You Can’t Debate Cruelty and Hate

Tucker Carlson is a white supremacist masquerading as a legitimate journalist, and boycotts of his show are well within the bounds of what should be deemed as appropriate. (Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Why does [INSERT NAME OF CABLE NEWS OUTLET] insist on giving air time to [INSERT NAME OF OFFICIAL]?

The above is a refrain I’ve seen countless times on social media in relation to the appearance of some political figure on a show like Meet the Press or Anderson Cooper 360°. Usually, the official is Kellyanne Conway or someone else for whom the commentator has little regard in the way of truth-telling or giving a straight answer. Deflect, pivot, or lie outright. I’m sure you can think of a few such examples.

In an era in which consolidation among media outlets or talk thereof is all but constant, and in which the desire for media output is such that traditional purveyors of the news must find new ways of competing with alternative sources, there seemingly has never been a greater need for scrutiny of the media’s stewardship of the day’s breaking stories. Who will watch the watchers?

An unfortunate byproduct of this state of affairs is the effort to appeal to “both sides” on a given topic. As it is with other forms of reporting (e.g. sports pregame shows), this lends itself to rather bloated collections of panelists. On-screen discussions begin to look less like conversations and more like the opening theme to The Brady Bunch. This is problematic for no other reason that, in a political climate already predisposed to name-calling and shouting matches, there is all kinds of cross-talk and people unable to get a word in edgewise. If at first you don’t succeed, just yell louder or cut off others while they’re speaking.

More importantly, though, the desire of news outlets to appear free of bias creates situations in which “experts” with diametrically opposed views “debate” matters in such a way that the dialog is less substantive discourse on relevant issues and more a manner of ceding a platform to individuals with objectionable policy stances based on false statistics and misleading narratives.

Journalist/columnist Lauren Duca recently penned an opinion piece about how defending oneself as presenting “both sides” doesn’t (or shouldn’t) apply when someone is a vehicle for hate speech. Duca, in particular, references Tucker Carlson—with whom Duca memorably debated back in December 2016 on his show, calling him a “partisan hack”—amid expressing her viewpoints, labeling him a “full caricature of white supremacy.”

Duca’s Exhibit A in a long list of evidence in her charge against Carlson is a recent segment on his show when he denigrated Central American migrants and those who support their lawful entry into the United States, averring that letting them in “makes our own country poorer and dirtier and more divided.” So much for those tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, eh, Tucker? In response, Tucker Carlson Tonight lost over a dozen sponsors—and rightly so. The only downside is it took these companies so long to distance themselves from Carlson and his show.

As Duca explains, Carlson protests that his right to free speech is being disregarded, and while he’s right that he’s being “silenced” by boycotters who exert pressure on companies not to advertise on his show, this is not inherently unfair. Or as she puts it, “I keep Command-F-ing the Constitution, and can’t seem to find the place where our founding fathers guaranteed that a bigotry variety hour be sponsored by IHOP.”

Other critics advocating on behalf of Carlson—or specifically, against any boycotts—suggest there is danger in allowing customer protests to dictate advertisers’ decision-making. We might see corporate sponsors shying away from the political arena altogether unless to support a pro-corporate message. Or commentators who are also members of vulnerable minority groups might be attacked with strategic boycotts based on some vague conservative “moral” objection. Cue the slippery slope imagery.

It’s worth noting at this point that sponsors jumping ship is not censorship. This is not to say that the abstract idea of companies as arbiters of content is necessarily A-OK either; while we might revel in Carlson losing advertisers, we have seen what companies like Facebook have done in their negation of content that veers toward either political extreme and away from the corporatist mainstream vanguard.

Still, it’s not as if the long arm of the federal government is holding Tucker down. If businesses don’t wish to align themselves with your brand, that’s their decision. We might disagree if we feel their standards are being applied unevenly—or not at all. In any case, the free speech defense rings a bit hollow with FOX News’s boy wonder here.

Even if we frame the argument for or against Tucker Carlson in terms of constitutional liberties, though, the point Duca makes is that defending him on the basis of a “both sides” argument assumes he is a legitimate journalist with legitimate opinions. But he’s not, and his hate speech as deemed acceptable by corporate sponsors isn’t guaranteed by the First Amendment. Furthermore, it’s not as if his opinions are merely bad ones. They’re intentionally designed to dehumanize their subjects.

What makes this so troublesome is that views like Carlson’s are not based on facts. There is no preponderance of data which supports them. Duca similarly assails a Yahoo! News ad as part of the company’s “see all sides” campaign in which the statement “immigrants enrich us” is juxtaposed with “immigrants endanger us.” The implication is that the two ideas are on a par with one another, but the latter is, as one Twitter user put it, “racist garbage.” Immigrants are no more likely than native citizens—and are, according to multiple studies, statistically less likely—to commit dangerous crimes. It’s a false equivalency.

Duca closes with these thoughts on the immigration “debate” as it involves Carlson:

According to Carlson and those condemning the boycotts of his show, the right to empower white supremacy relies on the idea that all views deserve unbridled expression regardless of public will or their relative harm. This creates a perverted juxtaposition in which personhood is set on a level playing field with bigotry. The idea that a group who is being targeted has no right to self-defense is a patently absurd. You could fault Carlson’s line of thinking as a person with a soul, or just as someone who comprehends the basic principles of logic. If nothing else, we can thank Carlson for the egregiousness of this example, which reveals the fatal flaw at the core of “both sides” nonsense with stunning clarity. Carlson insists that his dehumanization of immigrants be heard based on the ignorance at the core of “both sides-ism” and the “free speech” hysteria that often surrounds it. Beneath his whiny white supremacy lies the ugly fallacy that somehow all opinions are equal, but all people aren’t.

There’s no context in which Carlson’s commentary is acceptable or correct, and therefore no use in “debating” him on the merits of his arguments. Boycotting his program is the most direct way of telling him that he and his rhetoric have limits—even if his employer doesn’t enforce any. To insist otherwise is to make it that much more likely his hate has a place in everyday conversations.


For many conscientious objectors to the way the Trump administration is handling enforcement of immigration law and its messaging on the need for border security, irrespective of what we think about illegal immigration or the efficacy of any wall/slatted steel barrier, what is striking is the heartlessness inherent in their attitudes and speech, as well as those espoused views of their supporters. If the parents didn’t want to be separated from their children, they shouldn’t have crossed illegally. If they want to apply for asylum, they should do it at a port of entry. I mean, only two children died in federal custody. Um, that’s not that bad, right?

It shouldn’t be surprising that fundamental misunderstanding of how asylum/immigration works and what exactly families from Mexico and Central America are leaving behind accompanies this spirit of overall callousness. The insistence on applying for asylum at ports of entry doesn’t account for the delays in processing applications and the refusal of customs officers to even entertain asylum-seekers, as well as President Trump’s and Jeff Sessions’s modifications—attempted or otherwise—to make asylum or other lawful entry more difficult for those who would entreat it. Nor does it appreciate the seriousness of the threat of violence in the region related to the drug trade, a situation we have helped fuel.

As for the whole kids dying in federal custody thing, I’m not sure how this can really be deemed acceptable, but there are people who will defend it along the lines of my sample remark above. Kevin McAleenan, head of Customs and Border Protection, has claimed that federal agents did “everything they could” to avoid the deaths of two children age seven or younger while defending the administration’s agenda. So, what—we just chalk these up as “oopsies,” shrug our shoulders, and move on?

