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Despite the unprecedented media firestorm surrounding this year’s Trumpian Republican National convention, Milo Yiannopoulos, the most fabulous supervillain on the internet (his words, not mine) managed to tangentially squeeze his way into the headlines via Twitter kerfuffle with Leslie Jones of Ghostbusters (A Democratic National Convention sponsor) fame. For the benefit of those that missed the spectacle, Ms Jones was in the midst of dealing with a substantial and targeted trolling effort, laden with misogynistic and more prominently racist abuse (Comparisons to the late Harambe were a particular highlight of the campaign), when Milo butted in remarking that receiving hate mail was nothing out of the ordinary. This soon escalated to Milo leaving derogatory comments about her appearance and literacy, and shortly after @nero (Milo’s twitter handle) was no more.
What resulted was an uproar over freedom of speech, and specifically Twitter’s lack of transparency over how people are suspended. Much has been said in arguments over first principles between maintaining freedom of expression versus protection of people from harassment, and I can do little more than retread those debates as far as philosophical considerations go.
Instead what I take umbrage with in this latest incident is another instance of a clear left-wing bias present in social media platforms, and the more insidious threat to free speech this presents. Twitter’s official statement on the incident laid out their basis for suspending him stating: “…our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.” His insults, while certainly demeaning, would be exceedingly hard to present to a credulous person as genuine abuse, notably more so than for the various Harambe tweets. Other public figures regularly receive far more insulting comments than Milo’s puerile banter, and quite reasonably ignore them. Which leads us to the other non-kosher behaviour, incitement, an even greater logical stretch than engagement, seeing as he came into Ms Jones’ Twitter feed midway through the torrent of abuse, and nothing in his tweets even vaguely resembles a call to arms. The rationale behind his ban is tenuous at best, especially in comparison to the kinds of things Ms Jones herself has tweeted with impunity!
Lord have mercy…white people shit
— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) February 9, 2015
While bans are the most obvious and conclusive examples of the specific censoriousness of Twitter and other social media platforms, they are sparingly used, for reasons clearly apparent with the uproar over the @Nero suspension. More distressing for me is their liberal use of stealthier mechanisms over the past months to snuff opinions they disagree with in the political sphere. Last March, Facebook caught fire from the Republican side of the aisle as former “news curators” confessed to suppressing conservative news sources in Facebook’s “Trending” tab, as well as artificially injecting certain topics into the feed at the instruction of their superiors. Loud objections from major conservatives were made, and apologies and personal invites to Facebook’s headquarters were proffered by Mark Zuckerberg, but it is not hard to imagine the practice would have persisted without those whistleblowers, and there not much to stop Facebook from doing so if they please.
More recently, Reddit has modified the algorithms for certain pro-Trump subreddits to ensure their enthusiastic communities are unable to push their threads onto the front page, and conservative Twitter users such as Lauren Southern (@Lauren_Southern) and Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) have found themselves “shadowbanned”, a kind of blacklist with some of their tweets being forbidden from being retweeted, and others being concealed in the reply chain, essentially breaking up the continuity of their twitter conversations to typical viewers.
With all this said, as influential as these social media firms are in shaping current affairs, they are private entities and are free to take any political leaning of their choosing, as many forums do. However, especially given the massive reach of our contemporary social media titans, I take umbrage with their public affirmations of the virtues of free speech and neutrality while silently undermining them in an invidious social engineering effort. As people ostensibly against censoriousness and manipulation of public opinion, I think we can do more in our position as consumers to demand adherence from our social media companies to their stated ideals, and keep a vigilant watch for suspect behaviour from them, regardless of our political leaning.
And as for Milo? This latest controversy has propelled him to even greater heights, netting him a CNN interview and guest appearances all over the political media circus, and pushing the hashtag #FreeMilo to trend globally. The absurdity of Twitter’s permanent suspension of his account and the smug liberal responses to it are red meat for him, and I am sure he is already delighting in fresh adversaries for his crusade. Suffice to say, this card-carrying member of the Patriarchy will not be going away from the public eye anytime soon.
