By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Here is a fourth post debunking common talking points by die-in-the-last-ditch Clinton loyalists and Democrat Establishment operatives. For this talking point, I’ll give a quotation that illlustrates the myth, followed by rebuttals. (Three previous talking points are debunked here, two more here, and two more here.
Talking Point: Sexist BernieBros were one reason Clinton lost election 2016.
[FINNEY:] I think given the level of sexism and misogyny that we saw come to the surface and be very public, I think that supports the fact that in this country we are going to have to have a real conversation about that….
And I will be really honest [hoo boy], and some of my colleagues won’t like this, but I think even in the primary, had a real chilling effect on a lot of women, young women in particular.
We learned about during the primary there were a number of these secret Facebook groups of young progressive women who were supporting Hillary but frankly, they didn’t want to deal with the backlash online from some of the Bernie bros. So again, I think, you know, there’s a lot of pieces to sort of tease out in this conversation.
(Ugh. A “conversation.” Twice.) So, we have a number of things to look at. First, we need to assess Finney’s Facebook anecdote. Second, we need to ask how significant “a lot of” really was. Third, we need to examine the category: Is #BernieBro even a thing? And finally, we need to ask who Sanders supporters really were, and whether #BernieBro can be used as a synecdoche for them. (Note the subtle smear in the midst of Finney’s blather: When she says “ the Bernie bros” I read that as implying that all Sanders supporters are bros, although some are less obnoxious than others.)
Normally, I’d define the term #BernieBro (Know Your Meme has a fine discussion of the history of the term, along with a valiant attempt at definition.) However, anticipating point three, it has no taxonomic value; in fact, its very vagueness contributed to its virulent spread.
First, Finney’s claim of #BernieBros on Facebook has little support, even at the anecdotal level. It does seem to be true that some Facebook users complained about users they termed “Bernie Bros.” J.M. of Somerville wrote the Boston Globe’s advice columnist, Miss Conduct:
I try to be open-minded and tolerant of everyone’s views. A longtime Hillary Clinton backer, I limit my political commentary to supporting my candidate, not trashing others. So am I wrong, or is it really rude for a rabid Bernie Bro to post Hillary-hostile links directly onto my Facebook page? What is an appropriate response to this?
Personally, I think it’s rude to post anything onto anyone else’s Facebook page no matter the topic, but let that pass. If behavior like posting links onto a Facebook page, even on a mass scale, affected the outcome of election 2016, then the Clinton campaign was more fragile than anybody ever imagined. (Note again the same sleight of hand that Finney used: All Sanders supporters are bros, although some are “rabid.”)
Did offensive #BernieBro behavior occur on a mass scale on Facebook? If so, I would expect it to show up on Twitter, since that’s where operatives go to propagate talking points, and media types go to pick up on said talking points. So I searched the Twitter on “#BernieBro Facebook” (All, From everyone, From everywhere) between January 1, 2016 and October 1, 2016; time enough #BernieBro-dom to really get rolling, if it existed, and cutting off when the general was well underway. I found 42 responses (and you can use the link to check for yourself). Here’s a typical tweet about Facebook:
Y'all I got a #BernieBro in my Facebook timeline. He said he "expected better" of me. Woooo boy here we go
— Celeste (@celeste_perilla) April 3, 2016
Quelle horreur! And here is the worst one I can find:
— berniebropoetry (@berniebropoet) March 15, 2016
Obviously some poor lost soul. Again, if this can swing an election, the Clinton campaign was in terrible trouble.
Second, Online #BernieBro-dom has no statistical significance. Rebekah Tromble and Dirk Hovy did a study of Twitter data in February 2016, again, plenty of time for the phenomenon to have gotten rolling. The Washington Post:
In the end, we found that 23 of the 30 gendered slurs were directed at Clinton. However, out of a total 52,181 tweets mentioning @HillaryClinton, just 606, or 1.16 percent, contained these insults. While these slurs only represent one particularly overt form of sexism, the fact that so few were present in these tweets is remarkable.
Are Bernie Bros [if indeed they exist, which the writers take for granted] behind the slurs?