McAleenan also sought to defend not telling Congress about the death of the seven-year-old when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, so his judgment is already somewhat suspect. Either way, children shouldn’t just mysteriously up and die. And DHS chief Kirstjen Nielsen should really have made more of an effort to know how many children had died in federal custody before her own testimony—not to mention not waiting until a second child died to visit the U.S.-Mexico border.

On the subject of separation of families and putting mothers and their children in cages, meanwhile, Donald Trump’s defenders will point to their trusty rebuttal of “Obama did it first.” As it bears constant reminding, however, while Barack Obama and his administration were not above reproach in their numbers of deportations and of prosecuting people who entered the United States illegally, the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy stepped it up and then some.

Under Obama, at least initially, asylum-seekers and parents were only targeted in extreme circumstances (e.g. the father was carrying drugs). By contrast, under Trump, they were detained and separated as part of standard operating procedure, and with increased vigor. In Obama’s case, too, the administration was responding to a surge in unaccompanied minors crossing the border and a lack of resources leading to struggles in accommodating these numbers. That it sought to deter asylum-seekers by detaining and deporting them expeditiously was bad policy, but eventually, Obama put an emphasis on removing those who committed felonies or were otherwise considered dangerous. Besides, the courts checked him on the use of detention as a means of deterrence for more than 20 days, citing Flores v. Reno as precedent.

With Trump, on the other hand, his administration has aggressively sought to overturn the Flores settlement and to separate families, aiming to hold them indefinitely and longer than 20 days as well as take children away from their parents and treat them as “unaccompanied minors.” Trump has also bandied about the notion of ending birthright citizenship, whether or not he can actually achieve it. What’s more, even if this were Obama’s legacy—which it isn’t, noting the shift in us-versus-them rhetoric and the indiscriminate persecution of immigrants—that was then and this is now. Donald Trump clearly hasn’t learned any lessons from his predecessor—not that he really wanted to in the first place.

Coming from a man who began his presidential campaign with labeling Mexicans as rapists and other criminals with a broad brush, and who refuses to take one scintilla of responsibility for anything that happens during his tenure, it should surprise no one that an agenda predicated on fear and hate would be devoid of empathy. That it would resonate with those who voted for him and those who continue to stand by him is what continues to confound many of us not among them. It sounds almost silly, but we simply can’t wrap our minds around this sort of indifference to human suffering.

And yet, as Adam Serwen wrote about in a piece for The Atlantic from October of last year, the cruelty of it all “is the point.” Beginning with allusions to 20th century lynchings and other state-sponsored murders of blacks with the photographs of white men grinning alongside their bodies, Serwen makes the connection between the present-day cruelty of the Trump administration, a cruelty which includes the “ethnic cleansing” of the president’s anti-immigrant stances but also extends to the male-dominated laughter at Christine Blasey Ford’s expense (and that of all other survivors of sexual violence).

In all cases, there is a communion based on the shared enjoyment of others’ suffering, a perverse joy that, much as we might be loath to accept it, is part of the human condition. Worse yet, it is a communion built on hypocrisy. Only President Trump, his family, his inner circle, his supporters, and those people he himself supports deserve “the rights and protections of the law, and if necessary, immunity from it.” All others merit scorn, if not outright abuse.

Serwen concludes his article with these thoughts that echo Lauren Duca’s take-down of Tucker Carlson:

Trump’s only true skill is the con; his only fundamental belief is that the United States is the birthright of straight, white, Christian men, and his only real, authentic pleasure is in cruelty. It is that cruelty, and the delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters, feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who would steal their birthright. The president’s ability to execute that cruelty through word and deed makes them euphoric. It makes them feel good, it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel united. And as long as he makes them feel that way, they will let him get away with anything, no matter what it costs them.

To hear Serwen talk about Donald Trump in this way provides at least some comfort to those of us who oppose everything he represents. I personally have bristled at the notion Trump deserves credit for anything, even when it is pulling one grand confidence trick, because appealing to people’s baser instincts is generally not something I’d hold in any esteem. That Serwen would limit Trump’s talents to this questionable skill, though, reinforces the idea that Trump is not nearly as skilled as some would make him out to be save for his ability to connect with those of a like mindset.

It is through this lens that we can view Tucker Carlson’s hate speech and the futility of debate on its merits. When the narrative has no merit because it is built on the negation of the other’s humanity and on distortions of reality, what utility is there in trying to expose or rationalize this line of thinking away? Along these lines, when cruelty is the driving force behind a shared vision of America, what is the use of amplifying the voices that would coalesce this mentality?

For this reason and more, discussion of boycotting Carlson’s show and the Trump family’s business enterprises is well appropriate. As far as the mainstream is concerned, their message of division must not be normalized. While we should stop short of violence to achieve this purpose, coming out in support of marginalized groups and standing up to each white supremacist rally with vastly greater numbers where it may arise is essential. You can’t debate cruelty and hate with those that choose to make them their modus operandi, but you can show that they have no place among what can be deemed generally acceptable.

“Hard-Working” President Trump? Hard to Believe

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What a doofus. (Photo Credit: Mark Lyons/Getty Images)

The funny thing about saying someone is “hard-working” is that, while giving him or her a sincere compliment, you are nevertheless saying nothing of that person’s effectiveness in producing positive results for a given task. This idea is central to the phrase “giving an A for effort.” Sure, one may expend a fair bit of physical or mental energy trying to achieve a particular goal, but unless that goal is specifically and expressly reached, the merits of the process merit their own scrutiny. I’d like for you to keep this theme in mind as we read a statement from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary, regarding President Donald Trump’s schedule:

The time in the morning is a mix of residence time and Oval Office time but he always has calls with staff, Hill members, cabinet members and foreign leaders during this time. The President is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen and puts in long hours and long days nearly every day of the week all year long. It has been noted by reporters many times that they wish he would slow down because they sometimes have trouble keeping up with him.

OK, first things first, we have to remember that this may be complete and unmitigated bullshit coming from Sanders. Ever since Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway set the tone of this administration by trying to argue the “alternative fact” that Trump’s Inauguration crowd was bigger than either of Obama’s two crowds, one was made to understand that the White House’s relationship with the truth is decidedly shaky. Going back to the idea of the President being so hard-working that reporters can barely keep up with him, though—and we get it, Trump supporters: the liberal media sucks and it’s no wonder they can’t keep up with him—that his schedule is so inscrutable and that it may be loosely constructed to begin with is not necessarily a virtue.

Sarah Sanders’s comments quoted above are actually a direct response to a “scoop” from Jonathan Swan, a national political reporter covering the Trump presidency and GOP Capitol Hill leadership. In his recent piece on AXIOS, Swan details how Donald Trump’s daily schedule seems to be shrinking and how much of it seems to be devoted to “Executive Time”, a function that appears to be intentionally amorphous. From the article:

President Trump is starting his official day much later than he did in the early days of his presidency, often around 11am, and holding far fewer meetings, according to copies of his private schedule shown to Axios. This is largely to meet Trump’s demands for more “Executive Time,” which almost always means TV and Twitter time alone in the residence, officials tell us. The schedules shown to me are different than the sanitized ones released to the media and public.

