It's interesting who else has a troll problem

As Vox Day has been increasingly distancing himself from the world of science fiction and dedicating more of his time to tilting at the windmills of large tech-platforms, I’ve been taking less of an interest in his antics. However, as I was writing about trolls yesterday it is appropriate to write about a different troll problem today.

It seems Vox is beset by a troll problem. Having spent a bit of mind-numbing time looking at various Reddit threads and some incoherent You Tube videos, it is fair to use the term ‘troll’. We aren’t talking about argued responses to Vox Day’s behaviour but rather people clearly trying to wind the guy up. Politically the stuff is coming from the same cess-pit of anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories as Vox’s base. However, the dank-meme subculture was a ready recruiting ground for Vox Day’s brand of extreme white nationalism for years, so attacks from this direction are interesting politically.

The substantive complaint is around Day’s “Unauthorised TV”: a subscription video service that is part of his alternative tech platform plan. The scenario is a familiar one to readers here: Day announced a big bold plan that will a numerous features (like the buttons of the Open-Office Mouse) and will end up as a rival to mainstream equivalents (just as Castalia House was supposed to surpass Tor). There is a flurry of activity and recruitment and money raising (again, think of Voxopedia). An actual, tangible minimum viable product genuinely is delivered (again, Voxopedia) but it is substantially less than the original vision. Don’t worry! All those other features are on the way, the true believers are told and maybe there is more money raised. The amazing features never eventuate and again, consider Voxopedia remains jut a clumsy, vandalised copy of Wikipedia that a tiny number of editors struggle to stop drifting further out of date — none of the amazing capabilities (such as different versions of articles based on you political position) have ever eventuated and they never will.

The same seems to be true of Unauthorised TV. I say ‘seems’ because obviously I’m not subscribing and also I didn’t track what was originally promised. Defenders of Vox Day can correctly point out that the basic promise is delivered (e.g. Castalia House genuinely did publish actual books, with covers and a modicum of copy-editing) and detractors can point out the gulf between the reality and the fever-dream ambitions. [Speaking of which, I wonder what happened to that comic book movie…]

The broader context is the deeper divisions within the alt-right. In particular the current strength around the so called “groypers”, the latest iteration of extreme nationalists with a cartoon frog obsession who are associated with the latest white nationalist leader Nick Fuentes (https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Nick_Fuentes ). The other element is Vox Day’s alliance with the increasingly unstable Owen Benjamin (see here for earlier coverage https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/10/25/vox-day-sort-of-denies-he-is-a-flat-earther/ ).

Alt-right figures follow what I call a dark-wizards rule. Being territorial and ideologically anti-social (not the same as personally anti-social) and dogmatically committed to clear social hierarchies, you can’t have two of them in the same general space unless it is in a lord-vassal* (or if you prefer, master-apprentice) arrangement. Where somebody like Vox Day maintains patterns of allies it is where those allies have their own environmental niches and where they can offer each other things transactionally (e.g. Milo Yiannopolous, Mike Cernovich or Stephan Molyneaux) and where they may even ostensibly have marginally less similar politics.

So Fuentes rise in popularity was going to lead to a feud with Vox Day, which is what happened but slowly and with an intermediate feud between Owen Benjamin and Fuentes first. The details of the feuding don’t really matter as they weren’t questions of substance and Owen Benjamin is incoherent even by the standards of a whole subculture of incoherence.

Skipping forward in time. Reddit (particularly sections dedicated to Owen Benjamin) and various YouTube channels (the people concerned hop around accounts a LOT because of repeated bans and rule violations) have got it in for Vox Day big time. I’ve seen nothing new here** (these aren’t people doing original research) and there’s no deep ideological difference, it is just a mish-mash of stuff (I even saw a screen-gab of a page from here included) and stupid nicknames and homophobic insults (and random anti-Semitism). In short: trolls…but trolls aiming their trolling at a guy who tried to weaponise trolling.

On Friday matters must have come to a head for Vox Day and he announced an ultimatum:

“I’m giving Davey Crocko, RealOwenBenjamin, ultrafuzzyforeigner, and the rest of the Unauthorized-hating gamma trolls on Reddit and YouTube 24 hours to come clean, declare their real identities, admit their actions, and thereby avoid having the wrath of the VFM and the Legal Legion of Evil crash down upon their heads.”

http://voxday.blogspot.com/2019/12/24-hours-trolls.html [link for reference – not recommended to follow it]

Whether that is an idle threat or has some substance I don’t know but the reaction from the trolls was derisive. Day is also claiming that there have been some sort of cyber attacks on some of the tech services. I’ve no way of ascertaining whether there is any truth in those claims and there are zero people involved in this fuss who could be regarded as a reliable source.

