Odds are, gentle reader, you’re either cheering like your team won the championship game, hammering out a comment calling me a beta cuck or asking, “Who the trump is Milo Yiannopoulos?” Let’s address the third group first.
Yiannopoulos is an English journalist (born in Greece) who first rose to prominence as a controversial and exciting new voice in tech journalism with his startup blog The Kernel. The Kernel folded after it was unable to pay its writers, and Yiannopoulos bounced back and forth in ignominy until he landed at the far-right news outlet Breitbart. There, he became an alt-right darling and one of the few prominent writers willing to cover GamerGate in a positive light.
GamerGate, an online movement mostly dedicated to harassing, doxing and SWATing feminists, women and minorities involved in gaming or tech, had been steadily declining in activity after one prominent target, video essayist Anita Sarkeesian, appeared on The Colbert Report . Once Yiannopoulos, with his 300,000 Twitter followers, took up their cause, though, it breathed new life into the phenomenon.
Since then, Yiannopoulos has been appointed Breitbart’s tech editor (despite hardly ever writing about any actual tech issues), but his job is mostly to pen incendiary conservative articles to be consumed and shared by his legion of hateful followers and generate page-clicks for Breitbart. There’s nothing wrong with that on its surface. Rassilon knows I kick hornets' nests for fun and the profit of the Houston Press.
The problem is that because Yiannopoulos’s audience is made up in part of serial harassers and other people whose primary hobby is making other people online miserable, whoever he turns his attention to invariably finds a horde tossing racist, gross and threatening messages at his or her digital door. Fortunately, that appears to be over for the moment, as Twitter permanently banned him from the platform this week following the very public directed harassment of Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones, who received pictures of gorillas and of herself with semen on her face after Yiannopoulos reviewed the film.
Twitter has stated…
“We’ve seen an uptick in the number of accounts violating these policies and have taken enforcement actions against these accounts, ranging from warnings that also require the deletion of tweets violating our policies to permanent suspension.”
In response, Yiannopoulos has stated this was “the end of Twitter.” Earlier this year, he had been warned about abusive behavior when Twitter unverified his account, something he managed to — no joke — get into a White House press-briefing room to ask if such a thing was endangering America’s right to free speech.
The common narrative right now from Yiannopoulos’s supporters is that he and other conservatives are being censored on social media. In Yiannopoulos’s particular case, they often claim that his being censored is a result of his being a gay man who “doesn’t speak the victim narrative,” meaning he doesn’t support the idea that people other than straight white men have it harder in this country. He also likes to claim he isn’t racist because he has sex with black men, though I guess by that logic, a lot of slave owners weren’t racist either.
Conservatives are not being censored. Every Republican elected official in this country has a Twitter account and has managed not to be booted. Ted Nugent and other right-wingers who say all kinds of hateful, bigoted things are on Twitter, and last time I checked, old Ted still had his blue verification check mark despite tweeting about “devil allahpukes.” Rush Limbaugh isn’t being shut down, or even Yiannopoulos’s friend Ann Coulter. Caitlyn Jenner is a conservative trans woman, and she’s still there. Twitter has no interest in drowning out conservative voices. Its followers are as good for business as the most leftiest of the left. This is not about ideology, at least not about political ideology.
What happened to Yiannopoulos is that he finally launched his army at too big a target for Twitter to safely ignore. Before Jones, Yiannopoulos confined himself to attacking people who are only famous in a niche way, like game developer Zoe Quinn. These are people who are well-known in a very small circle that the public by and large doesn’t really care about, even if their harassment is sometimes national news.
I’ve been there briefly myself when I publicly supported one of Yiannopoulos’s favorite targets, Sarah Nyberg, after GamerGate provided him with old hacked message board logs where she joked about being a pedophile. She’s not, which I personally confirmed with her lawyer after she invited the police over to investigate the claims, but unlike myself, Yiannopoulos seems to be a journalist incapable of interviewing both people for a two-party story. Despite reporting waves of harassers, Twitter didn’t really do much to help me or Nyberg or blogger Margaret Pless (her series on Yiannopoulos is amazing) or ex-NFL player Chris Kluwe or any of the other people whose lives Yiannopoulos decided to try to destroy with his allegations in order to toss red meat to his followers. Twitter only seems to get involved when an astronaut is harassed.
Jones, however, is one of the most famous people in America right now, starring in a highly anticipated film and on Saturday Night Live to boot. When harassment drives her off a social media platform in tears, other important people see that and think twice about engaging on Twitter. That is bad for business, and it’s not hard for Twitter to see where the overlap between people who hate-tweeted Jones and people who follow and repost Yiannopoulos happens to be. Especially in his case when he’s been repeatedly warned before and reported for his behavior.
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Yiannopoulos wasn’t shut down because he’s a young, edgy voice the liberal PC police simply can’t handle. He wasn’t suspended for failing to correctly express identity politics. He’s not on Twitter because of pro-black or pro-Islam media bias or any other conservative persecution fantasy that he and his followers are spinning.
He’s gone because when you have 300,000 followers, launching them to attack people is a completely dick move that is bad for social discourse and bad for Twitter’s bottom line. He successfully midwifed the worst aspects of the deep web into the mainstream, and poisoned the well for all but the most vile and terrible, and Twitter finally had had enough.
Of course, Yiannopoulos isn’t really gone. He’s still the tech editor of a major news outlet, and Breitbart itself is out there spreading his lathspell to its considerable following as well. The banishment of the king of trolls doesn’t mean that there still isn’t a kingdom full of freakin’ trolls. However, a major nexus for their marching orders has been closed, and for the people who have been living with the deafening noise of that army for going on three years it’s a welcome respite. Bye, Feliciannopoulos. It’s been swell, but the swelling’s gone down now.
Jef’s collection of stories about vampires and drive-thru churches, The Rook Circle, is out now.