Melissa Ryan tells us about her newsletter devoted to understanding how the right operates online and developing strategies and tactics to fight back.
Tell us about yourself and your cause
I’m a digital organizer who’s been working at the intersection of politics and technology for over a decade.
Currently I write a weekly newsletter Ctrl Alt Right Delete, devoted to better understanding how the so-called alt-right organizes online and developing strategies and tactics to fight back.
What motivated you to get started with your cause?
I’ve always been interested in how activist communities organize online, but I’ve never seen anything quite like the so-called alt-right, how they organize, and how Trump interacts with them. I’ve been following the so-called alt-right since reading a few articles in Buzzfeed about them from 2015, and I watched the Trump campaign build their own campaign by amplifying and validating many of the ideas that came from that movement.
But what really got me engaged in a more active way, was last fall when a group of far right trolls started targeting me for abuse on Twitter. I wanted to find out where the abuse was coming from since obviously it was organized.
And what I found was a call to action to attack me on a white supremacist message board. Right out in the open. That was an aha moment for me. Because they were organizing in a more transparent way than I think I’d realized. Which meant you could study them in real time.
I started researching, making notes, and looking for patterns. When Trump won I realized this information would be useful to others who wanted to oppose him and the army of online trolls amplifying his message. I decided a regular newsletter would be the best way to accomplish that.
What did it take to get your cause off the ground?
Ctrl Alt Right Delete started out as a newsletter for friends and colleagues. I think the first one went out to just over 200 people. But in just a couple of months it’s grown to over 1200 subscribers.
At first I was writing for an audience of people I knew, most of whom worked in politics or advocacy already. Over time that audience has grown to include new activists, academics, reporters, and a sizable European readership. I’ve tried to respond to that growth by making the content as useful as possible to a wide audience of people.
How have you attracted supporters and grown your cause?
Medium is the biggest driver of subscribers. I publish an excerpt from the newsletter every week as a standalone article and those posts result in half of new subscribers. Forwarded emails are the second highest driver. At this point I haven’t done any ads or much in the way of promotion beyond my own tweets and Facebook posts, but I’m considering running some ads down the road since there’s obviously a lot of interest in the topic.
What’s the story behind the sustainability of your cause?
It’s a volunteer effort and as of right now I’m not trying to raise funds or build a business. We’ll see if I still feel that way in six months. It all depends on how much continued interest and growth there is.
What are your goals for the future, how do you plan to accomplish them?
Right now Ctrl Alt Right Delete is just my voice, but there’s so much amazing activism going on in the U.S. right now. I want to find ways to bring others in and highlight their work and knowledge. Eventually I’d love to feature content written by others as well as run interviews.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned so far?
I underestimated interest in this. If I were starting over again I’d probably plan out my launch better, and have executed an actual plan for promotion.
What’s been most helpful to you on your journey?
My biggest advantage in understanding the so-called alt-right is my own background. I got into politics through blogs and Internet activism. And I’ve always had an appreciation for grassroots movements that use social media to organize. That experience, as well as my professional work in politics, helps me see things in a unique way. I see this newsletter as a way to communicate what I see to others in a way that’s useful and easy to digest.
What’s your inspirational advice for aspiring activists?
I’m not one for inspirational advice, but here’s what I will say. We need you. We need your energy, and your passion, and your stamina. There’s been a global shift towards mainstream acceptance of far right extremism and we need a global movement to oppose that. Now is the time to step up and be heard.
What books would you recommend aspiring activists should read?
I always recommend Joseph Campbell’s work. Either the Hero with a Thousand Faces or The Power of Myth. Every campaign political or advocacy is a version of the monomyth, and understanding those tropes can help activists craft better stories in their work. It’s also helpful to understand that every villain you encounter probably sees themselves as the hero of their own story.
What other activists do you admire?
The #BlackLivesMatter movement, co-founded by three women: Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza. I admire both what they’re doing and how they’re using social media to communicate and organize.
Reverend William Barber is another. The Moral Mondays actions in North Carolina he led in particular.
Where can we go to learn more?
And if you’d like to read some of the content before subscribing, I’d suggest taking a look at an earlier newsletter where I outline how Trump and his army of alt-right trolls won.
Want to take part in an interview about your cause?
If you want to take part, just head to the submission page and read the guidelines. Feel free to point others there as well.
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