In a substantial dose of even more unwitting irony, Day himself is now bemoaning the quality of online discourse these days:

“In what is a crushing refutation of libertarian theory, the Internet and the devolution of what were once civilized anonymous discussion spaces on bulletin boards and CompuServe have clearly demonstrated that Man cannot handle the freedom of a perceived lack of accountability.”

http://voxday.blogspot.com/2019/12/the-troll-wars.html

He’s also concerned about how there’s no way forward other than legalistic means:

“No matter how we react – and notice that we did ignore it for months until events yesterday rendered that impossible – there has never been anything to it. By this bizarrely twisted illogic, people only react to true accusations, against which stands the entire history of written and case law dealing with defamation, slander, and libel.”

http://voxday.blogspot.com/2019/12/an-interesting-perspective.html

Which takes me back to a point I have made before. The SFWA and later the WSFS membership absolutely did the right thing in the end by taking an uncompromising response to Vox Day’s antics. Following his OWN advice on how to handle those whose only aim is to act in bad-faith and disrupt an organisation and the discourse within an organisation, is to not attempt to reason or become further embroiled in a bad-faith discussion.

tl;dr obnoxious people are shouting at each other.

*[See also the distinct pecking order within the Sad Puppies]

**[Aside from one point: there is a claim that the video service Day is promoting is actually using Vimeo’s infrastructure. Which is a bit ‘so what?’ However, the argument is that this disproves that Day is spending the money on a tech platform independent of the mainstream tech platforms.]

Chaos, fascism and the UK

I’m still processing the UK election results. I wrote something yesterday and then trashed the post. I’m writing again from scratch.

My first observation is that while the results are heart achingly bad, they aren’t surprising. Of course it is very easy to say ‘I expected this’ after the fact but I wasn’t going to assert prior to the vote that the Tories would win despite their manifest incompetence as that would help nobody.

Should they have lost? Absolutely. Aside from a record of bad policies over multiple Prime Ministers, the Conservatives have even lost their veneer of competence. They are a broken party and Johnson is one of the least capable people to be in the role of Prime Minister since World War 1 (and I only stop there because my sense of who was PM when gets very hazy prior to that). By the very basic standard of whether there might still be meaningfully a ‘United Kingdom’ by the end of his tenure of PM, he has already deeply damaged Britain as a concept. Which helps mark out what his victory is and means — it is a victory for a particularly toxic and racist English nationalism.

The corollary of the victory of English nationalism (better symbolised by the odious Nigel Farage than Boris Johnson) is the increasingly plausible outcome of an independent Scotland and a united Ireland. Scotland also points the way to ‘nationalism’ in a different sense. Scottish people aren’t magical (despite the cartoons I’m watching) and are just as capable of bigotry and short-sighted thinking as the people south of the border but Scotland’s own very different concept of national identity as enabled the country to remain immune from the worst aspects of the divisions that have gripped England.

So why did I think the Tories would win? A few inter-related things but the common element is Brexit. There is obviously a lot to discuss about Labour, Corbyn, the Liberal-Democrats and how Remain campaigns stuffed up in various ways but I honestly think these all amount to a discussion how a very, very narrow path to a substantial Tory defeat was not met.

The predominate feature was the chaos around Brexit both in parliament and as a source of social division. Years now of wrangling around Brexit has only resulted in a political stalemate. It was that stalemate that resulted in two general elections, the first of which failed to improve the situation. That circumstance set up a situation where several things are in play:

