What does this bold part mean? It doesn't make any sense. What did he want to say here?


Regardless, it’s clear that the individuals who make up the S.E.A. are not simply technically savvy in a rote way. They are fully native products and producers of Internet culture. They use English, both on social media and in their phishing attacks, in the manner of young people who’ve spent their entire lives online; they deploy well-known memes when they hijack accounts; they crack jokes about Justin Bieber; and, of course, they relentlessly broadcast all of their doings on social media. (Their current Twitter account, @Official_SEA16, is, as the number implies, their sixteenth consecutive account, as previous ones were suspended. A Twitter spokesperson explained in an e-mail that the account remains active because “Our Trust and Safety team takes action only after someone reports a violation of our Rules and the report is investigated.”) Most profoundly, the S.E.A.’s campaign reflects the vigilantism of young aggressors steeped in the Web: it’s conducted not simply on widely viewed media sites or on social media itself but for them; the SEA knows how to capture a precise kind of attention from a particular kind of audience. This is in part, one suspects, because they are that kind of audience, one who lives on Facebook and Twitter. That’s what ultimately makes this group so remarkable: it has shifted the battleground from a single place to an infinite number of them, because it’s battling for attention, not power—even if it can be hard to tell the difference.

closed as off-topic by Kris, TrevorD, tchrist, MetaEd, Kristina Lopez Sep 5 '13 at 14:29

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  • Sounds more like litcrit. That part of the sentence makes sense to anyone when read slowly and carefully with context support. – Kris Sep 3 '13 at 6:17
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    What don't you understand about it? – Matt E. Эллен Sep 3 '13 at 9:47
  • It makes sense...*if* you italicize all instances of the words "on" and "for" in that sentence. Otherwise it doesn't. (And stylistically there should be a comma after "itself" in my opinion.) – Wildcard Mar 19 '16 at 12:55

Here is a breakdown:

Most profoundly, the S.E.A.’s campaign reflects the vigilantism of young aggressors steeped in the Web: it’s conducted not simply on widely viewed media sites or on social media itself but for them;

The sentence could be rewritten as

The most important point is that the campaign shows the vigilantism and aggression of young people who have grown up connected to the internet: it is both conducted through social media but also conducted for publication on social media.


What makes this confusing, I think, is that the word "vigilantism" as used here has nothing to do with vigilantes. Instead, I'm pretty sure it refers to the way young people seem to compulsively post online updates about everything they're doing. "Hyper-vigilant" refers to someone who compulsively keeps checking something (usually because of drugs), and I think the author is using "vigilantism" instead of "hyper-vigilantism" because he doesn't want to imply that he thinks they're on drugs.

With that, the rest of the sentence is pretty clear. The SEA doesn't just use social media as a tool to commit crimes; they commit crimes so they have something to talk about online.

  • Either interpretation would make sense; but unfortunately according to the OED vigilantism only has one meaning, and the 'New Yorker' is usually punctilious in such matters. – TimLymington Sep 1 '13 at 21:25
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    And that meaning has, apart from a shared etymology, nothing whatsoever to do with vigilance. The author is referring to the way the group has taken it upon themselves to persecute people who disagree with the Syrian regime. – terdon Sep 1 '13 at 22:04
  • Thank you. So could it mean that they are not only doing their business on those sites but also contributing to the profits of these sites because they are attracting the attention of lots of people? Also could it be that "steeped in the web" is referring to the vililantism? thank you. – user41481 Sep 2 '13 at 2:34
  • The New Yorker has edited the post, changing "with the vigilantism of" to "in the manner of." I think that cinches the case that it wasn't meant to have anything to do with vigilantes. newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2013/08/… – Greg Hullender Sep 2 '13 at 16:16
  • It had nothing to do with vigilance either, let alone drugs (where do you get this connection between hyper-vigilant and drugs?). – terdon Sep 4 '13 at 13:58

It means they are targeting websites simply for the web sites and their users, not as a subsidiary step toward a "real life" goal.