The internet has always had dark alleys and toxic corners, but of late that toxicity seems to have spread to anywhere a few users are gathered. Thankfully, there's Lucky Generals. For the last six months, Andy Nairn, co-founder of the London-based creative agency, has been trawling for angry tweets that mention "bastard."
Stay with us.
"Whether or not it's a deliberate way to evade the social media platforms' own policing efforts or just testimony to the sly nuances of the English language, we all know what is often meant when somebody refers to a 'hook-nosed bastard,' 'barbaric bastard,' 'lazy bastard' or 'perverted bastard,'" Lucky Generals founding partner Andy Nairn tells Muse. "Of course, some tweeters are much more direct and we pick them up. But we felt it was important to tackle these more subtle forms too."
The tweets, once found, are fuel for @LuckyBastards_, an account that turns insidious racism into a charity game: Through it, offenders are told their tweets have triggered a £10 donation (about $13) to a charity relevant to the community they disparaged.
Some £2,000 ($2,630) was set aside in April to make donations via Lucky Bastards. Most of the time its tone is so cheerful it could crack your skull, repurposing nasty adjectives to levy brightly back at haters; other times, you can really feel the person behind the machine (and how tired they must be of reading this stuff).
Going out of your way to look for ugliness can be pretty soul-crushing, even if you're on a mission. (Just ask Batman.) But it's also effort that's recognized. Dave Trott used @LuckyBastards_ as an example of how creativity is everywhere, if only we looked; The Overtake praised it for "turning hate into charitable donations."
Indeed, when the money runs out, Nairn is confident the community at large will find ways to keep paying it forward.
What has Lucky Generals learned from the effort?
"We've been surprised by both the vitriol and the goodness out there," says Nairn. "As you can imagine, America is particularly polarized right now. We have seen 'Christians'—according to their profiles—wishing for the death of John McCain or hoping for rivals' children to get cancer. Really. But we've also received lovely messages of support from thousands of miles away, which shows the best of the country. Closer to home, we've been thanked by rabbis and refugees alike, which is very nice. Some of the charities have become regular correspondents and interactors on social media—and in one case, a personal friendship has developed. Our finance director, who makes the payments, is going to the football with a charity set up to counter sectarian violence in Scotland!"
There have been logistical challenges. "It plays havoc with email systems!" says Nairn. "Our bank had quite a bit of difficulty setting up an account in this name or even accepting messages on this matter. So we are always having to double check that our payment instructions are getting through."
Another lesson has been that "swearing is a very human, idiosyncratic thing," Nairn adds. "We considered an AI-solution to this but switched to a manual approach when we saw how many times apparently offensive language was being used by minorities or individuals themselves—'You are one handsome gay bastard' or 'I am such a fat bastard,' etc."