More alt-right crowdfunding shenanigans

About a month ago I came across a very odd thing. It was odd enough that I thought the interesting thing to do is to just watch if anything happens. Nothing did happen and so now seems about the right to time to write about it. For context you need to go back to these posts:

Yes! It is our old pal Vox Day engaged in yet another winning gambit in a game of one-dimensional chess. The ‘odd thing’ is this neon-green thing https://www.patreon.com/castalia [no archive link, patreon pages don’t archive well]. It is a Patreon account for Vox Day’s vanity publishing house Castalia and the account is ostensibly there to promote his recent book (see my review above).

However, the public verbiage around the site is a parody of left-leaning language, as if it was attempt to hide the actual politics of Castalia, even down to the bearded guy in the logo.

Unless I missed it (which is possible) there was no big announcement of this Patreon account either at Vox Day’s blog or the Castalia House blog. It’s been sitting there since late October and after a very sudden flurry of subscribers has stayed stuck at around 16 hundred patrons.

There is an explanation from Vox Day himself but it is the form of two of his rambling videos.

I’ve seen elsewhere Vox say he wouldn’t watch his own videos and on that one point, he is absolutely right. I don’t know who has the patience to watch this stuff but people do and Vox’s fans watch even longer and less coherent stuff from Owen Benjamin. However, mid November I sat through most of those.

The gist of the explanation is this. Day has launched a ‘replatforming’ campaign, to take back the presence of the alt-right on online platforms. Of course, the extent to which the right have been pushed off online platforms is actually minimal (and largely through unforced errors by given individuals) but put that aside for a moment. Day is claiming the right has been forced off platforms and he will valiantly fight back. The bridgehead of his fightback being the Patreon account above.

I’m watching these videos with my head cocked to one side, a bleary confused expression on my face and saying ‘huh?’ to myself. Yet we must persevere to understand what today’s Xanatos gambit is:

  1. Hidden SJWs in Patreon will be outraged by the existence of the Castalia account and ban it. At this point Day launches legal action as do the 16 hundred loyal followers. The resulting legal victory defeats no-platforming. [No, I don’t get how that works but I’ll come back to it]
  2. The hidden SJWs in Patreon will still be outraged by he existence of the Castalia account but discover that they cannot do anything about the account legally and reluctantly let it continue. Having conceded victory to Day, no-platforming is defeated. [Again, No, I don’t get how that works but I’ll come back to it]

I’ll come to the gaping flaw in the reasoning in a moment but the initial issues that struck me were these:

  • If the plan is to provoke a banning, then why the weird stealth aspect of the Patreon? Pretending (even sarcastically) to be a left anti-capitalism group rather than a white nationalist group and then NOT getting banned hardly sets a new precedent for the alt-right to make use of mainstream crowd-funding. Likewise pretending to be a left group and THEN getting banned would undermine the right-wing narrative that only the right gets banned.
  • The whole ‘replatforming’ idea runs exactly counter to Vox Day’s avowed strategy that the alt-right needs to be building its own tech infrastructure.
  • Day wanted lots of subscribers with low level pledges so that many people would have standing in a potential law suit. I’m not a lawyer but I’m not sure that makes much difference. Is losing a court case of one person for $1000 any better than losing a court case of 1000 people for $1? Maybe it is?

In the following weeks here is what happened: nothing.

I guess by clause 2 of the Xanatos gambit that means Day won but a survey of the world around us shows that the status-quo from before October 28 is pretty much the same.

What Day has actually done is disproved his own narrative.

Day’s version of events (and it is one that extends beyond alt-right circles and is common among conservatives as well) is this:

  • a right-leaning person is on some online platform
  • leftists within the business running the platform hate free speech
  • the innocent right-leaning person is then cruelly censored for some minor infraction by the leftist underling…
  • and/or the right-leaning person is driven off by biased rules enacted against conservatives by the anti-free speech tech-giant
  • and/or a leftwing mob attempts to ‘cancel’ the right leaning person and eventually the tech-giant caves under the pressure of the howling mob etc

A survey of both high and low profile actual examples shows a quite different story.