  • The sunk cost fallacy. A huge amount of time, money and emotional energy has already been invested in the Brexit debate. That biases people towards seeing not enacting Brexit as a waste. This is fallacious reasoning but it is a very powerful kind of cognitive error, one that will incline people to ignore or repress the more obvious doubts they may now have about the wisdom of Brexit.
  • The problem of coordinated action. There are many reasons to oppose Boris Johnson and the conservatives but with multiple positions and opposing views beyond the Conservative Party there was no clear, simple alternative position.
  • Neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats had a way of making Brexit magically vanish. That’s part of what is so poisonous to public discourse about Brexit as an issue. Jeremy Corbyn’s compromise policy of offereing a new deal that would be ratified by a second referendum was credible but by its nature it was a policy that would prolong the pain. A more assertive Remain policy would be more promising but that also would not end the pain UNLESS there was a massive and unambiguous vote for staying in the EU. A small-majority or a coalition government hoping to end Brexit would be facing a very politically determined opposition. Which takes me to the last point.
  • Bullying works. People know who the scary, less than rational group is in the Brexit debate and it is the pro-Brexit side. There is a disturbing result in game theory were an apparent loss of rationality is a rational manoeuvre. If one side cannot be reasoned with, that can (in some circumstances) place the more rational side at a disadvantage in a negotiation. In this circumstances people know that the pro-Brexit politicians weren’t going to stop if Labour won, or if (somehow) the Lib-Dems had won or if a Lib-Lab coalition had won or if Parliament had completely realigned to form a Remain Government of National Unity. We are back to the situation of were only a massive Remain victory to the point of utter humiliation would bring the poisonous debate to an end.

In these circumstances, it becomes clearer what a dithering voter might do. The clearest route and the route that it is easiest to enact as an isolated voter at the ballot box is to hope that they only way out of the Brexit chaos is to push through. It is also self-destructive ‘madness’ and rewards the very people who created the mess but illustrates something we know about fascism in general. Fascism feeds on chaos by creating a climate of turmoil and offering authoritarian control as the antidote. It’s a poison that markets itself as the cure for the symptoms it creates.

Am I saying Boris Johnson is a fascist? Meh. That’s not my point. He’s not-not a fascist but no, his core ideology is “cynical opportunist” and I very much doubt there is anything much deeper than that going on in there. However, that hardly matters. It’s not the inner personal qualities or personal ideological commitments of Boris Johnson that are in play but the policies and program he has committed Britain to. His personal route to political power as a jolly oaf was never going to get him any further than Mayor of Greater London. His political success since has been via exploiting English nationalism, racism and xenophobia and doing so has kept paying off for him again and again. He’s hardly going to stop now that using the dark-arts of appealing to the worst aspects of English culture has delivered him a substantial parliamentary majority. Nor will he be able to pivot back to the centre because the fundamental problems with Brexit are still there and when/if the UK leaves the union those deep issues will only get worse. Boris’s problems are only just beginning and he has only one move that has worked for him: double down on the racism.

Well, that’s not a very happy account. I’ll concede that I’m writing from a long way away and from all the frustration and fear that entails. I was hoping to think of something more positive or at least hopeful to people in Britain. I’m sorry but I don’t have anything. This will be hard and it is on top of years now of misrule and hardship. It will be especially hard (and often needlessly cruel) to so many different groups of people in Britain.

It has been awhile since somebody tried to rewrite Sad Puppy history

I believe it is usually January that we get an up-tick of attempts to vindicate Sad Puppy history and I imagine that we’ll get a few more attempts next year when SP3 marks its half-decade anniversary of accomplishing nothing but frustration, upset and column inches. However, I missed one earlier this month from science fiction’s top self-appointed witch-hunter and winner of the Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel That Isn’t Actual Horror, Brian Niemeier. https://www.brianniemeier.com/2019/12/no-american-man.html

Sadly nothing new. Some Scalzi bashing and some Tor bashing but let’s go through.

“To recap, author Larry Correia started the Campaign to End Puppy-Related Sadness when he smelled something rotten among the oldpub clique that hands out the Hugo Awards. He set out to prove that winning a Hugo has less to do with literary merit and almost everything to do with scratching the right backs while having the right politics.”

Nope. Larry’s initial campaign was overtly against the idea of nominating on the basis of literary merit. His imagined enemy where the ‘literati’ and ‘snob reviewers’. The campaign was an attempt to win himself a Hugo Award (which we know because he said so).