  • The schedule says Trump has “Executive Time” in the Oval Office every day from 8am to 11am, but the reality is he spends that time in his residence, watching TV, making phone calls and tweeting.
  • Trump comes down for his first meeting of the day, which is often an intelligence briefing, at 11am.
  • That’s far later than George W. Bush, who typically arrived in the Oval by 6:45am.
  • Obama worked out first thing in the morning and usually got into the Oval between 9 and 10am, according to a former senior aide.

Trump’s days in the Oval Office are relatively short – from around 11am to 6pm, then he’s back to the residence. During that time he usually has a meeting or two, but spends a good deal of time making phone calls and watching cable news in the dining room adjoining the Oval. Then he’s back to the residence for more phone calls and more TV.

Some of you may be thinking, “Nice schedule if you can get it,” but the grass is always greener on the other side, as they say. Besides, being the President of the United States of America is a stressful job, and you probably wouldn’t want it anyway. (I mean, just think what it would do to grey your hair!) Also, the comparisons to Dubya and Barack Obama ultimately don’t mean much. At 6:45 in the morning, I’m pretty sure I would be a complete disaster as POTUS, and would be lucky to get my breakfast in my sleepy mouth. Still, it’s not unreasonable to question Trump’s work ethic here, as well as to suggest that his balance of looking at screens vs. not looking at screens may well be unhealthily off. Plus, while we would expect most political figures to deviate from their campaign pledges, Trump has in no way, shape, or form tried to uphold his boast that he would be more committed to his work than, say, President Obama, and that he would avoid vacationing and golf because he would be too busy running the country. At this point, Trump is looking like he will exceed Obama’s number of rounds of golf over his eight-year tenure by the 2018 mid-terms. Granted, hypocrisy is nothing new in Washington, D.C., but for someone who billed himself as the anti-politician, “the Donald” is playing the part every bit.

As Swan characterizes Donald Trump’s schedule of late, the President’s time in the White House is usually spent between 11 and 6, with various periods of “Executive Time” punctuating that span. This day has gotten shorter since Trump began, and from Swan’s examples from the written schedule, the official day doesn’t even seem to last that long, with the last items for particular days being listed at 4 or 4:15, and doubtful to extend past the 6:00 mark. That’s a seven-hour day, including lunch and whatever “Executive Time” is supposed to be. Again, the job of President is a tough one, and everyone is entitled to a break. Still, the amount of time spent on the phone, Tweeting, and watching television doesn’t exactly communicate an image of Trump as the blue-collar, roll-your-sleeves-up kind of worker. It instead makes him seem like a typical executive who makes his own hours and is “in touch” with the issues that concern him only because he has been specifically briefed on them. What’s more, if insider reports of Trump’s media consumption are true, then it means his access to actionable, credible intelligence is likely limited, given his predilection for FOX News, not to mention his child-like attention span and suspected substandard reading comprehension. For someone who brags to opposing world leaders about the size of his “nuclear button,” this doesn’t appear to be a positive development for Donald Trump—or for our country, for that matter.

Viewed alongside doubts about President Trump’s mental fitness, the tone Jonathan Swan takes strikes the reader as vaguely deprecating, but not without genuine concern about Trump’s health. Swan ends his piece thusly:

Aides say Trump is always doing something — he’s a whirl of activity and some aides wish he would sleep more — but his time in the residence is unstructured and undisciplined. He’s calling people, watching TV, tweeting, and generally taking the same loose, improvisational approach to being president that he took to running the Trump Organization for so many years. Old habits die hard.

“Loose, improvisational approach.” While we’re invoking insider accounts of the Trump White House, we would arguably be remiss if we did not consider Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House in our assessment of the state of Trump’s White House, and perhaps most pertinently, the suggestion that Trump didn’t really want or expect to win the 2016 election. As others have theorized, this may be well why Donald Trump and his transition team seemed so unprepared to set forth an agenda or even fill needed vacancies at the federal level. About a year into Trump’s tenure as POTUS, though, if what Jonathan Swan reports is similarly true, then concerns about his health may well be valid if he is a TV junkie with an erratic schedule and poor sleep habits. Bear in mind this shouldn’t automatically start proceedings pursuant to the 25th Amendment—these discussions tend to be overwrought anyway. At the same time, however, it reveals the kind of details of the life of a man you might be hesitant to have running a company. Or one of the most powerful countries in the world.


Questions about President Donald Trump’s mental fitness for the presidency have dogged the White House lately. Speaking of the 25th Amendment and whether or not Trump can be removed from office because he is certifiably insane, I am of the belief that he may be “crazy” in the commonplace usage of the word, but diagnosing him with anything other than a narcissistic personality disorder seems like a bit of a stretch—and even then, this doesn’t mean he can’t run the nation. Of course, it could mean he’d be running the nation like an asshole—which he is, because he is one—but such does not preclude one from leadership roles. (In fact, in numerous contexts, it actually seems to be encouraged.) Taking an unstructured approach to leadership while watching too much television, spending too much time on Twitter, and not sleeping enough, meanwhile? Though not disqualifying factors, these habits can be destructive to the person who practices them, and in the case of someone like Trump, whose actions and words can impact entire countries and regions, there is ample room for collateral damage.

BBC News, referencing Jonathan Swan’s scoop on AXIOS, also delved into presidential schedules in recent history. As the BBC report insists up front, Trump wouldn’t be the first President to eschew a normal 9-to-5 schedule, nor would he be the first to make phone calls or do other things in the early morning (after midnight). He also wouldn’t be the first to be obsessed with his public image, according to Matthew Dallek, George Washington University professor, cited in the piece; LBJ grew very concerned about defending himself during the Vietnam War and would voice his concerns to his aides in the middle of the night. As we have been asking in this post, however, and as the BBC article explores, this does not, by any means, mean this behavior is healthy or productive. A key insight from Prof. Dallek comes when prompted about Trump’s late-night/early-morning Tweets:

The problem, Professor Dallek said, is that for the president, “unstructured time can be destructive and debilitating”, citing his tweets.

“In terms of leading the country, presidents run into dangers when they freelance,” he said. “Words can be taken as policy and create a lot of chaos.”

Chaos, eh? Sure sounds like the Trump White House, an administration marked by near-constant controversy and upheaval within its ranks, and one with an average approval rating of 38% over the President’s term, per Gallup and as of this writing. Dallek’s meditations on presidential “freelancing” would seem stand to reason. When I found out Greg Gianforte, the political candidate who physically attacked reporter Ben Jacobs shortly before the special election to replace Ryan Zinke, had won in Montana after waking up in the middle of the night, I took to Twitter to vent my frustrations, and rather diplomatically suggested those who voted for Gianforte could “eat a dick.” What I received were taunts from conservative trolls who either made fun of my last name, reveled in my anger, or sarcastically applauded me for being another “classy” Democrat/liberal. Not my finest moment, and I regretted it afterwards.

