Edinburgh review: The Believers Are But Brothers (Summerhall)

Javaad Alipoor’s unsettling new piece looks at the immense influence of the internet

Javaad Alipoor in The Believers Are But Brothers
Javaad Alipoor in The Believers Are But Brothers

There are some exceptionally worrying things explored in Javaad Alipoor’s piece The Believers Are But Brothers. A kind of semi-theatrical TED talk, with Alipoor leading us through the story of three separate men and their journey to (not necessarily religious) radicalisation, the piece touches on the way new technologies have helped spread the doctrine of hate. Alipoor shows us that, from alt-right internet site 4Chan, to videos convincing people to fight for ISIS, a lot of bad things are simply a click away.

The subject matter is fascinating, eye-opening and very unsettling. The Believers looks at how the internet has changed the way we are influenced and as a result, the way we interact with politics. Alipoor posits that sites such as 4Chan, and its notorious B chatroom (where posting the most provocative things will get you more hits), manipulates a whole world of people. As a result – albeit indirectly –Trump wins and young men step up to fight for a cause they don’t really know anything about.

Several chunks of the piece happen on WhatsApp where Alipoor messages the entire audience, which is a neat demonstration of how social media can connect people. The encrypted app – something governments aren't keen on – means that people can talk, share and be in their online worlds under the radar. But Alipoor also exposes us to snippets of the sort of online abuse directed at women software developers during the notorious Gamergate. It’s queasy. And it’s the sort of abuse that is directed in vast quantity by disparate, diverse online trolls to people all over the world.

One of the most unsettling things is the way Alipoor highlights again and again how the distance of the screen enables us to construct new personas, be bolder and be harsher. The internet is a space in which anyone can be anything. And in the hands of disillusioned young people, that can be a terrifying prospect. But there’s also a bit of a potted history of meme – did you know how LOL became popularised? That was 4Chan.

The stories of the three men at the centre of the piece get a little lost in the huge chunks of information imparted to us by Alipoor. But we certainly don’t lose the full force of Alipoor’s insightful, chilling message. For many, myself included, the things touched on in Believers will be a revelation. Much of it feels vital to understand in a world where the internet is fast becoming the most powerful thing on the planet.

The Believers Are But Brothers runs at Summerhall until 27 August.

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