All posts filed under: Media

Facebook Already Controls Our Information. Don’t Let It Control Our Commerce

In recent years, not a month has gone by without yet another unsettling exposé of Facebook’s content-moderation policies and corporate machinations. One report from February explained how Facebook moderators can end up believing the conspiracies they’re hired to weed out. In another case, Facebook’s top executives hired lobbyists to present some of its critics as extremists. Facebook’s platform and subsidiaries have even been linked to the incitement of genocide in Myanmar and deadly lynch mobs in India. Not so long ago, in the days when using proto-social media meant dialing up to a CompuServe or AOL chat room, we never could have imagined (those of us old enough to remember that time, at least) that the name of a company like Facebook would appear in the headlines of breaking stories about geopolitics. But in 2019, it’s an everyday occurrence. Facebook runs the world’s biggest social media platform. It also runs Instagram, the world’s second biggest social media platform, and several large messaging platforms, including WhatsApp. It has become perhaps the most important de-facto news-delivery platform …

Gamers are the Easy—But Wrong—Target After Mass Violence

The recent shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, have resurrected old panic over violence in video games. President Trump, among others, used language linking games to mass shootings and other violence. Such links have long ago been disproven and, fortunately, most people kept their heads and pushed back against these nonsensical claims. But despite this, a more subtle narrative has developed. Is gamer culture itself toxic, catering to misogynists, racists and angry, mostly white, males? As the moral panic over violent content ebbs, I’ve witnessed a wave of comments either disparaging gamers as a group, or insinuating that while certain types of games might not directly cause violent individuals, they do cultivate negative attitudes, such as sexism, militarism or white supremacy. From an empirical standpoint, such claims tend to be long on anecdote and speculation and short on hard data. The latest such argument comes from Brianna Wu in the Washington Post, where she argues that gamer culture is inherently angry, racist and sexist, and “encourages hate.” Video games don’t cause mass shootings, …

Tourist Journalism Versus the Working Class

A few days before the Fourth of July, British comic John Oliver used the pulpit of his US infotainment show, Last Week Tonight, to deliver a lengthy monologue about the depredations of Amazon.com. His specific complaint was that Amazon doesn’t treat its employees very well. According to Oliver, among the indignities that the company has heaped upon its workforce are two separate instances in which a canister of bear repellant leaked in an Amazon warehouse. Oliver and his journalistic team also found former Amazon employees willing to complain on camera about working conditions in the company’s warehouses and fulfillment centers: they can get very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter; getting to the bathrooms sometimes requires a long walk; pregnant women get no special bathroom accommodations. Oliver’s researchers even uncovered an incident in which a worker had died on the job and her co-workers were told to carry on working in the presence of her corpse. Amazon disputes much of this, but I have no difficulty believing that incidents like these do …

Age of Amnesia

We live, as the Indian essayist Saeed Akhter Mirza has put it, in “an age of amnesia.” Across the world, most notably in the West, we are discarding the knowledge and insights passed down over millennia and replacing it with politically correct bromides cooked up in the media and the academy. In some ways, this process recalls, albeit in digital form, the Middle Ages. Conscious shaping of thought—and the manipulation of the past to serve political purposes—is becoming commonplace and pervasive. Google’s manipulation of algorithms, recently discussed in American Affairs, favors both their commercial interests and also their ideological predilections. Similarly, we see the systematic “de-platforming” of conservative and other groups who offend the mores of tech oligarchs and their media fellow travellers. Major companies are now distancing themselves from “offensive” reminders of American history, such as the Nike’s recent decision to withdraw a sneaker line featuring the Betsy Ross flag. In authoritarian societies, the situation is already far worse. State efforts to control the past in China are enhanced by America’s tech firms, who are …

From Academia to Hollywood: An Interview with Tony Tost

Tony Tost is a television writer and producer. He was the creator of Damnation, which Tost describes as a “Clint Eastwood western set in the world of John Steinbeck.” The show (streaming on Netflix) fictionalizes the labor wars of rural America in the 1930s. Before creating Damnation, Tost spent five seasons writing for Longmire (also on Netflix). He just wrapped working as a writer and producer for The Terror: Infamy, which will air August 12 on AMC. Before breaking into screenwriting, Tost was a poet and academic. Below is an interview I recently conducted with Tony about his personal background and his experience in both Hollywood and academia. *     *     * Quillette Magazine: You are now a successful Hollywood screenwriter but that is not the world you come from. In fact, as you know, we grew up not far from each other in Southwest Missouri. Would you discuss your background a bit and how it has influenced your work? Tony Tost: I prefer “working” to “successful” as a screenwriter modifier, but sure: I started …

