teens of Tumblr.

How architecture-themed Twitter accounts became a magnet for white nationalism

Eco-fascism: The ideology marrying environmentalism and white supremacy thriving online

The rise of the far right online has been a key theme for the New Statesman’s online coverage, and in recent months it has taken in some of the weirder tangents taken by white nationalists and other extremists. As Sarah Manavis found out, this included both eco-fascists emphasising marrying a environmentalism with bigotry and eugenics, and architecture enthusiasts attempting to twist the history of Europe’s buildings to fit a racist world view.

In a country where #MeToo is censored, China’s feminists have to be creative online

China’s strict control of the internet poses problems for all kinds of civil movements – and that includes the country’s feminists. But while there have been examples of pushes for greater rights for women via the internet, the web’s limitations for effecting real change have become all too apparent, writes Sarah Ditum.

Why the invention of the fridge could be responsible for our love of fake news

Disinformation is nothing new, but 2018 saw concern over the rise of so called “fake news” hit new highs. While most of us might consider ourselves to clever to fall for false information, Ian Leslie argued that it is laziness rather than stupidity that makes us more susceptible to it online – and that you only have to look at the history of the kitchen to see why.

No Nut November: the insidious internet challenge encouraging men not to masturbate

Toxic masculinity has found new outlets for ugly and uncontrolled expression on the web. But one of the most popular is actually all about repressing basic urges: Sarah Manavis looked at the strange and worrying rise of “No Nut November”.