All posts filed under: Media

‘Cancel Culture,’ Roaring Twenties-Style

The term “cancel culture” has become hotly contested of late. Critics say it is indiscriminately used to describe different degrees of mass opprobrium produced by transgressions that range from the trivial to the criminal. Now, while mob justice is never a particularly good idea, it is certainly true that some instances are more serious than others. Probably the worst kind involves a serious accusation made against a public figure, who is then investigated and cleared, but whose life and reputation are never allowed to completely recover. I was reminded of this reading Claire Lehmann’s recent essay about the fate of Giovanni da Col, a young man driven from the journal he founded amid accusations of sexual and financial impropriety, despite the fact that these claims had been investigated and found to be baseless. Woody Allen, meanwhile, had his career belatedly derailed by the reemergence of child molestation allegations, first made by his estranged partner Mia Farrow during an ugly custody fight in 1992. These claims, too, were thoroughly investigated at the time and dismissed, but …

Anti-Pornography Campaigners’ Pseudo-Scientific Treadmill

Recently it was reported that Pornhub had made a short adult film featuring a couple having sex on a polluted beach. If this seems like an odd (and frankly unsexy) idea, then bear in mind that every time the video is watched, Pornhub will donate money to Ocean Polymers, a non-profit company that seeks to remove plastic waste from the ocean. Porn companies aren’t generally known for their charitable giving, but if pornography is going to make buckets of money, why not siphon some of that off to good causes? As if to prove that no good deed goes unpunished, two columnists in the Spectator announced that they were entirely opposed to this idea. The authors are not entirely clear about what’s wrong with Pornhub donating part of its profits to charity, other than that they think pornography is bad and shouldn’t exist in the first place. This is a bit of a non-sequitur, but it is one that relies on dubious claims about pornography’s range of negative causal effects. Do the data support the …

No, Jonathan Haidt is Not Like a Slavery Apologist

Eve Fairbanks, in an essay for the Washington Post, argues that many of the writers on the so-called “reasonable right,” a group that includes such seemingly benign figures as Bari Weiss and Jonathan Haidt, are making many of the same arguments and using much the same language as proslavery advocates in the American South: The reasonable right’s rhetoric is exactly the same as the antebellum rhetoric I’d read so much of. The same exact words. The same exact arguments. Rhetoric, to be precise, in support of the slave-owning South. Fairbanks follows this breathless announcement by acknowledging that she is not accusing anyone of defending slavery, and that includes, weirdly enough, actual antebellum proslavery writers. “Proslavery rhetoricians talked little of slavery itself,” she writes. “Instead, they anointed themselves the defenders of ‘reason,’ free speech and ‘civility.’” This is a bit like smearing someone as a Nazi, then qualifying it with the claim that overt anti-Semitism was really quite atypical of Nazism. In her characterization of proslavery thought, Fairbanks has taken a line that not even the …

A New Republic of Letters

For the past few years, I have been corresponding with an old school friend via email. We write to each other as if we were exchanging letters, which makes the correspondence richer than if we were merely texting. But my friend once expressed his dissatisfaction with the digital medium—if only stamps were not so expensive, he sighed, he would write on paper. I am not so unhappy about digital letter exchanges. For one thing, my handwriting is atrocious. So, while I enjoy receiving handwritten physical letters, I much prefer the convenience of typing. And corresponding online is cheaper, easier, simpler, and faster in ways that do not negate the benefits of long-form communication. Letters have interested me ever since I read Tobias Smollett’s wonderful eighteenth century epistolary novel The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. I don’t see why our society’s switch from pen and paper to virtual exchanges mediated by screens should mean that the culture of letter writing needs to die. To ensure that it doesn’t, a new platform has been launched which aims to …

Yaniv’s Other Racket: How a Single Gender Troll Managed to Get ‘Hundreds’ of Women Thrown Off Twitter

The Canadian human-rights litigant formerly known as Jonathan Yaniv—a trans woman who now goes by the name Jessica, but whom we will refer to simply as “JY”—is a unique figure among those who follow the debate over transgender rights. In 2018, this self-described “global internet personality” and “social justice warrior” contacted numerous Vancouver-area aestheticians seeking Brazilian-wax services—a process Wikipedia describes as “the removal of all pubic hair from the [female] pelvic region, vulva, labia, perineum and anus, while sometimes leaving a thin strip of hair on the mons pubis.” As reported by Joseph Brean in Canada’s National Post, JY seems to have sometimes used the name “Jonathan” when first making contact (an act of self-“deadnaming,” as it were), revealing only later in the conversations that the “Brazilian” in question would be performed on a client who is legally a woman, albeit a woman who has a penis and testicles. Predictably, some of the aestheticians indicated that they either didn’t have the expertise to perform their trade on such a client, or resisted the idea of …

Why I Don’t Live in Fear of White Supremacists  

The 21-year-old terrorist who attacked an El Paso shopping center on August 3 was a white supremacist who believed that the United States is experiencing a “Hispanic invasion.” He also expressed support for an even deadlier hate crime that had taken place months before: the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which 51 innocents were killed and another 49 injured. Hate criminals tend to inspire one another. And in the months since the Christchurch slaughter, there have been widespread fears that we may be on the cusp of a new global epidemic of racist killings. These fears are encouraged by the sense of immediacy that results from the 24/7 social-media coverage of such tragedies, which overwhelms the insulating effects of geography. Immediately following the Christchurch killings, for instance, the Chancellor of University of California, Berkeley, where I am employed, felt required to send an email to all students, staff and faculty condemning the attack, and offering up a suite of mental health and diversity resources for members of the University community—particularly Muslims. I thanked …

Preventable Deaths and the Need for Data-Driven Journalism

In the wake of the recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio that claimed the lives of more than 30 people, Neil deGrasse Tyson drew significant controversy by posting a tweet which compared the death toll from the shootings to the (larger) numbers of people who died from other preventable causes over a 48-hour time period. Dr. Tyson concluded his message with a warning: “Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data.” In the past 48hrs, the USA horrifically lost 34 people to mass shootings. On average, across any 48hrs, we also lose… 500 to Medical errors300 to the Flu250 to Suicide200 to Car Accidents40 to Homicide via Handgun Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data. — Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) August 4, 2019 The negative responses to his tweet were swift and numerous, with many users voicing outrage, disappointment, and disgust. The next morning, he issued an apology on his Facebook page and acknowledged that he “got this one wrong.” But did he? I don’t disagree that his timing …

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 …