  • a right-leaning person is on some online platform
  • they violate the terms of service of the platform
  • nothing happens
  • they violate the terms of service of the platform
  • nothing happens
  • they violate the terms of service of the platform
  • nothing happens
  • they violate the terms of service of the platform
  • something finally happens and they get a slap on the wrist
  • histrionics break out all over the place

The more substantial examples, were alternative platforms such as Gab or Freestartr lose access to key commercial infrastructure, are also when they themselves create significant business risks for other businesses. This may include dodgy financial processes but may also include connections to potentially criminal activity (e.g. enticement to violence that is closely connected to actual cases of violence).

What isn’t happening is a mass, concerted campaign by the technology companies to censor the right JUST for being right-wing. The myth of the SJW influence over social media and crowd funding platforms is exactly that: a myth. Yes, people on the left would like Nazis not to have a platform on Twitter or Facebook but these companies aren’t quick to remove people without repeated and overt violations of the rules users had agreed to.

Circling back. Castalia house set up a quiet Patreon that is playing strictly by the rules (I assume) so that when/if they get banned they have the best legal case they can. However, by sticking closely to the rules they are unlikely to get banned…which everybody with half-a-gram of common sense already knew.

Maybe Day knows this as well and this was just the simplest way of getting $6,000 a month from his marks/loyal followers? Maybe, I don’t know. As often with such activities, I’m not sure whether it wise to even write about it. We’ll see. At some point Day will declare checkmate and we will be none the wiser.

Solar System – complete

Here are all the planets (and other things) from the past few days in one place.

Rules:

1. Pick a whole number from 1 to 11

2. Find the picture below with that number

3. Discover secret aspects of your personality!

4. Change the number you picked because that last one didn’t suit you.

5. You might be a planet, or a planetoid or a stellar object!

6. Complain about the factual errors!

It is ASTRONOMICAL fun! [after the fold]

Continue reading “Solar System – complete”

I visited the Jordan Peterson new social media platform

Back in June self-help guru Jordan Peterson announced his own new social media platform called “thinkspot” dedicated to “free speech”. I said at the time that it was likely to go the same way as the alt-right Twitter alternative Gab (see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/06/13/jordan-petersons-new-version-of-gab-will-have-all-the-same-problems-as-gab/ ).

Having signed up sometime ago out of morbid curiosity, I finally received an invite to the Beta version yesterday. Seeing what has been built, I have to reverse my previous opinion. I don’t think thinkspot will necessarily go the same way as Gab i.e. become so overwhelmed with the worst parts of the net as to be abandoned even by the not-quite-the-worst parts of the net.

What is much less clear is what thinkspot is supposed to be. Perhaps the biggest and most obvious difference with other platforms is that thinkspot does at least have a clear business model other than advertising. You can join for free but a free account has very limited features. That “free” part in “free speech” does not mean “free” in the money sense. If you want to post your own content then you have to buy a subscription.

The more basic Platform Subscription costs $2.50 billed annually i.e. $30. That $30 buys you:

“Access to all Contributor forums

Your own thinkspot user page, includes unique posting privileges and verified icon

Exclusive ts. videos, livestreams, and podcasts

Coming soon:Upload your own podcasts and video blogs, start discussion groups, and create newsletters even eBooks.”

If you are thinking that $30 sounds a bit steep you aren’t going to want to click on the other offer. “Contributor” isn’t another level where you get to be a contributor but rather it is another level where you pay an extra fee to subscribe to a contributor. The current list is as follows: [links from me to Wikipedia bios]

Those seven are the contributors you can subscribe to but there appears to be 20 contributors in total including Peterson’s daughter Mikhaila.

I’ll acknowledge that for once we have something that looks like practical consistency of thought from Peterson. The man loves hierarchies and that’s what he has implemented. Essentially there are four levels.

  1. Basic users – free and you get to write comments on things other people write.
  2. Platform subscribers – $30 a year and you get your own page and you can write things there.
  3. Subscribers to contributors – a minimum of an extra $30 a year per contributor you subscribe to. This gets you additional content.
  4. Contributors. How somebody gets to be a contributor is unclear but you can get paid.

So this thinkspot is very much NOT a Facebook or a Twitter alternative. Joining gets you all the privileges of being in the comment section of other people’s content. A better analogy would be with the long-form blogging platform Medium — which itself is a bit vague about what it is supposed to be.

