Friday, August 10, 2018

The Great Deplatforming

We are on the eve of the nazi-twitter-alternative being shut down by Microsoft because their tweets call for death-by-torture and extermination of Jews (among many, many other things). This comes on the heels of Alex Jones being summarily booted off of numerous distribution sites.

This morning, Jason Kessler--the racist organizer of the violent Unite the Right rally (and its followup scheduled for this weekend in Washington DC) scored an interview with NPR--and while the host laughed at him, a lot of people were upset he even got on.

What's This all About?

Deplatforming is the term for removing the ability--or platform--for a speaker to speak. That is: you don't let the right-wing guy who was invited to your campus give his speech because you riot in the student parking lot and the ensuing security condition shuts down the whole event. That's the traditional version anyway (it could also be constant heckling from the audience).

The more modern context is right-wing people and organizations such as Alex Jones and various naziriffic alt-righty types--getting kicked off of electronic payment platforms like PayPal. This, it turns out, does a hell of a lot more damage.

It has also upset the less extreme right--who feel their--erm--champions--are being attacked by the politically leftist big-tech companies!*
Here is the eternally hysterical AF Branco explaining that Google, Twitter, Facebook, and . . . (well, it's supposed to be Apple but who knows) are just like Antifa--and that their right to their platforms is just like violent rioting.

Presumably Branco believes that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax and 9/11 was an inside job.

What Does The Omnivore Think?

The Omnivore is more kind than you might expect to the position that these big online networks represent a kind of "universal town square" where one might reasonably expect free speech. That said, being "kind to it"--that is, seeing some ways a reasonable person could reach that conclusion--does not mean The Omnivore is persuaded by it. In fact, the opposite: a good look at what is going on here convinces The Omnivore more than ever, that not-giving-these-guys-a-platform is a massive social good.

Hitler and the Public Address System

The creator of the Public Address system felt guilt for allowing Hitler to use it to reach massive in-person crowds. This was new, at the time, and Hitler's use of radio was already understood--but his ability to hold truly massive rallies was something that helped his rise-to-power. The Omnivore expects a little bit of that is probably going on within the tech-world of Twitter, Facebook, and so on.
This Is Not Possible Without a PA System
The Endgame--What Should We Do With This "Speech"

The Omnivore listened to most of the Jason Kessler NPR interview and has seen a suggestion that Ben Shapiro, enfant terrible of the verbally combative right, issue a challenge for debate against against one of these white supremacists (he wants to debate the young socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a debate which he'd probably "win.").

Should we debate them? One of the reasons that Alex Jones is still on Twitter is because Twitter's CEO thinks that it's the job of reporters to "debunk" Jones' ludicrous claims. Isn't this the age-old: the answer to bad speech is just MORE speech?

An Exploit That Is Hard To Fix

In some of the earlier 1-on-1 video fighting games there were moves a character could do that, if just done over and over, would always win. When you saw the champions of these games play each other, it was always the same character, doing the same move. This hole in a game is referred to as an exploit or degenerate strategy.

In the politics of online recruiting and modern debate, we have the same issue: the racist right-wing has developed an exploit that is hard to fix while having a reasonable debate. That exploit is The Big Lie combined with a network of easily accessible accessory-lies.

I can say, on stage, that The Holocaust Never Happened--and someone can go and do the research and discover, within seconds, that The Holocaust Never Happened. In the old days, you had to look for books with low circulation printings that were hard to get and pretty clearly written by cranks.

Today, however, by being provocative but contained enough to not be emotional and repeating your story as a voice standing against the tyranny of the politically correct thought police, you can convince people who feel alienated, angry, or disaffected that you are right no matter what the other party says. If they laugh at you? You win because they look condescending.

If they try to debate you in good faith? You win--because your lies will be repeated online for anyone who goes to look. The only way to stand up to this is to have a long-form debate where you get down into the weeds--and the debater had better be really good.

This environment isn't good for traditional media (which doesn't have time for the twists and turns that such rhetorical combat will need to take) and it requires areas of specialty that most media personalities don't have.

Furthermore, what the white supremacist is doing is, rather than making a really strong intellectual case for their cause, instead creating an intellectual protein shell which houses the viral emotional DNA that is injected into the susceptible listener. The facts are pretty irrelevant so long as they are (mostly) not trivial lies: if you get any purchase in a listener, you can get a convert no matter how the less biased audience scores the debate.

So what do you do?

The Only Good Platform: Mockery

It sounds bad--but there is a place for mockery in modern debate. Taking people like Jason Kessler seriously at all is playing their game--and it's a game they'll win. Instead what you want to do is have the discussion--give them the chance to say their piece--but make sure you provide context for it. This context isn't your lies--it's just not allowing their lies to create the agenda. Then, what you need to do is address the emotional drivers of their position. That cracks the "intellectual" outer shell and goes straight to the emotional innards which are both uglier and less attractive--and simultaneously more honest.

This is something, it turns out, comedians do very, very well. John Oliver or Jim Jefferies are far better at letting people speak in their own words and hang themselves than the interviewer on NPR who verbally smirked her way through letting Jason Kessler make his case. See here:

* It has come out since this was written that for this weekend's Unite The Right (II) rally, companies like Air B&B and Uber / Lyft are taking steps to deny the white supremacists access to their services (or, at least, let Uber drivers kick white supremacists out of their vehicles). This--combined with the transport union's refusal to give the nazis special trains--is a kind of cross-over of electronic and physical deplatforming.

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