“Why not challenge the establishment with a candidate they’ve never heard of? Who has never been primed or prepped or greased for public office? And whose lifestyle is so weird that the idea of ‘conversion’ would never occur to him? In other words, why not run an honest freak and turn him loose, on their turf, to show up all the normal candidates for the worthless losers they are and always have been?” – Hunter S Thompson
When the Golden Don first descended his escalator to flashing lights, announcing his candidacy for the highest office in the land, I was far from alone in jumping on the Jon Stewart ridicule bandwagon in response. This clown? President? And that was all aside from one of the most tone-deaf announcement speeches ever delivered. I eagerly awaited what would certainly be an avalanche of unintentional comedy.
And yet, here I am, in full official MAGA (Make America Great Again) regalia, deprived of my chance to vote in the California primary due to his overwhelming early nomination victory. I take a kind of pride in being one of the few to recognize the merits of Trump early on, before the cascade of primary victories. His campaign is a revolution, in more ways than you might imagine.
Even back when I could be considered a card-carrying member of the liberal left-wing, I held serious misgivings about the direction the movement was taking. Aggressive ad hominem attacks coupled with no-platforming and outright harassment as condoned strategies to be employed against ideological enemies were becoming increasingly mainstream. Worse still, I got to watch the spectre of identity politics come back to life to hijack the left wing with movements like Social Justice and its offshoots such as the utterly disingenuous Atheism+, among many others.
These trends have splintered the entire political discourse on both sides of the aisle into a pointless cycle of feigned outrage met by obsequious apology, while opportunistic “activists” profit from the attention. The modern establishment left demands total adherence to the party line, and anyone who so much as puts a toe out of place is a racist, sexist, bigot arguing in bad faith. Reasonable arguments have gone out the window, and while the right wing is hardly sinless, it is the left that has propagated this toxic culture.
Into this mess steps The Donald (or as Trump Fan No. 1 Milo Yiannopoulos calls him, Daddy), a man unrestrained by trivialities like basic courtesy or expedience, with his enormous property and media empire and even more enormous ego. Measured on the progressive stack, he is the living avatar of privilege: white, obnoxiously wealthy, and aggressively heterosexual. Not content with his existence alone launching a thousand triggerings, he has made pointedly anti-PC expression a cornerstone of his campaign, alongside the rebirth of American nationalism and the Wall (which Mexico will pay for).
Instead of being cowed by the usual left-wing outrage, he embraces it, earning himself wall-to-wall media coverage worth billions with his irreverent off-the-cuff remarks and midnight tweets, all ostensibly offensive to some group or another. Each time, pundits proclaim this gaffe will surely spell the end of Trump, and each time they have been baffled by another round of Trump victories and rising poll numbers. What Trump represents, and has united a wide and strange coalition of support for him, is a rebellion against the rabid collegiate thought police on one side, and the suit-and-necktie respectability peddlers on the other. What’s more, he has brought forth a solution to their malaise. Much like the insolent child in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, by simply pointing out the absurdity of contemporary PC culture, he allows us to openly laugh at and mock it. His persistent success and unapologetic conduct have served to defang the new Regressive Left, and inspired the silent majority to publicly resist their agendas and bring open discourse back to our democracy.
His message transcends the partisan divide, and to comprehend the apparent insanity of this election cycle will require many of us to step outside our comfy political echo-chambers. He won New York by a landslide last week, rolled to a sweeping Super Tuesday win with all five of the states on offer, and secured the nomination with a decisive victory in Indiana. Like it or not, he is now the face of one of the two political parties in the most powerful nation on Earth, and should be regarded as such, instead of another 15-minute media gag reel. Trump is a product of the success of the Regressive Left, not its failure, and we need to look past the “demagogue” and “populist” labels the mainstream media have tried to stick to him to understand the significance of his success.
I am fully on board the Trump Train, not because of his policies or his business acumen, but because his success would pave the way for a new breed of politician, more substantial and less banter-averse than the empty suits and worthless losers we’ve been electing all these years. That legacy, above all, will go the furthest to Make America Great Again!