Why China is Hiding the Horrors of Its Past

While the Chinese government continues to transform Xinjiang through its cultural genocide program aimed at eliminating the distinct identity of the Uyghur population, it is also putting a high priority on controlling the history of the region and its people. In October 2018, the state-run newspaper People’s Daily published an article outlining the official stance towards Xinjiang’s history, saying, “A correct understanding of the history of Xinjiang is not about examination of specific historical details. It is about a deep understanding of the Party Central Committee’s basic understanding, viewpoints and conclusions on issues related to Xinjiang’s history, culture, religion and so on, and enhancing our confidence in Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.” The statement illustrates how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) generally regards the purpose of history. For the CCP, the purpose of historical study is not to understand past mistakes to ensure they are not repeated, an extremely important goal for a nation with the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward in the living memory of much of its population. The purpose of history …

The Hate-Crime Epidemic That Never Was: A Seattle Case Study

The Seattle Times recently reported that an epidemic of hate crimes is taking place in the Emerald City. According to the newspaper, more than 500 bias incidents were reported to Seattle police in 2018 alone, and this figure represents “an increase of nearly 400 percent since 2012.” However, this widely circulated claim is, at the very least, misleading. An examination of the Seattle data indicates that fewer than 40 actual criminal cases resulting from real, serious hate incidents were successfully prosecuted between 2012 and 2017. This provides an excellent case study of how media coverage of flash-point issues such as hate crime can—whether intentionally or not—sensationalize and exaggerate the urgency of social problems. In the Times piece, headlined “Reported Hate Crimes and Incidents up Nearly 400% in Seattle Since 2012,” reporter Daniel Beekman suggests that the problem continues to get worse, estimating that since 2017 alone, hate cases have jumped 25 percent. He also reports that “community organizations say hate crimes are a serious issue,” and cites sources claiming that “more support from the city” …

Antifa’s Brutal Assault on Andy Ngo Is a Wake-Up Call—for Authorities and Journalists Alike

All revolutionary movements seek to sanctify their lawless behaviour as a spontaneous eruption of righteous fury. In some cases, such as the Euromaidan movement in Ukraine, this conceit is justified. But usually their violence is a pre-meditated tactic to intimidate adversaries. Or as Bolshevik theorist Nikolai Bukharin put it, “In revolution, he will be victorious who cracks the other’s skull.” The Antifa thugs who attacked Quillette editor and photojournalist Andy Ngo in Portland yesterday did not quite manage to crack his skull. But they did manage to induce a brain hemorrhage that required Ngo’s overnight hospitalization. (For those seeking to support Ngo financially as he recovers, there is a third-party fundraising campaign.) The scene was captured by local reporter Jim Ryan, whose video can be accessed at the link below. We caution readers that it is an unsettling spectacle—by which we mean not only the violence itself, but the unconstrained glee this pack of mostly young men exhibit as they brutalize a journalist whom they’d spent months demonizing on social media, and whom they’d explicitly …

A MeToo Mob Tried to Destroy My Life as a Poet. This Is How I Survived

I’ll begin by confessing: I fucked up. I fucked up as a friend, an acquaintance, a stranger, a neighbor, and as a partner. I said cruel things; I said provocative things; I said obscene things; I said manipulative things; I said psychotic things—to men and to women. My language crossed boundaries countless times, usually online. And my behavior, on a few occasions, crossed physical boundaries. In 2009, I inappropriately touched a woman at a bar after a poetry reading. In 2005, I got into a fist fight with a man—again, after a poetry reading. As someone who attended the reading said, in a comment posted on the website of the press that published the book I read from that night: “I remember the tension, angst, rage, and insecurity—all funneled through the 40oz’er he was drinking while performing—and that my main impression of the work was a deep, devastating suffering…one that aroused concern.” I was 26 years old. Throughout my 20s and early 30s, I rarely appeared in public unless alcohol was promised. I drank to …

What Defenders and Critics Get Wrong about the ‘Marketplace of Ideas’

In his book How Fascism Works, Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley exposes the weakness in the most common argument for free speech. According to this argument, which can be traced back to liberal thinkers such as John Stuart Mill, free speech leads to a “marketplace of ideas” in which the truth prevails and falsehoods are widely rejected. Stanley argues that the recent proliferation of conspiracy theories and dog-whistles refute the premise that “reason always wins out in the public square of liberal democracy.” He is primarily concerned about conspiracy theories, such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which serve to spread fascistic worldviews. This type of speech, he concludes, cannot be effectively countered through a free exchange of ideas. The motif of the marketplace of ideas, Stanley argues, only works with descriptive speech. Descriptive speech occurs when words are communicated precisely in their logical or semantic sense. The paradigmatic example is of scientists engaged in an exchange where words have precise and agreed meanings. Non-descriptive speech, by contrast, is exemplified by rhetoric, such …