Just imagine if I were the President, though, and I told half the electorate they could ingest a phallus. It imaginably wouldn’t go over well. The same can be said for other countries reading Tweets about things that would dramatically impact their livelihood. Like, for instance, when Trump posts about building a wall and have Mexico pay for it. It necessitates a response from some current or former Mexican official who says something to the effect of, “No, President Trump, we are not paying for that f**king wall!” Use of social media in this way breeds contempt, and in a matter of minutes, diplomatic relations between two countries can become strained. All because one man has an itchy Twitter finger and a base to appeal to. Not to mention that, for such a brave new world with a world leader being able to regularly Tweet, strongman Trump comes off as a coward for saying something he probably wouldn’t say to President Nieto in person. The power of social media is one that can embolden us—often further than we perhaps should be emboldened.

All this makes for a strange case study in how or for what someone like Donald Trump should be held accountable for what he says versus what he Tweets, and whether or not there should be an appreciable difference. Other celebrities are regularly dragged across the Internet for errant Tweets, and Trump is no different. “Covfefe,” anyone? Still, when LaVar Ball complains about how the Los Angeles Lakers are being coached, this does not carry the weight of a nation’s government or military might. With Pres. Trump, though, it does, and this is where concerns about heads of state being able to use personal social media accounts come into play. Conor Friedersdorf, writing for The Atlantic, points specifically to Trump’s “nuclear button” boast as “the most irresponsible Tweet in history,” and meditates on whether or where Twitter or any other sites are willing to draw the line on speech that can be considered hateful or threatening depending on the source. Friedersdorf writes:

For most of us, the consequences of an ill-considered tweet are relatively small. The benefits of the communicative mode arguably outweighs its costs. The philosophy, “We believe that everyone should have the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers,” seems eminently defensible.

But heads of state should not share “instantly.” The weightiness of their pronouncements should be a barrier that causes them to pause before every pronouncement, for their words can carry immediate consequences, and can conceivably affect billions. Some leaders have triggered genocides and pogroms with their words. The wrong words about nuclear war could literally end human civilization.

Having global leaders tweeting gives humanity nothing commensurate with the risks we bear so that the powerful can communicate this way.

In making this assertion, Friedersdorf makes a distinction between what is ostensibly acceptable for you or I to post, and what should be within the locus of power for presidents, prime ministers, and the like to post outside of official channels. Thus, while my “eat a dick” Tweet is not exactly to be encouraged, based on the fairly insubstantial consequences and my decidedly short list of followers, it is not likely to cause a major uproar or put others in danger. Trump potentially inviting a nuclear holocaust? That’s a little more of a bugaboo.

Indeed, the risks of allowing political leaders to use Twitter in this way would seem to outweigh the benefits. Conor Friedersdorf also makes these observations in spelling out his rationale for banning certain high-profile individuals from being Twitter users:

  • Despite Trump’s claim that he needs Twitter to reach voters, most of Trump’s supporters are not on Twitter, and there are any number of alternative ways to get his message across, including television, radio, and holding rallies. Hell, FOX News does a lot of his dirty work for him.
  • In large part because Twitter encourages posting without a significant amount of prior thought, this is where Trump “is most erratic, juvenile, unpredictable, and unstable, by a wide margin.”
  • Trump is bad, but potentially worse users with a similarly high profile (and of similar political influence) could follow in his footsteps.
  • Other Twitter users have gotten banned from Twitter for less than mutually assured destruction.

Though this isn’t Trump’s problem, such has been a long-standing gripe about Twitter and other social media platforms: that specific rules, where they exist, are applied inconsistently or not at all. For users concerned about avoiding hate and harassment where it may lurk online—and as you probably know, it doesn’t as much lurk as it does exist in plain sight, unabashed—this is problematic when just random other rank-and-file users are the perpetrators. One of my tormentors following my venting about Greg Gianforte winning reacted to another user commenting about how they couldn’t believe Gianforte could emerge victorious after punching a liberal Jew reporter, even if it was Montana (whatever that means), by saying something to the effect of, “Just wait until the concentration camps are opened up.”

As doubtful as the likelihood of Nazi concentration camps springing up in the United States in the near future is, that language is not appropriate for any context. I don’t remember which user uttered this remark, or whether or not he or she was reported. Frankly, I don’t care; I’m simply trying to illustrate a point. If this is the kind of speech that already would alienate prospective Twitter users, a bigot like Donald Trump with his platform is bound to be upsetting. In fact, Friedersdorf cites an Economist/YouGov poll that found just 26% of respondents believe Trump’s Twitter use is appropriate. That’s worse than his overall approval rating, and much worse than his approval rating with respect to his handling of the economy. The above concerns lead the writer to issue this final thought, which sounds like a warning as much as anything:

Twitter should give the people what they want, and ban the most elite of the political elites once and for all. Or if it won’t, it must at least tell the public, in advance of future catastrophe: Would it let a president tweet literally anything? If not, where is the line?

“Where is the line?” It’s an apparently pertinent question in today’s political discourse. Much as many Americans are undoubtedly wondering what it will take for Republicans to want to bring impeachment proceedings against President Trump—even though this won’t solve all of the country’s problems—or what it will take for the GOP to lose serious credibility from an electoral standpoint—though the Democrats seriously could do more on their part—myself and others have to be wondering if and when Trump, the hard-working man of the people that he isn’t, can either lose his voice in relation to his base of support, or can at least have his voice muted in part by having social media outlets like Twitter refuse to give him a virtual soapbox. Then again, shutting down Trump could just make him into something of a martyr or amplify the voices of other like-minded personalities on the right and the far right. At this point, though, for the future of the planet, it seems like the better bet. Besides, if nothing else, we could probably use a breather from the craziness for a while.

Do Social Media Companies Care about Curbing Hate Speech and Abuse?

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Abuse, harassment, hate speech, and threats of violence are all too common online and through social media. It’s not as if tech companies are unaware of this, either, and this makes their inaction all the more frustrating. (Image retrieved from kdvr.com.)

Social media has the power to bring people together in ways we could have only dreamt of centuries or even decades ago. It allows users to share intimate moments and milestones with their family and friends. It affords people a way to re-connect with those with whom they’ve lost touch, or simply to connect with loved ones in times of crisis. It permits you to, um, Poke people and send game requests to individuals you met some five years ago in an Eastern Religions course in college. OK, so not all uses of social media are as worthwhile as others, but for everything from breaking news stories to umpteen baby pictures, social media services help foster connections between people across cable lines and potentially across great distances as well as across demographic lines. In the ability of these apps/sites to bring people together, however, we realize this connectivity has the potential to be a blessing and a curse. While we would presume most users use sites like Facebook and Google and Twitter with the intention of spreading goodwill and cheer—or at least seeking sympathy when they are not so full of cheer—there are those who seem to use social media for no other purpose than spreading hate, harassing and intimidating others, and deliberately picking fights. I’m sure you have encountered your fair share of Internet trolls, from the moderately pesky ones to those who challenge you to come find them at their house and see if you still feel like making your same arguments. In this respect, social media tends to feel like a minefield across which you are advised to tread lightly for fear of igniting an explosive situation.

