It’s finally happened. Today is a day of victory (albeit a small one) in a sea of horrible days. Milo Yiannopoulos, technology editor of Brietbart, has been banned from Twitter.
Now, Yiannopoulos has been on the fringes of my radar for a few years now, because he’s a pretty big name in the alt-right ideology, and while most of his opinions and pieces I disagree with, I admittedly find him fascinating. In the same way that I’ll check out a news article if I see that it mentions Ann Coulter, I’ll scan a blog to see what Yiannopoulos has done this time. After all, in this day and age of millions of blogs jockeying for your screen time and attention, the more outrageous a personality or fantastic a post, the more clicks come to call, and the more money is made. Hell, that’s why XOJane’s “It Happened To Me” feature still gets thousands of views and comments.
The other reason why I have him on my radar is because of how good he is at playing people to get the conversation he wants. I’m sure most of you that pay attention to the tech world remember Gamergate from two years ago, and how people still mention it every few months. Yiannopoulos jumped onto a lot of people’s blogrolls during that time because of his unique position as a conservative blogger who had a platform large enough to call out the SJWs that so many gamers rabidly hated. He single-handedly was able to turn the tide of conversation away from the idea that one of the people at the center of the conversation was abusive, that gaming reporting was corrupt and a modern day payola scandal, and into a conversation centered around “SJWs want to take away our ability to be men!”
He did this by watching the conversation – the two warring factions on Twitter – apologizing for calling gamers “basement-dwellers” and saying that he had recently been shown the light about video games by a friend. Then he centered on the pulse of what many young men were scared of: Any woman who complained about issues in video games didn’t want equal representation – but rather wanted guys to be forced to play as LGBTQIA characters, and ban violent shoot-em-up games with scantily clad feeee-males.
And it worked. He did the same thing that Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, and that drug addicted one do to our parents and grandparents: He watched the conversation, figured out the soundbite, and put it forth, because he was the only one willing to say the hard truth with a platform.
There’s nothing wrong with being a pundit. It’s a great way to make a living, especially in a political climate such as ours in the US where no one really wants to work together, and everyone is focused on a “my way or no way” policy. Yiannopoulos is smart, and great at social engineering – but with great power comes great responsibility.
The other side to his coin, like so many others in that line of work, is that he’s a bully. He uses his platform in a manner that incites other users to brigade those he decides to get a hard-on for that week. He’s been suspended countless time, and lost his “verified” status from Twitter for repeatedly violating the Terms of Service. This week, he decided to go ahead and attack Leslie Jones on Twitter, and if you haven’t been aware of that shitstorm, just check out Jones’ twitter account.
From what can be seen, he’s done the same thing that he’s done before – just enough to get his followers to rain down shit on someone, but enough distance to be able to reasonably say, “Oh, I never intended for people to go that far!” It’s an MO that hundreds of pundits use, and has been the subject of episodes of Law and Order: SVU, Rake, and pretty much every other law procedural that’s been on the air in the past 15 years.
Yiannopoulos reacted to his email warning of the imminent account suspension in typical fashion: Wearing a bullet-proof vest to a GOP party in Cleveland and gleefully announcing that he was banned. He then took to Brietbart to state that by Twitter suspending him, they were now “a safe space for Muslim terrorists.” That’s right: Twitter suspending him after repeated TOS violations is akin to supporting Muslim extremism. Remember what I said about using those hot-button phrases? The guy is good. He used Black Lives Matter, “safe space,” “special pretzel,” “leftist logic” and terrorists all in one sentence.
He also stated that Twitter was now a “no-go zone for conservatives.” He summed it up by trotting out that phrase that all butt-hurt conservatives use when people tell them that their hatred isn’t welcome or appropriate: “Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.”
The old “freedom of speech” chestnut. It kills me that people pull this one out and refuse to learn what it actually means. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you’re not responsible for what you say. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to obey rules. It doesn’t mean that if you tell someone to do something, indirectly or directly, and they do it, that you’re not culpable. It doesn’t relieve you of basic human decency. All it means is that the government cannot pass any law that prohibits your right to speak freely — and it doesn’t apply to private entities.
Yiannopoulos and his supporters referenced the fact that Jones is on the Internet, so it’s naïve of her to think that people wouldn’t “be mean” to her, or that she should have expected this because people are mean online all the time. I want to make perfectly clear: Idiots insult me all the time online, and that’s fine. Oooh, you called me, my mom, my dad, my grandparents, my whatever fat, stupid, ugly, bad — those are playground insults and I don’t care.
As someone who does a lot of freelancing, I have taken pains over the past five years to try and anonymize myself as much as possible, including setting up multiple identities in various places, using a VPN whenever possible, and other ridiculously paranoid methods of security due to being sent death threats, rape threats (about myself and my kids – that’s right, people out there seem to take joy in talking about how they want to rape my daughter and my son), pictures of my house, and whatever else you can think of, simply because I voiced an opposing opinion. I feel for Leslie Jones, and anyone else out there who commits the heinous crime of being a woman on the Internet.
But there’s a line. And it’s not being “overly sensitive” when you don’t want to be called a kike — or whatever racial slur people want to use. It’s not “being thin-skinned” to be upset when people send you thousands of pictures of primates, or caricatures of Jews, or Italians, or Irish, or Latin Americans or whatever else it is. That’s fucking racist/bigoted behavior, and it’s inappropriate, even under the guise of freedom of speech, which, again, doesn’t protect you against societal consequences.
You can’t go to your workplace (for the most part) and scream out the N word or the F word, or whatever else. You’ll get fired. It’s the same thing if an online service — one that you do not pay to use, by the way, but you still use to promote your blog, your voice, your paper — tells you to take that bullshit somewhere else.
The majority of websites that are out there have spelled out in their Terms of Services that offensive behavior is unwelcome, and those who violate it are subject to account suspension. If you don’t like it, there’s lots of places to go, such as Voat, where you can be around the lovely minds that brought you such hits as Coontown.
Things have changed over the past 20 or 30 years. I don’t see it as censorship when we stand up and tell people that they can’t do hateful things. I don’t see it as raising my son to be a pussy because I teach him to respect himself and others equally. I don’t see it as raising my daughter to be a welfare queen because I teach her about charity and helping others. I don’t see it as promoting terrorism when I report someone using racist slurs, and I don’t feel bad at all that Yiannopoulos can’t use Twitter anymore.