The pay-walls at least do mean thinkspot is unlikely to follow the same path as Gab. The people the platform cares about (the Contributors) are shielded. I don’t know if they can de-subscribe a user they don’t like but at worst if they were being hassled by trolls those trolls would be paying the Contributor for the privilege.

The platform is (and I’m being as generous as possible) a confusing mess. When you start there is a kind of step-by-step guide which is unhelpful. From the get-go I am automatically made a follower of all 20 of the Contributors. That means I’m greeted with a feed/timeline of posts with next to no context from these 20 people. I’m not sure what I get in addition if I subscribe to a contributor as well. I decided to make my experience less confusing and unfollow somebody.

I picked “Bishop Barron” on the grounds that like most of the names I’d never heard of him [“Bishop Robert Barron is the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles”] and unfollowed the Bishop. That helped a lot as it made clear the difference between different kinds of Contributors. You can use the Bishop’s forum for free, whereas Jordan Peterson’s forum you have to pay for. By the way Peterson himself isn’t actually posting to thinkspot currently. As of October 16 his pinned post says:

“Jordan is still taking some time off, but is expecting to return soon. In the meantime, his team will continue posting his previously prepared content and works in order to keep the thinkspot vision going. Thank you all for your continued support!”

So I wouldn’t spend that $240 yet…OK I wouldn’t spend it at all.

What about the site’s commitment to free speech? The site has a long statement that is linked from its Terms of Service https://www.ts.today/home/speech_statement It starts like this:

“At thinkspot, we believe that the life-blood of the great democratic project is ensconced foremost in ideas and the uninhibited articulation of thought. The innate human affinity for inquiry, reflection, and opinion are natural complements to the concept of ideas, yet the battle over their latitude in society seems to be eternal. So while ideas intrinsically are essential to our existence, it is the context with which they exercise influence that holds equal if not greater significance. It is our team’s conviction that without fertile ground for free expression, our purest exhibition of free will congeals into a reductive calcification, whereby misleading rhetoric is weaponized by autocrats, monoliths, and those who privilege power over principle. “

…and carries on in much the same way, extolling the virtues of free-speech yet somehow never really saying anything.

The Community Guidelines provide a clearer idea of what they mean in practice. “Free speech” is explained in terms of the US First Amendment and US law i.e. if it is speech that you can be sued for or prosecuted for in the US then it is not free speech but something else. I’m not a lawyer or a US constitutional expert but then I’m not sure the author of the community guidelines is either. There are warnings about the following things that can be removed:

  • Copyright infringement etc
  • Defamation
  • Obscentity
  • Pornography
  • Incitement and Fighting Words
  • Terrorism
  • CyberStalking/Harassment
  • Doxing
  • Brigading
  • Spam
  • Impersonation
  • A bunch of other prohibited transactions (e.g. selling stolen goods)

The list is not a surprise — whether it is Twitter or Gab, the primary motivation for a platform to moderate content is the platform’s legal liability. The question is more how the platform will police things and who they will police.

The defamation clause is an interesting example:

Defamation
Defamation, a false statement about another that tends to damage the reputation of that person, is not protected by the First Amendment. Any defaming language that plainly contravenes U.S. law is forbidden and will be removed.”

Gab (and I think WordPress as well) insisted that they would take down defamatory content only if there was a court ruling. What is or is not defamation in the US is unclear (not just the US obviously). So it is not a matter of simply applying some simple legal criteria and removing posts/comments that break the defamation-law. That’s not how laws on defamation work. Having said that, the guideline implies a more useful standard of removing content that appears to be defamatory.

Of course, whether the sites moderators will do so is another question.

Overall, thinkspot is a service for its Contributors. A contributor gets a moderated comment section and a possible income stream. Low level users get moderated, Contributor’s get “free speech”. The site reflects the Petersonian view of the natural order of things: the big important guy gets to say what they want without censure or criticism, the proles get to listen politely.