Keeping with the theme of confrontational discourse between individuals of disparate personal stories and viewpoints, another byproduct of the interconnectedness of our world, alongside users’ relative anonymity, is that people will readily advocate and say things online they wouldn’t imagine saying out loud in everyday life given the apparent lack of impunity for their actions. Here is where the epithets, insults, mockery, and threats really start flying. Given the cloak of limited visibility the Internet provides, individual users can set forth all sorts of body-shaming, homo- and trans-phobic, politically bigoted, racist, sexist, vulgar, xenophobic, and otherwise discriminatory or unsavory language. And when they band together to form a unified front of nastiness, the collective hate they spew can be a destructive, alienating force. Numerous high-profile users in recent memory have announced their departure from social media (at least temporarily), citing abuse or threats against them and their family as motivating factors. The likes of Leslie Jones and Ed Sheeran are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, at that. We all know the fabled notion sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us. These are different times, however, and depending on the mental make-up of the recipient of these proverbial sticks and stones, the brunt may be hard to bear indeed, if not impossible. Suicides among teens and preteens have become all too prevalent outcomes from prolonged, targeted cyberbullying. In some cases, the abuse continues on social media even after the individual has taken his or her own life.

As with the sale and use of guns in mass shootings, the issue of liability for the manufacturer/provider in online interactions via social media is a sticky one. In a society as litigious as ours and otherwise accustomed to scapegoating, the impetus is frequently on assigning culpability on someone or something. With respect to the former, and depending on one’s point of view, it’s the fault of the maker of the gun for creating a dangerous weapon that could be bought and handled by a general public ill-equipped to operate it safely; it’s the fault of the parents of the child for not taking better care to safeguard the firearm; it’s the fault of the gun lobby for preventing sensible gun reform; it’s the fault of the anti-gun activists that we don’t have more guns in schools to prevent such a tragedy. Round and round we go in the Blame Game—where we stop, nobody knows. With social media and cyberbullying, on one hand, there is the idea that today’s young people and celebrities are too pampered and thin-skinned. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Pick yourself up by the bootstraps. Besides, no one forced these kids to keep using social media in the face of the abuse. Shouldn’t their parents have been watching what their kids were doing anyway?

On the other hand, meanwhile, whereas mass shootings may have a rather short preamble in terms of shooters making their intentions known to friends or family, with targeted harassment on social media, the patterns of abuse can take place over a protracted period of time. Granted, when minors are the subject of cyberbullying, from the user perspective, their parent(s) or guardian(s) may not comprehend the scope of the torment their child faces, especially when he or she is less than forthcoming about the nature of the problem. From across the screen, however, the purveyors of various popular social media services can witness what is going on, and this tension between creating an environment where users can feel safe in their online interactions and maximizing traffic to associated apps and sites is at the crux of the matter. Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter find themselves performing a balancing act between safeguarding their audiences and maintaining the appearance of being unbiased and hospitable to all users. This wouldn’t seem like such a tough tug-of-war but for a rejection of diversity, multiculturalism and political correctness on the far right, as well as an apparent growing tendency toward hostility in discussions where personalities and viewpoints clash regardless of political affiliation.

In talking about the tightrope that social media companies walk with respect to fair play vs. revenue—a dilemma that quite generally seems to be faced by corporate entities, of which the primary goal is profit/expansion, and of which social responsibility is a more recent derivation (and hopefully not an afterthought)—this implies that the big names in the industry are capable and willing enough to err on the side of caution for the sake of their most vulnerable users. But are they really? This is where there is room for debate in online circles, for many would allege these content providers are not doing enough to thwart cyberbullying and the dissemination of questionable content. Brianna Provenzano, staff writer at Mic, would tend to agree, a subject of angry, hate-filled messages herself. Recently, Provenzano had dared to ask Milo Yiannopoulos, conservative provocateur and all-around dickhead, if he got an invite to the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards—because MTV says they sure as hell didn’t ask for him to be there. Whereupon Yiannopoulos kindly told Provenzano to “F**k off,” posted their E-mail exchange on his Facebook page, and let his followers do the work for him. Provenzano describes the situation thusly:

Milo hadn’t called for blood outright, but the angry mob showed up anyway. The sound you hear when you kick the hornet’s nest in Milo-land is an angry crescendo of bees in Fred Perry polos, crawling out of their social media honeycombs to sling insults about how your full name sounds like two cheeses alongside more venomous darts about your intellect, your body and your career.

Yiannopoulos has 2.3 million followers on Facebook, and after he posted my email, the swarm infiltrated my Twitter and my Facebook inbox too. A few stragglers found their way into my Instagram comments. A phone call with Facebook representatives yielded no action. They told me they’re aware Yiannopoulos has figured out a way to game the system, pulling certain levers to summon his goons without running afoul of their harassment policies. But Facebook’s guidelines, as they currently exist, are cut-and-dry: Milo might be indirectly inciting harassment, but as long as he doesn’t call for it explicitly, his speech is protected. The post is still up.

The bad news, though, is that his followers seem to be taking his lead. Beneath the screengrab of our email exchange, one commenter wrote, “His minions are emailing her at this very moment, detailing how they’re going to rape her.” Is alluding to my rape the same thing as calling for it outright? Free-speech guidelines are tricky like that. The bottom line: Though internet trolls are evolving, Facebook’s harassment protections are not.

Talk about walking a fine line. Whereas sites like Facebook are concerned with walking on eggshells so as not to alienate potential drivers of traffic, someone like Milo Yiannopoulos is walking the line on Facebook’s harassment policy by not telling his supporters to avenge him for some perceived slight, but nonetheless achieving the desire effect by letting them know how he was so aggrieved, posting Brianna Provenzano’s contact information in doing so, and letting the chips fall where they may. This hearkens back to our central discussion of accountability, and the ensuing dialog is a tricky one, indeed. True, Milo isn’t pulling the trigger. All the same, he’s effectively giving his followers the loaded gun and telling them where to shoot. As for Facebook, if it’s supposed to be the police, it’s hiding behind a rationale of insufficient evidence of a crime. Very clearly, though, the intent to cause ill will is there. What’s more, Facebook itself seems to indicate that it understands that’s what Yiannopoulous is doing, but that its hands are tied. Where the analogy ends, however, is in the notion that Facebook not only enforces the rules, but writes them too. As such, it is within its power to either adopt stricter policies against harassment and abuse within its platform, or to interpret their guidelines more broadly and consider that inaction under the guise of neutrality carries risk in its own right.

The unfortunate pattern for social media apps/sites given evidence of abuse seems to be this: 1) individual becomes target for verbal attacks and threats of bodily harm; 2) social media providers stand idly by while “evidence” accumulates; 3) public outcry forces attention to the harassment; 4) by drawing attention to the issue, abuse increases; 5) content provider is forced to intervene by suspending accounts or some other method of remediation. What makes this cycle especially unfortunate is that aspects of it are by no means guaranteed. For one, public outcry is obviously more likely for public figures and people of relative renown. As for social media sites swooping in and coming to the rescue, so to speak, this decision may come too late—if it comes at all. In Brianna Provenzano’s case, without writing about her situation, it is unlikely anyone beyond close friends and family and loyal Mic readers would know she has been met with all kinds of invectives at the hands of rabid alt-righters. In addition, as of this writing and her writing, it appears she will see no meaningful resolution from Facebook. Indeed, to have that happen would the best-case scenario, and even then, it necessitates some sort of wrongdoing on the part of another party—potentially over a considerable span and from many quasi-anonymous sources.