This is quite a small number. But any such slur is troubling. And we still need to know who is responsible for the invective.
Therefore, in the final stage of analysis, we coded whether each slur originated from a Bernie Sanders supporter (as determined by their Twitter bios or corpus of tweets) and, among verifiable Sanders supporters, whether the sender was male, female, or unknown.
The vast majority of the slurs were associated with Twitter users on the right — particularly self-identified Trump supporters. But 14.7 percent came from those backing Sanders. Among Sanders supporters, 60.6 percent tweeting gendered slurs were men, 29.2 percent women, and 10.1 percent unknown. Most slurs are used by both genders, but some seem more specific: in the data, “whore” was used as an insult mostly by female Sanders supporters.
Thus, while we do find some evidence of Bernie Bros’ bad behavior, abuse against Clinton by Sanders supporters — both male and female —seems relatively limited. Clinton certainly faces a barrage of negativity and a heavy dose of sexism on Twitter. But that mostly appears to come from the right.
And though any and all instances of sexist slurs deserve condemnation, during the New Hampshire primary. That is a mere 0.17 percent of all the tweets mentioning @HillaryClinton that we examined.
89 tweets have a “chilling effect”? It’s like the S.S. Clinton sank after striking an ice cube!
Third, #BernieBro has no taxonomic value. Adam Johnson writes in Alternet:
[T]he term’s definition, as Elizabeth Bruenig of The New Republic notes, has reached “critique drift”, stretched to the point of utter meaninglessness. The definition has morphed into basically: “Sanders supporters whose argument I don’t wish to engage”. In fact, the following non-sexist, non-bro-y examples have been labeled “Bernie Bros”:
- Elizabeth Bruenig herself when writing about the topic in The New Republic.
- A fake account for a fake US Congressmen that was used as evidence in several pieces on the “Bernie Bro” phenomenon.
- A woman named “Carol”
And now a new addition to the Bernie Bro catch-all has come from Paul Krugman, who has pre-emptively leveled the term at critics of Clinton who think her exorbitant Wall Street speaking fees are potentially corrupting:
Certainly taking a harder line on the corruption of our politics by big money is important —
Certainly, this argument by Krugman could solicit criticism from a whole cross-section of people; including women, non-bro men, Clinton supporters, Marxists, Republicans, and Independents. Yet here we are: the term “Bernie Bro” is knee-jerkingly used to dismiss a very valid criticism that Clinton’s $2.9 million in speaking fees from Wall Street may undermine her independence when it comes to regulating Wall Street.
In this sense, those still holding on to the idea that the label of “Bernie Bro” has any taxonomic value that helps define something urgent and relevant should vehemently oppose its ever expanding use.
And the inventor of the term has disavowed it, for the same reasons Johnson outlines. Robinson Meyer:
O reader, hear my plea: I am the victim of semantic drift.
Four months ago, I coined the term “Berniebro” to describe a phenomenon I saw on Facebook: Men, mostly my age, mostly of my background, mostly with my political beliefs, were hectoring their friends about how great Bernie was even when their friends wanted to do something else, like talk about the NBA.
In the post, I tried to gently suggest that maybe there were other ways to advance Sanders’s beliefs, many of which I share. I hinted, too, that I was not talking about every Sanders supporter. I did this subtly, by writing: “The Berniebro is not every Sanders supporter.”
Then, 28,000 people shared the story on Facebook…. [N]ow that the Berniebro lived in the world, it started to grow and change, and I remained its Dr. Frankenstein. In November, Rebecca Traister used Berniebro to refer to leftist writers who expressed their grievances with Hillary Clinton in sexist ways. Then other writers employed it to other ends. “Berniebro” came to imply that some men only supported Sanders because he was male. Then it stood in for the roving horde of Twitter users who respond to any sufficiently prominent skepticism about Bernie with outrage, alarm, and hate.
So here I am: The prodigal father has returned. And I think I have a solution to all this—or, at least, to the Berniebro problem. The Berniebrosplosion doesn’t betray a unique crisis in civility, nor a long-term problem for the Democratic base. It signifies, rather, something much simpler: category collapse.