P.S. My invite comes with the privilege of sending out 10 free invites to others. If you want one, just ask in the comments and I’ll send it to whatever your comment email address is (or email me if you want it to a different email). I’m not sure why you might want one other than morbid curiosity but you then get 10 free invites also. Gosh! It’s like some sort of scheme that is shaped like a pyramid…

6: Mercury

Tough, strong and you know how to face up to the heat. You are on the inside track. True, there are bigger deals in this game than you but you’ve played with the biggest and you are still going. Some unpleasant people might call you ‘half-baked’ but you have two sides to your nature and some sharp divisions. It takes a rocky character like yourself to stand up straight in the face of the solar winds and just keep on going. Indomitable. You like sunny days and your favourite meal is Thai takeaway.

How to talk about China Part 3

A sequel of sorts to this and this. Australian politics has been rocked by alarming news stories about possible actions by the Chinese government. The first involves a mysterious death:

“In March this year, a cleaner found the body of Bo “Nick” Zhao in a suburban Melbourne motel room. Local police investigated but were unable to determine how the former car salesman died. Now, reports have emerged suggesting Mr Zhao was being groomed to become a Chinese spy inside Australia’s Parliament. “I heard that he was a 32-year-old Melbourne resident cultivated by the Chinese Government to run as a Liberal Party candidate,” Government MP Andrew Hastie told Channel Nine. The Nine media group has detailed the extraordinary claims in a series of stories over the weekend. Mr Zhao had been a grassroots Liberal Party member in the multicultural electorate of Chisholm since 2015. He was reportedly approached by another Melbourne business figure who offered to pump $1 million into a business for Mr Zhao. In return, the man apparently wanted Mr Zhao to run for Federal Parliament.”

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-25/chinese-spy-parliament-foreign-interference-in-hong-kong-taiwan/11735176

The second concerns revelations by an alleged spy:

“In the statement Mr Wang provided ASIO last month, he reportedly states: “I have been personally involved and participated in a series of espionage activities”. According to Nine Newspapers, Mr Wanghas provided new details about the kidnapping of five booksellers who specialised in works critical of Chinese leaders based in Hong Kong, starting in 2015, and their rendition to mainland China. He is also reported to have said spies from Beijing were infiltrating Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, influencing Taiwan’s elections and “operating with impunity in Australia”, according to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.”

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-23/chinese-spy-wang-liqiang-seeks-political-asylum-australia-report/11732174

Those two allegations come amid the background of concerns about the protest crackdown in Hong Kong and the mass detentions in Xinjiang.

The need to separate issues remains though. The real issue is a specific authoritarian government doing manifestly bad things. The current government of China has no respect for democracy either internally or externally. Pretending that it does because Australia has significant economic ties to China is a grave mistake.

What we need to avoid though is conspiracy theories — which are naturally much harder to avoid when there are serious allegations of secret election interference. Secondly, avoiding racist assumptions and allegations/suspicions of dual loyalty towards people of Chinese background. Both of these are errors that are not only wrong in themselves but generate a smokescreen of confusion that undermines good decision making.

As I said in a previous post, we need to speak with both care and compassion. We should avoid metonymic references to “China” when we mean specifically the Chinese government. We should avoid ethnic stereotyping always. We should avoid implying that individuals have dual loyalties. We should avoid falling back on lazy nationalistic or conspiratorial tropes of the past.

Without indulging in paranoia, I would also advise people to avoid becoming embroiled in events or projects with strong connections to the Chinese government. The current Chinese government is very keen to reduce and manage negative news stories about China in other countries (see for example this https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/23/world/europe/china-prague-taiwan.html ) We’ve seen in multiple cases now where commercial or similar relationships with China in general are being used by the Chinese governments as a means of reducing criticism of human rights abuses. In the current political climate it will prove challenging for businesses and organisations that quite reasonably wish to work in China and with Chinese groups to avoid being used as propaganda by the current Chinese government.

7: Earth and Moon

Once you were alone but then you found your good friend the moon. The attraction between you is obvious even though the moon can seem cold and distant. You are also covered in water. I don’t know why. Do you not have a towel? Sometimes you worry about all the things living on you and yes, that does sound kind of gross but remember you are a home to lots of things. Like fish for example. You have fish living all over you. I don’t know why but look, it’s fine, people like aquariums and you are the solar system’s best aquarium and best home.