As Provenzano is keen to observe, female reporters are frequent targets of abuse merely for reporting on the kind of misogynistic abuse faced by other women, thereby creating an awful circle by which the writer becomes the subject. As she also observes, women of color and members of the LGBT community tend to be hit particularly hard by harassment over social media, and in some cases, it is the content providers themselves who discriminate against members of minority groups or fail to properly moderate content in a way that projects fairness for all users. In an illustration of how seemingly broken Facebook’s system of content moderation is, black activist Ijeoma Oluo posted a tongue-in-cheek comment about going to a Cracker Barrel for the first time, seeing a bunch of white people in cowboy hats, and wondering if they’d “let [her] black ass walk out of there.”

Apparently, a number of people who read her entry didn’t take kindly to her commentary on race relations, for before long, she began to receive a torrent of hate-filled messages. Days’ worth of abuse ensued, with Oluo taking screenshots of the kinds of epithets hurled her way and reporting the harassment to Facebook. At long last, though, the company and its content moderators intervened. There was only one small problem: it was Oluo who had her account suspended for posting the evidence of her abuse. Facebook representatives later apologized for what they characterized as a mistake, but by then, the damage was done. Besides, Ijeoma Oluo’s experience is not an isolated incident, and is evocative of a running theme: that of social media companies being slow or otherwise inadequate to respond to reports of abuse at the hands of other users. It would appear, at least in this instance, that Facebook was unable to handle the magnitude and truth of what was happening any more than Oluo’s tormentors could accept the reality and scope of racism in America.


In the closing of her piece, Brianna Provenzano notes that sites like Facebook have acted when members of the alt-right, neo-Nazis, and their ilk have led campaigns encouraging targeted abuse against specific users or otherwise have promoted a racist agenda. Twitter, for example, suspended Milo Yiannopoulos’ account after he directed his followers to attack Leslie Jones with racist images and words. Both GoDaddy and Google Domains dropped The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi online publication, after the violence at Charlottesville. These actions took place only after days or longer of offenders spewing their hate, however, and only with the requisite amount of public backlash demanding these service providers do something. From the companies’ perspective, what truly warranted intervention were the negative reputation they stood to receive from all the bad publicity and the consequential loss of revenue associated with their loss of standing. As Provenzano puts it re Facebook:

As long as capitalism is in charge, the historically marginalized groups hurt most by Facebook’s slipshod harassment protections should expect to continue to bear the burden of a failing system.

In other words, the bottom is line is just that: about the companies’ bottom lines. Concerning another recent iteration of the social commentary vs. corporate interests at the intersection of race relations, ESPN personality Jemele Hill made news for a series of Tweets she authored related to President Donald Trump, in which she unequivocally labeled Trump a white supremacist who has surrounded himself with other white supremacists and whose rise can be attributed to white supremacy. Predictably, a backlash occurred from Trump supporters and from the man himself, with many calling for her suspension or outright firing, and with POTUS desiring an apology from the network in addition to whatever Hill might have offered. In the end, it was Hill alone who issued an apology for “crossing the line” with her political opinions.

For many of us discerning individuals, however, Hill’s statements weren’t particularly controversial. This is to say that calling Donald Trump a white supremacist surrounded by white supremacists and supported by them isn’t really that much of a stretch. Lord knows what Trump feels and believes deep down, but after a point, it doesn’t matter when he’s ginning up racists and white nationalists. Jemele Hill is ostensibly right on these points, and thus it would appear her most grievous sin is working for a corporation—recall ESPN exists under the Disney Corp. banner—that squelches opinions when they fear they could alienate a certain segment of their viewership/readership. And just imagine what kind of abuse Hill will be subject to now that she is in the spotlight and in the crosshairs of Internet trolls. When the angry mob threatens to pull its dollars away, corporate America has signaled, by and large, that it will kowtow to its wishes.

With advances in computer and mobile phone technology, use of social media platforms has exploded over the last half-decade, and for the most part, the benefits of these media in terms of professional networking and socialization are to be celebrated. For many companies who provide social media interfaces, however, their ability and willingness to curb cyberbullying and online harassment has lagged behind the industry’s apparent growth, and this reality detracts from the user experience for the general public, regardless of gender, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, or other identifying factor(s). To ask potential targets for abuse to “grin and bear it” or to “just log off” is as impractical as it is an abdication of duty for the companies who are supposed to provide a safe space for their subscribers as a function of their conduct policies. Simply put, if social media giants like Facebook and Twitter wish to show they truly care about cracking down against hate speech and other forms of abuse, they need to do better—or risk losing more than just individual celebrities from their ranks.

Free Speech Is All Well and Good—Except When You’re Being a Complete and Total Asshole

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Don’t be sad, Milo. You weren’t banned because Twitter hates conservatives, free speech or gays. You were banned because you were being an asshole. (Image retrieved from pixel.nymag.com)

In one form or another, you’re probably well familiar with the saying attributed to Voltaire, but really authored by writer and Voltaire biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” With that, this phrase is probably the most common citation used in evoking the fundamental right of the individual of free speech in a free society. Not made explicit herein is the presumption that any argument which qualifies as protected speech under this maxim is reasonable or otherwise not intended as an injurious attack, though many would contend this much is implied. In other words, freedom of speech, conferred upon the American people by the First Amendment to the Constitution, is not absolute.

Where common sense has been insufficient, case law has helped to fill the void and define the parameters of what constitutes protected speech and that by which an individual may be held liable for what they say. Pursuant to this notion, another popular trope concerning the potential limitations of free speech is the “shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater” analogy made by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in expressing the Supreme Court’s opinion in the unanimous ruling in the 1919 case Schenck v. United States, which seeks to illustrate the point that false statements of a kind that would “create a clear and present danger” to the public are and should not be protected. This is to say, in a larger sense, that malicious or reckless language could present a liability for the person who indiscriminately utters it.

Now that we’ve got some context under our belt, let’s get to the relevant present-day circumstances, shall we? As reported by Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel and his cohorts on numerous other media outlets, on July 19, conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos was permanently banned on Twitter after he evidently orchestrated a campaign to attack Leslie Jones, Saturday Night Live cast member and star of the female-led Ghostbusters remake, via social media, which Yiannopoulos’ loyal followers acceded to in the form of scores of racist and otherwise derogatory images and remarks. The totality of the hateful messages Jones received spurred her to, in an emotion-laden post, announce her self-imposed Twitter hiatus, prompting Paul Feig, the director of the new Ghostbusters, to come to her defense and, eventually, Twitter itself to intervene. Here’s what the company—or a spokesperson within its ranks—had to say on the decision to ban Milo:

People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter. But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others. Over the past 48 hours in particular, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of accounts violating these policies and have taken enforcement actions against these accounts, ranging from warnings that also require the deletion of Tweets violating our policies to permanent suspension.

We know many people believe we have not done enough to curb this type of behavior on Twitter. We agree. We are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to better allow us to identify and take faster action on abuse as it’s happening and prevent repeat offenders. We have been in the process of reviewing our hateful conduct policy to prohibit additional types of abusive behavior and allow more types of reporting, with the goal of reducing the burden on the person being targeted. We’ll provide more details on those changes in the coming weeks.

