fighting for their right to start flame wars

Jordan Peterson is trying to create a safe space for his fans online. He is far from the first right wing celebrity who tried to do just that with results that can only be described as underwhelming.

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One of the more interesting phenomena seen in recent years is the trend of right-wing provocateurs bitterly complaining that despite being allowed to say pretty much whatever they want with no consequences, there are still people who disagree with then and don’t hesitate to let them know it. And so, with absolutely zero sense of irony, they demand a safe space where not only can their ideas be spread to the world at large but be shielded from criticism from all those crazy lefties who threaten their right to free speech by having the temerity to disagree.

Despite what you might think, these communities already exist. Gab, Voat, and a small variety of other platforms are happy to let you indulge in anti-Semitic jokes and conspiracy theories, while posting memes and tirades advocating violence against the “Cultural Marxists” they’re convinced are plaguing the world today. And yet, for some reason, despite having the very safe spaces for which they clamored, today’s regressive trolls, pundits, and shock jocks are still trying to launch more with dismal results. Unlike more mainstream social networks, these bigoted versions of Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit just don’t seem to be growing.

The latest potential entrant into the safe-space-for-the-far-right market is a site being created by Jordan Peterson called ThinkSpot, which will insist that its users blather on with their thoughts on how they are being oppressed as white heterosexual men, much like the person creating it, by mandating a 50 word post minimum. Something tells me that ThinkSpot is probably not going to put up much of a fight against the platforms Peterson is trying to undercut. It’s not just the forced logorrhea or the shadow bans of memes or unpopular comments he says will happen — which seems very much unlike the pro-free speech stance he claims to advocate by mandating how that speech is to be created and removing it based on arbitrary rules — but the psychology of the people who he’s trying to recruit to use it.

Despite being a psychologist himself, Peterson doesn’t seem to understand that his fans exist very much in opposition to something or someone. Give them a space where everyone agrees with them and they’ll get bored quite quickly. Just like any story or movie must have a conflict to keep the reader’s or viewer’s attention, their interactions on social media must focus on defeating their foes, and while plenty will want to pat each other on the back, there’s only so long that they can do it without looking for something else to satisfy their desire for a flame war. These are people defined by their belief in the idea that they got the short end of the stick in the modern world and had we stuck to old traditions, they would be successful ubermench. If they aren’t fighting to take back their supposed birthright, what are they doing?

This is why despite having platforms in which to safely vent their rage at anyone and anything different, the far right continues to be incensed every time Twitter or Facebook demote or ban one of their heroes. They don’t want to sit around and agreeing with each other, they want to “take the fight to the SJWs, the commies, and the globalist libtards.” How many of them are really going to stick around writing entire essays for Peterson’s site? And how many of them are going to get tired of seeing the same things with which they have to wholeheartedly agree to even consider a membership to ThinkSpot again and again and again? There will, of course, be a honeymoon period because Peterson is a right-wing celebrity and people want to be where celebrities are, but don’t expect it to last all that long.

Ultimately, it’s not necessarily about the platforms. It’s about the fact that today’s right-wing social media users believe that freedom of speech must also entail freedom from consequence and dissent or criticism, and that anything less than praise or at least lukewarm agreement is an all-out assault on their God-given rights. They want their ideas heard and validated by the widest possible audience, and when they don’t get that, and aren’t given new ways in which to turn their frustrations into something constructive, they will seek each other’s comfort while brainstorming new ways to lash out. ThinkSpot is likely to become just another small port for regressive ideology in the ocean of social media.

And there is another thing Peterson may want to think about. Many of the people he is trying to recruit are social media trolls who delight in making other users uncomfortable. Get tens of thousands of them together on the same site and they’ll try to one up each other as much as possible. They will pretend to be social justice warriors or radical feminist or ultra-liberal college professors for the sake of stirring the pot and upsetting other users, or try to see how far they can push right-wing ideology that advocates genocide and race wars until a lot of users start getting very, very distraught about the kind of content being posted on the platform. All that the 50-word mandate will do is encourage the more eloquent and creative trolls.

This isn’t just idle speculation; we’ve seen it happen on far right “radical free-speech forums” time and time again. If Peterson isn’t aware of this or doesn’t understand that this is a very realistic outcome, he is incredibly naïve. If he does but doesn’t care, this is obviously nothing more than a branding exercise and another excuse for him to take just a little more of his fans’ money. But either way, we are not going to see of paradise for far-right trolls and the internet’s bigots because they carry within themselves the seeds of their own destruction.

# tech // social media / social networking / trolls


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