The Internet is impoverished of vocabulary. People want to describe the emerging Sanders coalition, yet when they reach their hands behind the veil of language, they come out grasping only “Berniebro.”
So we’re back to synecdoche, aren’t we? When “people” (who?) wish to describe all Sanders supporters, they “grasp” for some: “bros.” Odd. I wonder why?
Fourth, Sanders had significant support among women, especially young women. CNN:
CNN’s Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta analyzed the age and gender breakdown in 27 states where CNN conducted exit and entrance polls during the primaries — and found that overall, Clinton led Sanders 61% to 37% among women.
But when she analyzed the age and gender breakdown across those 27 states, Sanders led Clinton by an average of 37 percentage points among women 18 to 29 — a stunning result given Clinton’s emphasis on the historic nature of her candidacy.
Support for Clinton rose as the age of women went up. Women who were 30 to 39 were more likely to support Clinton by an average of 53% for Clinton and 46% for Sanders. And among older women, Clinton dominated Sanders by huge double-digit margins.
At Clinton rallies, a number of older women were critical of the younger generation, arguing that they are not backing the former secretary of state’s candidacy because they never faced the kind of discrimination that women of Clinton’s era did.
But in interviews during the final days of the California campaign, many young women at Sanders rallies said they would never vote on the basis of gender. They cited trust and integrity issues as the reason they weren’t voting for Clinton, and said their support for Sanders’ platform and policies trumped any notion that they should back a candidate angling for a historic first.
Remember that Karen Finney pointed specifically to young women as having been intimidated by Bernie Bros. Again, if that was sufficient to cause a 24 point difference in women 18-29, the Clinton campaign was terribly fragile. That would also imply that forty-something years of feminism has made no headway whatever (which I do not believe to be true at all).
So, for this talking point to be true, we have to believe that many young women have been harassed on Facebook by #BernieBros even though there are few anecdotes to be found where we would expect to find them, that sexist Tweets from male Sanders supporters on the scale of two digits amount to a bro-dom sufficient to affect election outcomes, that #Berniebros is a term instead of an vague epithet, and that the behavior of #BernieBros was so powerful as to effect a 24% differential between Sanders and Clinton support among young women.
I think, actually, that is is a lost cause, even though it makes me crazy. I sometimes now see random Sanders supporters un-self-consciously describing themselves as bros; and perhaps “bro” will go the way of “guy,” once gendered, but now no longer. Perhaps the rapid spread of the original meme — aided not only by its virulence but by the highly tendentious Clinton campaign — has also led to its attenuation. One can only hope.
 Here is an article in Cosmopolitan giving anecdotes about #BernieBro harrassment on Twitter. Make of it what you will, but I discount it for several reasons: First, the main source for the story, Clara Jeffreys, was in essence a Clinton campaign operative operating under deep cover as an Editor (at Mother Jones). Second, complaining about tone on Twitter is like complaining about the dietary habits of lions in the Roman Coliseum. I draw the line at doxxing, as in the GamerGate case, and I’ve beaten up on a fair number of trolls myself, but Twitter is as good as the blocking tools it has (which have been improved, helpfully). Third, Twitter is a rough neighborhood anyhow. Neera Tanden, after all, used Twitter to give a thumbs-down to a writer, getting him fired. Finally, hearing well-paid public figures of any gender complain about online behavior leaves me unsympathetic. Have your assistant screen the tweets!
 “Whore” is not gendered. Ask Barney Frank.
 This is Twitter, not Facebook, but Twitter, again, is a rough neighborhood, so I think it’s a reasonable proxy for online behavior in general.
 Meyer concludes: “The Berniebro, as originally conceived, was a tragic figure; his loyalty and dudeish certainty made him a poor proxy for his favorite candidate. But what’s tragic about some Hillary voters is not really gendered in the same way or at all. The tragic Hillary voter, the truly pitiable figure, is the Democrat who would love to line up behind Bernie’s sunny ideals but knows that he just isn’t electable. I speak, of course, of the Hillarealist.” That was written in February 2016. It reads differently now, eh?