It is true that at every stage of the various Sad Puppy campaigns they have been presented as some sort of Manichean struggle of good-guys versus bad-guys but the nature of the split was repeatedly revised in a “we’ve always been at war with Eastasia” way. The conflict has variously been characterised by Sad Puppy supporters as:

  • Pulp authors versus the literati and snob reviewers
  • Marginalised conservative authors versus SJW entryists
  • Newcomers to Worldcon versus SMOFs
  • Outsiders versus the SFWA
  • ‘blue’ sci-fi versus ‘pink’ sci-fi
  • Traditional science fiction versus modern science fiction
  • Tor books versus Baen books
  • Indie publishing versus trad publishing

Of course, the reality is also multi-faceted, with multiple kinds of people becoming involved in a conflict with no single cause. However, the purpose of the reductionist group A versus group B framing is to create a clear just cause for group A.

“After three years, Larry decided he’d proved his point and retired from the Sad Puppies. “

Technically after two years. Sad Puppies 2 was the last Correia led campaign.

“When you have one publisher winning more than twice as many Hugos as the next most award-winning house, and when SFWA officers constitute an oversized chunk of Best Novel winners since 1986, you’d have to be terminally naive not to see a cool kids’ clique trading participation trophies.”

The ‘twice as many Hugos’ line is a reference to the number of Hugo Awards for Best Novel won by Tor. Niemeier adopts the anti-Tor line fairly consistently from here on in his history re-write. Of course, the full-on Tor hatred did become a feature of the 2015 campaign but even I find it hard to remember that the anti-Tor aspect of Sad Puppies was a minor aspect until quite late in the history. It is true that Tor versus Baen was always an undercurrent, specifically around the Best Editor Long From award and (from a Rabid Puppies perspective) due to Vox day’s specific animosity toward Nielsen Hayden’s.

However, the idea of the conflict being defined as a war against Tor did not fully crystallise until Vox Day manipulated a boycott of Tor books in June 2015. Prior to that Sad Puppies 3 had nominated one Tor published book for Best Novel (Kevin J Anderson’s The Dark Between the Stars), prominent puppy John C Wright (and multiple Sad & Rabid puppy nominee) still promoted himself as a Tor published author and the eventual winner of Best Novel in 2015, The Three Body Problem was voted for by many Puppy supporters.

“Imagine if one movie studio won more than twice as many Best Picture Oscars than its closest competitor in a similar span of time. What if a preponderance of Best Picture winners had also been directed by current and former high-ranking officers of the Directors Guild? Anyone who’s not a total NPC would at least entertain suspicions of some shady backroom  deals.”

Honestly I’m surprised Best Picture is evenly distributed and I find an even distribution more implausible than what we see in the Hugo’s. For added “this framing doesn’t add up” Tor winning a minority of Best Novel Hugo’s in that time period is also due to five wins (half of Tor’s total wins up to 2019) from Orson Scott Card and Vernor Vinge. Card, in particular, was used as the paradigm by many Sad Puppies of the kind of author who used to win Hugo Awards but no longer did. Vinge is an author less championed by Sad Puppies but was overtly cited as an example of a ‘good’ Hugo winner from the past by Sad Puppies 3 leader Brad Torgersen: “We’ve fallen a long way since Vernor Vinge won for A Fire Upon The Deep.

Nor does the Tor-narrative fit the other narratives. If the Hugos had recently become more leftwing and Tor was somehow to blame, then Tor would be winning more Best Novel awards in recent years. Of course, the other name that connects Tor, the SFWA and Puppy angst is John Scalzi and the particular and very personal animosity both Puppy campaigns have for him. That man himself is a very agreeable person who repeatedly tried to find compromise and understanding only seems to have added fuel to the fire.

“For its first three yeas, Sad Puppies performed the vital public service of wising normies up to the convergence of legacy sci fi publishing. In a way, it prefigured what #GamerGate did in the video game scene. But like pretty much every dissident online movement since, SP quickly devolved into petty territorial bickering. When its original founder was replaced by people who still want a pat on the head from oldpub, SP became just another bogeyman in the Left’s morality play.”

GamerGate is a kind of Schrödinger’s cat in Puppy rhetoric. The essential rule is this: Puppy supporter can imply that the two campaigns are connected but if critics of the Puppy campaigns do so then it is a terrible slander. Brian Niemeier is very much in favour of the misogynist Gamergate campaign, which given his overt support for male-only cultural spaces is not a surprise.

The digs in the paragraph above look like they are aimed at both Brad Torgersen and Sarah Hoyt but I assume the thrust of it is aimed at Hoyt. Quite how we can sort Correia, Torgersen and Hoyt into more or less connected to “oldpub” is unclear. Hoyt has been published traditionally and independently. Of the three she is closer to the post-traditional publishing model.