As Warzel highlights in the Buzzfeed piece, it’s not so much his own hateful speech which got Yiannopoulos indefinitely barred—though his bullying, condescending (Milo refers to Jones as “barely literate” after a typo) and insulting comments likely didn’t help his case—but that he put a target on Leslie Jones’ back and encouraged abuse hurled at her. Milo Yiannopoulos, meanwhile, did not go gentle into that good night of social media censure, firing back at Twitter from his soapbox on Breitbart, for which he serves as tech editor. Straight from the horse’s ass, er, mouth:

With the cowardly suspension of my account, Twitter has confirmed itself as a safe space for Muslim terrorists and Black Lives Matter extremists, but a no-go zone for conservatives.

Twitter is holding me responsible for the actions of fans and trolls using the special pretzel logic of the left. Where are the Twitter police when Justin Bieber’s fans cut themselves on his behalf?

Like all acts of the totalitarian regressive left, this will blow up in their faces, netting me more adoring fans. We’re winning the culture war, and Twitter just shot themselves in the foot.

This is the end for Twitter. Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.

Wow. Yiannopoulos’ response to Twitter’s administrative action hits on a number of underlying issues, so it’s difficult to know where to begin. Before sifting through his arguments, let me first say that I find it a tad bit perplexing that Milo would vilify Leslie Jones for playing the victim when his speech is framed in a way that makes him seem like a martyr, crucified by the “totalitarian regressive left” and its dictatorial arm, the fascist Twitter. Nice use of manipulative demagoguery there, Milo. Maybe the Trump campaign could use you as part of its public relations wing.

Without going further on Milo Yiannopoulos’ rhetoric, let me take a step back with my own views on the very concept of a Ghostbusters remake. Personally, when I first heard about this project, I was not enthusiastic about it. Before you go ahead and infer a reason, let me explain. My aversion to this 2016 do-over of the original popular action-comedy film has little to do with the casting, and much more to do with the decision to green-light it in the first place. See, this kind of “creative” work strikes me as an example of the kind of unoriginality which plagues much of Hollywood’s output these days. If movies are not being remade, they are adapted from existing media. Like comic books and graphic novels. There are more superhero movies nowadays than one could shake a turbo-charged stick at, and as some might argue, these are a big part of the problem with modern American cinema. Or there are “reboots.” You can thank that trend for why we’ve had not one, but two shitty Fantastic Four adaptations in the past decade. And sequels. God help us, the sequels. From reports, the Saw film series, which I submit should have never gone beyond the first iteration, is likely to see its eighth installment start filming in the next few months. And the Ice Age franchise just released a movie involving a saber-toothed squirrel flying around, of all things, a spaceship. SPACESHIPS? FOR F**K’S SAKE! DID WE REALLY NEED ANOTHER F**KING “ICE AGE” MOVIE?!?

Sorry, I get worked up about these kinds of things. But yes, my major malfunction is with the perceived lack of effort on producers’ and studios’ parts, not on the gender of Ghostbusters (2016)’s primary quartet. If anything, my quibble with the casting would be that the film’s makers borrowed too heavily from the current and former ranks of SNL (though I acknowledge the common lineage), but on talent, I can’t say I fault these choices—Leslie Jones especially. Others who are more vocal in their criticisms may have similarly legitimate objections to the existence of this new movie, namely their condemnation of the updated model in favor of the 1984 original, which has stood the test of time since its release and has inspired its much-warranted affection and legacy. Simply put, 1984 Ghostbusters is good enough that 2016 Ghostbusters was patently unnecessary. That the comedic talents of Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis have been supplanted or usurped, as some might see it, and in a format that simply because it is different is threatening, makes this especially galling. “They’re just sweeping the 1984 version under the rug! There’s no emoticon for what I am feeling!”

For those individuals who are not Ghostbusters fanboys, or otherwise are not nerdish enough in their protests to argue against the Jones-McCarthy-McKinnon-Wiig quaternity based on its revisionist nature, if not embracing this fab female four, or just hopelessly ambivalent, the likely alternative is outright hatred, and not necessarily based on the movie’s technical merit. Here’s where we start to approach the position of Milo Yiannopoulos and his ilk. While Yiannopoulos may choose to hide behind his assertion that Leslie Jones participated in a terrible movie, and hence deserves to be targeted, the tone of the “hate mail” directed at Jones as a result of his efforts really puts the “hate” in “hate mail.” Jones, who is black and fairly large in physical stature (though not obese/seriously overweight or anything like that), drew unfortunate comparisons to an ape in many of the Tweets that bombarded her account. Otherwise, death threats, derogatory imagery of a sexual nature, and taunts about her being ugly pervaded the glut of responses she received as a result of her involvement with the movie and her own reactions to the vitriol to which she was subjected. I don’t blame Leslie for wanting to abandon Twitter outright after having to absorb that level of abuse.

In the eyes and minds of Jones’ online assailants, a prohibitively male audience, the new Ghostbusters and its star are a symbol of a vague leftist conspiracy that intrudes upon their way of life. In particular, their reading of a feminist bias in the movie’s cast—which to them, based on their definition of “feminism,” stands for the subjugation of the male even though mainstream feminists seek elevation of the female only to the extent female and male are equal—and an ever-increasing tendency for society as a whole to insist on political correctness represent a threat of the highest order. Consequently, those so-called “social justice warriors” who argue on behalf of what are seen as faulty defenses of feminism and political correctness (under this purview, I suppose I would qualify as an SJW, too) are ostracized for their beliefs and for pontificating from behind a keyboard on issues they neither care about nor truly understand. As much as one might counter that this rebellion against the social justice warrior is a bit like the proverbial pot calling the kettle black, with any confrontations with chauvinistic trolls on these terms, appeals to logic may only go so far. So it goes in the arena of Internet discourse.

As a result, right or wrong, these users’ free speech is understood by them to be unassailable, and in turn, any harassment of other users is justifiable based on the cloak of the First Amendment and the imminent danger of a woman-oriented, politically correct existence. Which brings us back to Milo Yiannopoulos. Let’s—at last—dissect what he has to say regarding Twitter’s “cowardice,” as he elects to call it.

With the cowardly suspension of my account, Twitter has confirmed itself as a safe space for Muslim terrorists and Black Lives Matter extremists, but a no-go zone for conservatives.

Putting aside that these may be legitimate issues, what does this have to do with you getting kicked off Twitter? You’re deflecting from the subject at hand: whether or not you specifically targeted someone for abuse.

Twitter is holding me responsible for the actions of fans and trolls using the special pretzel logic of the left. Where are the Twitter police when Justin Bieber’s fans cut themselves on his behalf?

Um, Milo, you do understand that was a hoax, right? Yiannopoulos is referencing a hashtag campaign prank circa 2013 with apparent origins on 4chan—a site known for its fair share of targeted attacks and threats of violence as organized by its users. The prank, accompanied by fake but nonetheless graphic photos of people cutting their arms over their frustration with Justin Bieber’s alleged use of marijuana, evidently targeted the singer’s fans, perhaps even aiming to convince them through the hashtag #CuttingForBieber to cut their own limbs out of protest of Bieber’s bad behavior. A sick joke, yes, and again, maybe Twitter bears some responsibility on its end (though arguably 4chan should shoulder a larger portion of the blame), but nonetheless, this is once more deflecting from your culpability with respect to attacks on Leslie Jones and others.

Like all acts of the totalitarian regressive left, this will blow up in their faces, netting me more adoring fans. We’re winning the culture war, and Twitter just shot themselves in the foot.

