Freedom of Expression,  Journalism,  Social Media,  Technology

Virtue-Signalling Utilities

Allow me to be the first to coin the term “Patreonizing“. It is defined as the increasingly desperate – but on the surface, smug – attempts by a large tech company to reassure its users that its silly and arbitrary decisions were virtuous and “the right thing to do” when almost everyone can see they made a terrible mistake.

And of course the word derives from the stab crowdsourcing giant Patreon had at justifying its removal of political vlogger Sargon of Akkad from its platform.  The vlogger had, they say, violated their terms of use by using the dreaded “n-word” when interviewed on a podcast not on his channel and not on his Patreon page. They claimed he’d used the word “to insult or demean” without mentioning that the group he had set out to insult were in fact neo-Nazis, not black people, and his use of the word was clearly in a satirical and ironic sense (even if clumsily) not as “hate speech”.

Patreon’s Jacqueline Hart of their “Trust & Safety” team provided ‘context‘ for their decision but there were two problems. Firstly, the context vindicated Sargon of Akkad’s defence of ironic and satirical use (as countless commenters below her post pointed out); and secondly it entirely contradicted Patreon CEO Jack Conte’s assurances a year ago on The Rubin Report that Patreon only concerned itself with content on its own platform and what it called “Manifest Observable Behaviour” (a term it seems to have conjured up to mean “if you do things that endanger lives or encourage criminality or violence”.

In short, what it seems is the case that various ‘woke’ progressives in Silicon Valley have decided they don’t much like the politically-incorrect, the Libertarian, the contrarian, or conservative, or even classical liberals who do not stand with the imagined progressive consensus in these echo-chambers. They lump anyone to the right of Hillary Clinton as “alt-right”, a term which seems to have replaced ‘neocon’ as the prefered abuse for anything not dancing the tango with cultural Marxism.

And so, anyone concerned about the free speech implications was duly ‘Patreonized’ by the likes of Jacqueline Hart and her team of “trust and safety” monitors who hover like a cyber Mary Poppins over our digital discourse.

The problem is that increasingly these ubiquitous tech giants: Google/YouTube, Facebook, PayPal, Patreon, Twitter, and so on, have become de facto public utilities. Yes, they are private companies and can legally do as they please, but then so is your energy supplier, or your local bus company, and your bank.

Imagine if you will going into your local Waterstones or Barnes & Noble to buy a copy of Little House on the Prairie for your niece’s birthday, and a hardcover of The Fountainhead for that special neocon in your life only to be told at the counter that Mastercard have disallowed the purchase because they disapprove of books by those authors and are blocking certain barcodes from being charged via their systems.

Imagine if the postal service refused to deliver your copy of a Playgirl or Playboy because it was taking a stand against “objectification”? And if they got away with this, why stop there? Why not make all the mail ‘moral’?

And even if you can’t imagine this, I’d bet there are groups of ‘woke’ social justice warriors – of the sort that stopped shoppers buying Xmas turkeys last week – who are dreaming of this sort of power and as we speak of organising various social-media storms targeting utility companies. I mean, why should a right-wing think-tank be hooked up to the national grid, using “our electricity”, right?

If you think this is crazy and “would never happen”, reflect on how many crazy things that ‘would never happen’ are happening right now.

But in all seriousness, what this will lead to is increasing polarisation of society. Popular bloggers, vloggers and other content creators either booted from or at risk of being kicked off monetising platforms like Patreon or PayPal, or media channels like YouTube and Twitter, will not just go away. Solutions will be found. Rivals will start up offering them shelter and services. Social media will split into Left and Right, and the Centre will have to choose a side.

The echo-chambers will get larger and, on those rare occasions when people step out, they will speak past each other, until the only meaningful contact they have is with fists and guns.

It is time for the woke to wake up.