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How things change
The death toll keeps rising.
The mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio over the weekend have now claimed 31 lives after two victims died in the hospital.
Is this carnage enough to shock the powerful into action? Will elected officials finally take action on gun violence? Will powerful corporations stop providing critical support for violent white supremacists?
Early signs are, at best, mixed.
But the horrors of the weekend have created a window of opportunity where the issues fueling white terrorism are at least under discussion. Whether real progress is made will depend, in part, on whether the broader public stays interested.
Amazon defends selling audiobooks linked to 8chan
In the wake of the two shootings, some technology companies have taken action against 8chan, the online message board that served as a haven for the El Paso gunman and other killers. Last night, Cloudflare, which provides security for websites, announced it would terminate its services for 8chan. But 8chan quickly announced it would replace Cloudflare with Bitmitigate, a similar service. But, as it turns out, Bitmitigate was piggybacking off another company, Voxility. When Voxility found its services were being used by 8chan through Bitmitigate, it pulled the plug, sending 8chan back offline.
One company that has made no changes: Amazon.
In May, Popular Information reported that Amazon helps monetize 8chan by selling audiobooks by books.audio, a company run by 8chan owner Jim Watkins. 8chan runs ads that link to books.audio products on Amazon. Watkins is effectively using Amazon and books.audio as an alternative to ad networks.
On Monday, Amazon told Popular Information that "Amazon has not had any direct relationship with Books.Audio for several months." Rather, "Books.Audio offers audio-narration services to authors, and then the authors themselves, not Books.Audio, list those titles for sale on Audible."
Regardless of who posts the audiobooks on Amazon, books.audio -- and by extension Jim Watkins and 8chan -- profit. Amazon is attempting to shift responsibility to the individual authors, but many of the "authors" of these audiobooks appear to be fictional. The audiobook "Puerto Galera Passion: Asian Women/Hot Filipinas," for example, lists "Mason" as its author. This is an excerpt from Mason's biography on Amazon:
Mason lives and works in the United States, and spends as much time as possible in Asia. India. Sri Lanka. Thailand. But he especially enjoys visiting The Philippines.
Mason finds Asian women the most beautiful and feminine in the world. His ex-wife came from Laos. His current honey ko lives south of Manila...
Want to retire to a tropical paradise with a beautiful Filipino woman? Give up that idea!
Mason doesn't want more foreign men in The Philippines driving up real estate prices and moving in next door.
Jim Watkins lives in The Philippines.
Amazon's connection to Gab
But Amazon's connections to online hate run deeper. The shooter who murdered 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh used the fringe social network Gab to post anti-Semitic messages. After Gab's connection to the Pittsburgh shooting was revealed, GoDaddy and other tech companies stopped doing business with Gab.
Amazon, however, through an intermediary, provides hosting for a Gab subdomain that is soliciting investors to keep the service running.
What happens when hate is taken offline
Some people argue that pressuring companies like Amazon to stop providing support and infrastructure to hate sites is pointless because the communities will reconstitute themselves elsewhere. Are they right?
In 2017, researchers at Georgia Tech looked at Reddit's decision to ban two hate message boards, r/FatPeopleHate and r/Coontown. The study found that these communities did not reconstitute elsewhere on Reddit. Instead, some users stopped using the site, while others migrated to other places on the site but stopped using hate speech.
“It creates a fear in their mind. If they do it again, they get banned. In the new communities they go to, they are careful about this. Some stop doing this. There’s fear,” Eshwar Chandrasekharan, one of the study's authors, told the Daily Beast.
The study suggests that the decisions of tech companies do make a difference. These toxic communities will not thrive in all circumstances. They are influenced by the actions of tech companies and others.
Trump prays for Toledo
President Trump, whose rhetoric was adopted repeatedly in the El Paso shooter's manifesto, spoke about the two massacres from the White House on Monday. In Dayton, the shooter was able to kill nine people by firing 41 shots in 30 seconds. But Trump quickly made clear that he would not entertain any serious effort to limit the availability of military-style firearms. "Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun," Trump said.
Instead, he sought to attribute the tragedies to "mental illness" and called for more "involuntary confinement."
[W]e must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment but, when necessary, involuntary confinement.
In a statement, the American Psychological Association (APA) hit back.
Routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing. Research has shown that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness. The rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them. One critical factor is access to, and the lethality of, the weapons that are being used in these crimes. Adding racism, intolerance and bigotry to the mix is a recipe for disaster.
Trump also attempted to blame the video game industry.
[W]e must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence.
But, as Vox notes, people spend the most money on video games in South Korea and China -- two places where the rate of violent gun death is very low.
In an early-morning tweet, Trump suggested he would support universal background checks if the policy were paired with immigration reform. He did not explain why, if he believed universal background checks was a good policy, he would condition his support on funding for his draconian immigration policies. But it didn't matter. A couple of hours later, he made no mention of background checks.
"May God bless the memory of those who perished in Toledo," Trump concluded, forgetting the name of the Ohio city where the shooting occurred.
Democrats release a statement
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) released a joint statement calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to reconvene the Senate and vote on the Background Checks Act of 2019, which passed the House in February.
Don't hold your breath.
If there is one thing McConnell has proven during his time in Congress is that he cannot be shamed into action. A more effective tactic would be for the House to reconvene and pass gun safety legislation every day. It would be a dramatic step that would focus public attention of the Senate's inaction.
But it would require House Democrats to cut short their August recess. Thus far, that's not something they appear willing to do.
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