The speed of change online and in the media is fascinating to watch. If you turn away for a second to get your eleventh cup of coffee, you miss something crucial. For instance, the midterm elections cured the Ebola fear epidemic! They did. Now if we could only put the reason into a new vaccine.
I was supposed to talk about Social Justice Warriors (SJWs). They used to be people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King or Elizabeth Cady Stanton. But now they are people who bite righteous (that's how the world is and too bad but I'm able to admit it) sexists or racists in the butt, who try to steal gamer boys' inborn right to have nekked women in the computer games, to possibly pretend-rape or pretend-kill them and so on*.
They are people who try to drown the freedom of speech, to initiate that long-gray-corridors-and-slamming-metal-doors era of government communism on the free and wild cowboy Internet! Only this time the faceless bureaucrats will have a face: It's that of a leftist feminist or a revolting-disgusting-all-powerful feminazi. And yes, Virginia, SJWs can include men. Those men are called manginas (man-vaginas, which is intended to be a slur) or white knights (men who defend women, those slutty filthy vermin),
Oh my. I've spent too long in certain places online. My apologies for that. Now Andrew Sullivan (of the why-men-are-hormonally-superior-to-women fame) has jumped in the fray, with his fears that the feminazis have captured Twitter and are now removing the accounts of anyone who hates feminism. Not just accounts which are abusive, mind you, but accounts of someone erudite-in-his-hatred and not at all threatening (such as Milo Yiannopoulos, a writer for Breitbart, and a self-identified leader of the Gamergate)!
What lit the fire under Sullivan's tail this time? Probably the new cooperation between WAM and Twitter:
Sullivan’s panic was occasioned by news that the small nonprofit Women, Action and the Media, or WAM!, is working with Twitter to try and make it more responsive to rampant gender-based harassment. The arrangement, contrary to Sullivan’s headline, doesn’t give WAM! power to decide what is and isn’t allowed on the service; it simply gives the group a direct line to Twitter to report verified cases of abuse and monitor their outcomes. “WAM! will escalate validated reports to Twitter and track Twitter’s responses to different kinds of gendered harassment,” says the group’s announcement. “At the end of the pilot test period, WAM! will analyze the data collected and use it to work with Twitter to better understand how gendered harassment intersects with other types of harassment, how those attacks function on their platform, and to improve Twitter’s responses to it.”
Michelle Goldberg, the writer of that quote, then notes that Sullivan doesn't seem to have read anything by women on online harassment or anything about online harassment in general. I spotted the same thing. He believes everybody faces exactly the same levels of death and rape threats and that everybody would manage just fine with a skin as thick as his. Given recent stories like this one and this one, I'm not at all certain that women don't have an extra helping of hatred on their online dinner plates for just being women.
I have not studied the experiment WAM has with Twitter, and I cannot judge how it is going to work, but the whole thing smells a bit like an attempt by Twitter not to follow its own ethical guidelines but to make someone else do the work. The crucial question Sullivan asks is, of course, whether accounts could be canceled for ideological reasons and not just for threatening violence or harassing someone nonstop.
But you cannot find the answer to that by asking only the people whose accounts have been canceled, just as you cannot necessarily believe someone in court who is accused of committing a crime. Yet that's exactly what Sullivan seems to be doing:
Let me know if you’ve been suspended for ideological reasons – and not for harassment or stalking or threats of violence. And if you know of a Twitter account that has been rightly suspended for actual threats to individual women, ditto.
What's this all about, then? Sullivan would say it is about the freedom of expression, and he might coin himself the First Amendment Warrior.
I think a lot of this is, deep down, about the hatred of women that waxes strong inside some Twitter users. Attempts to regulate the forms that hatred takes in public are necessary, but they are not getting to the root of the problem. For note that a woman can be guilty of as little as tweeting a joke about a sports team, and down come the hordes, ready to commit imaginary vile crimes on her, to punish her for her Twitter crime. Which is to speak, especially if it is in an area others regard as properly male.
See how Sullivan and I both ended with freedom of expression concerns? He is worried about the silencing of certain voices, I point out the silencing of different voices, and the two concepts dance together. A danse macabre?
*There's a second definition of that term, too, having to do with some Twitter groups. Goldberg refers to it in her article.