Hmm, someone really has a high opinion of himself, doesn’t he? Milo Yiannopoulos speaks of a culture war, and I can only think he’s referring to a seemingly growing divide between Americans who think political correctness is a good thing, because, well, it is—people generally like to be treated with respect and sensitivity—and those who think it imperils and inhibits us—when what they’re really saying is, “I’m bigoted/racist/sexist/xenophobic/all of the above, and I hate that you’re making me think before I speak.” Are you really winning the culture war, though, Milo, or is this just what your sycophantic followers have convinced you is true?

This is the end for Twitter. Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.

I don’t know—last time I checked, Twitter was still doing OK for itself. Really a vibrant community, actually. Beyond the 140-character limit, however, I have never felt particularly restricted by Twitter’s terms and conditions. Then again, though, I don’t target actresses who only appear in films—as opposed to actually directing, producing or writing them—with derision and hate. Hearkening back to my discussion of the First Amendment at the start of this piece, freedom of speech is not inherently absolute, and furthermore, you broke the rules that Twitter had posted as terms of your use of the site. It’s not about free speech. It’s about you being a complete and total asshole.


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Alison Rapp was an enthusiastic brand ambassador for Nintendo as well as a feminist. Which, of course, is why she had to be the subject of online harassment and get fired by her employer. Nice going, guys! (Photo retrieved from kotaku.com)

Leslie Jones’ harassment at the hands of a small but vocal group of haters is reminiscent of the kind of abuse Alison Rapp faced when localization changes were made in a number of titles by then-employer Nintendo regarding the sexualization of young women and the anticipated negative backlash which would ensue among Western audiences to have female characters depicted in a certain way. Rather than blame Nintendo, however, Internet trolls, always lurking, looked for a scapegoat for this action of the video game company’s, which they saw as emblematic of a feminist-led crusade in favor of censorship and political correctness. Enter Rapp, a self-professed feminist, who had nothing to do with the decisions on content, and lo and behold, their target was acquired. What ensued was an attack of a number of levels. Of course, there was the expected name-calling, with her aggressors labeling her “cancerous” as well as a “femi-Nazi.” Always enjoy that particular portmanteau, myself.

This element hell-bent on Alison Rapp’s destruction, however, which she believed was affiliated with the loosely-constructed GamerGate movement, took things a step further by digging into her academic and professional-verging-on-the-personal lives. Regarding the former, Rapp wrote a paper while in college concerning Western pressure on Japan to strengthen laws against sexualized depictions of minors, arguing that this agenda was misplaced because it didn’t take into account cultural differences and shifted blame away from the governments and other “patriarchal” systems that enable the abuse of children. In the hands of the online lynch mob calling for her head, though, this was translated to mean she endorses the legalization of kiddie porn, which is an absurd extrapolation. As for the latter, the anti-SJW crowd which put Alison in their crosshairs wasn’t shy about bringing to Nintendo’s attention the fact that she moonlighted as a model under an alias posing for pictures that were not unforgivably obscene but still NSFW.

Nintendo, being the understanding company it is, though, was not cowed by the stream of antipathy hurled at Rapp nor was it influenced by these revelations about her off-the-clock identity. Kidding! They fired her. Nintendo has maintained they “terminated” Alison Rapp because of her second job. From a statement by a company representative:

Alison Rapp was terminated due to violation of an internal company policy involving holding a second job in conflict with Nintendo’s corporate culture. Though Ms. Rapp’s termination follows her being the subject of criticism from certain groups via social media several weeks ago, the two are absolutely not related.

Nintendo is a company committed to fostering inclusion and diversity in both our company and the broader video game industry and we firmly reject the harassment of individuals based on gender, race or personal beliefs. We wish Ms. Rapp well in her future endeavors.

“Ms. Rapp,” meanwhile, disputes this explanation. According to the moonlighting model herself, “Moonlighting is actually accepted at Nintendo. It’s policy.” Regardless of why she was fired, however, what a number of people reacting to this situation when news first broke were dismayed with was not simply that the company terminated Alison Rapp—though numerous critics expressed the belief that Nintendo caved to the pressure exerted by the GamerGate gang—but that it failed to support Alison through months of directed online attacks. As Jessica Lachenal wrote in a piece on The Mary Sue:

For an industry that apparently tries so hard to “make things better” for women, this is one hell of a way of show it. Provided with an opportunity to make an impact for women working in games, Nintendo instead chose to distance itself from someone undeserving of the harassment she soaked up on behalf of the company. Most of all, it comes down to this: For many, it is completely unsurprising that Nintendo did what it did. This is the sad, depressing expectation of all women working in games. When—and believe me, it is a when and not an if—they become the target of harassment, it’s more likely than not that they can expect to be “laterally moved” out of what they love to do and iced out, or perhaps even outright fired for completely unrelated reasons. These things can and will and have happened through no fault of their own; they will have their entire lives dramatically altered simply because a faceless group of people have decided to harass and dig up skeletons in order to assassinate a person’s character.

Viewing the circumstances behind Rapp’s firing in this way, what happened was fairly simple. A group of anonymous trolls decided Alison Rapp was intruding on what they saw as their space—the male-dominated world of video games—they attacked her with prejudice and without restraint, and a high-profile company stood by and watched it happen. The parallels to Leslie Jones’ abuse on Twitter at the behest of Milo Yiannopoulos and others are obvious, and what’s more, her case is just another turn in the long-standing saga of content providers being unable—or perhaps unwilling—to step in to curb misogynistic malice. As Twitter itself seems to grasp in its justification for suspending Yiannopoulos’ account, there are those who feel it hasn’t done enough to discourage or stop hate speech on its interface. I, for one, would count myself among this concerned bloc of users.

The reality is that, even with Twitter insisting it is working on improving tools and enforcement systems to better root out abuse, especially the type coming from repeat offenders, there is little assurance that either Milo Yiannopoulos’ censure will be the first of many to come, or that Jones’ prolonged abuse will be among the last of its kind. Twitter, as a business and one devoted to allowing people to express themselves, respectfully must walk a fine line in generating traffic without wanting to seem like an institution of the “totalitarian regressive left.” That said, if it fails to act in a way that discourages hate, Twitter runs a risk of alienating even more of its millions of accountholders. It’s the same dance that an organization like, say, the Republican Party must reckon with. On one hand, it must try to expand its ranks if it is to avoid stagnation. On the other hand, it is set to feature a man who revels in his divisiveness as its nominee for President of the United States. My, what a dance it is, indeed.

As much as doubts may exist about Twitter and other social media sites’ ability to police its content, aspersions have similarly been cast on their ability to enforce Milo Yiannopoulos’ “permanent” ban. Soon after the announcement of the ban, the hashtag #FreeMilo was trending, and it is doubtful we’ve heard the last on this case or this topic. In the meantime, though, I won’t shed any tears for Milo. Not because he’s a conservative. Or because he’s gay. It’s because he behaves like an entitled asshole. Apparently, he believes he’s entitled to free speech because this is America or that he’s particularly clever or whatever. But when your free speech makes others feel trapped—in the case of Leslie Jones, like she’s in her own “personal hell”—it’s not really so “free.” When abuse, online or otherwise, is on the table, there is always a cost. If Milo Yiannopoulos has to pay it, someone with a history of directing hateful, malicious attacks on innocent users, all the better.