The indie versus ‘oldpup’ narrative is hard to maintain for the Sad Puppy conflict as a whole. Attempting to apply to the internal shifts of Puppy leadership is absurd to the point of incoherence. Nor did Sad Puppies descend into territorial bickering except in the sense that the bickering was always there. The argument Niemeier references was not until the non-appearance of Sad Puppies 5, when Declan Finn attempt to make some book recommendations using the ‘Sad Puppy’ name, generating an angry reaction from Sarah Hoyt (see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/06/26/sad-popcorn/ ). This was in 2017 by which point Sad Puppies had long since become irrelevant to the Hugo Awards.

“As mentioned above, Dragon Con now hosts the Dragon Awards. The Dragons boast far larger and much more open participation than the Hugos, and after rebuffing an SJW takeover attempt, they’ve largely settled into an antipodal role as readers’ choice awards for fans of a certain SFF publisher.”

The Dragon’s create a bit of a conundrum for Brian. Their headline categories are more dominated by Baen than the Hugo Best Novel is by Tor — which if Brian was remotely consistent would according to his prior arguments demonstrate that the Dragon’s are rigged. However, Brian won a Dragon Award in its first year and so more or less has to be pro-Dragon award.

The “SJW takeover attempt” is an even more egregious re-writing of history. He is referring to his own imagined culture war against John Scalzi in 2017 (see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/08/08/niemeier-wants-the-dragon-awards-to-be-a-culture-war-but-the-culture-doesnt-want-to-play/ ). The “takeover” was authors trying to withdraw from the Dragons precisely because of the nominees like Niemeier. At the time, Brian was very much in favour of the Dragons not letting authors withdraw. When the admins saw sense and allowed authors not to participate, Brian was outraged and saw it as a potentially fatal defeat for the Dragon Awards. There was only one remedy that would save the Dragons!

The Secret Kings, my highly praised space opera novel, is the only viable competitor against Scalzi’s Collapsing Empire.”

https://www.brianniemeier.com/2017/08/conservative-play.html

Suffice to say, Brian didn’t win another Dragon and instead Babylon’s Ashes, by James S.A. Corey won instead. By his own weird standards then I guess that means the SJWs won or something? Who knows. With narratives that shift as easily as goal posts made of clouds, who can say.

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.

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…

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.

Dave Truesdale on Diversity

Dave Truesdale has a post at According to Hoyt on the issue of diversity in Science Fiction [ direct link, archive link]. I’m technically not blogging this week but I can’t really ignore this one.

I’m not going to do a deep dive into the essay. It isn’t great or well argued. The initial premise is that calls for diversity are at odds with calls against cultural appropriation. This claim is stated rather than developed or substantiated. That claim then leads into this:

“That this is patently absurd even on its surface is laughable, but if you say something often enough and loud enough and have the media on your side…. But on the other hand they do not realize that, by their own definition and that of wikipedia, they are appropriating the distinct culture of the SF field, which is an inviolable crime in their eyes.”

https://accordingtohoyt.com/2019/11/20/to-be-diverse-or-not-diverse-that-is-the-question-by-dave-truesdale/

You can’t appropriate a culture you are part of, so Dave Truesdale’s argument rest on an assumption that “they” are not part of the “distinct culture of the SF field”. This assumption is not overtly stated or explored.

There are also repeated complaints about the SFWA Bulletin.

The nature of the problem is exemplified in lengthy footnotes, including:

“The past three or four years of Hugo and Nebula fiction award winners bear this out unequivocally. If you are white (and especially those males who do not kow tow to the Woke’s party line PC ideology), you’re out. No awards for you. Belong to a minority (even an artificial one—are you a member of the diabetic minority and has the SF field oppressed or overlooked your work?—they seem to pop up all the time these days), are a person of color, or a woman, and we see that you’re Woke, then you’re one of our kind of people. You wrote someting last year? Great, we’ll see about getting you on the ballot—after all, diversity.”

He says “woke” a lot.

He makes the “diversity of thought” claim a lot and again does not expand upon on it.

In short, it is an essay in the style of Dave Truesdale at Sarah Hoyt’s blog complaining about diversity — picture what that might be like…and that’s what this is.