One Sunday morning in July of last year, a message from an anonymous account appeared on “Bernie or Vest,” a Discord chat server for fans of Senator Bernie Sanders.
It contained an image of Shahid Buttar, the San Francisco activist challenging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the 2020 congressional runoff, and offered explicit instructions for how to elevate the hashtag #PelosiMustGo to the nationwide Trending list on Twitter.
“Shahid Says…,” read the large print, “Draft some tweets with #PelosiMustGo—don’t forget to capitalize #EachWord. Don’t use more than two hashtags—otherwise you’ll be marked as spam.” The call to action urged people to start posting at noon Pacific time, attach their favorite graphics, and like and retweet other Buttar supporters’ contributions.
In the media reporter Brian Stelter’s book Hoax, he shares an anecdote that neatly sums up so much about Fox News and its influence on how its viewers communicate.
A staffer who described a restaurant chain’s decision to offer a vegan burger as an improvement to the menu said they were castigated and corrected: The new option was actually proof of the “war on meat,” a network superior said. Thus, the story was quickly reframed in the channel’s familiar vernacular.
My colleague Megan Garber argued last year that Fox had become a language, one in which a new reality had been manufactured. This dangerous linguistic manipulation extends well beyond TV news.
In fact, language is exactly what cults—and cult-like brands—use to lure in new members, the scholar Amanda Montell writes in her book Cultish.
Attend any class offered by a popular fitness brand like Peloton, CrossFit, or SoulCycle, and the enticing power of their insider-y mantras becomes apparent. On the HBO docuseries The Vow, which is about the cult NXIVM, viewers see how a strange new way of speaking drew people in.