All posts filed under: Social Media

Gender Transition and Desistance in Teenage Girls: Two Psychotherapeutic Case Studies

When doctors always give patients what they want (or think they want), the fallout can be disastrous, as we have seen with the opioid crisis. There is every possibility that the medical treatment of young people with gender dysphoria may follow a similar path. Practitioners understandably want to protect their patients from psychic pain. However, quick fixes based only on a patient’s self-reporting can have tragic long-term consequences. There are now a growing number of people who once self-identified as transgender but now have reversed or renounced their trans identity. Depending on their circumstances, these individuals are variously known as desisters, detransisitioners, or regretters. Some are seeking accountability from the medical professionals who affirmed their wish to transition, without adequate assessment. An increasing number are speaking out on social media and at conferences, arguing they have been let down by mental-health services that failed to assess their psychological problems before prescribing medical treatments such as puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, and referring them on for surgeries. Having initially felt welcomed in and encouraged by the …

When Sons Become Daughters: It’s Time to Admit That Reflexive ‘Affirmation’ Has Been a Mistake

What follows is the seventh and final instalment of When Sons Become Daughters, a Quillette series that explores how parents react when a son announces he wants to be a girl—and explains why so many of these mothers and fathers believe they can’t discuss their fears and concerns with their own children, therapists, doctors, friends, and relatives. To find out more about how the author collected and reported information, please refer to his introductory essay in this series. “What are your preferred pronouns?” I ask Rene Jax, somewhat in jest. The answer: “Your Imperial Majesty. Look, you call me what you want. I don’t care. My friends say I’m half this and half that.” Rene (a real name, unlike the pseudonyms I’ve generally been using to describe others) is a 60-year-old male-to-female post-operative transsexual who looks both like a woman (hair, clothing, style of glasses) and a man (hands, Adam’s apple, jawline). My question felt farcical to both of us because Rene has written openly about the pathway that led to transition—and then to regret. …

The Petulant Campaign Against Eric Kaufmann

Sir Roger Scruton—the prodigious conservative philosopher—once noted of his time at Birkbeck that it was “traditionally a left-wing place, haunted by the fear that somewhere, somehow, a conservative might have infiltrated the corridors.” Though he added that “the students were terrific because they were all grown up.” One suspects that if Scruton were still alive, he’d reconsider his opinion of the students. On May 19th, a Twitter account called “Birkbeck Students Anti-Racist Network” posted a long thread denouncing one of the academics at that institution, the political scientist Eric Kaufmann. In typical self-righteous fashion, the thread begins, “Kaufmann is a politics professor & former head of that department at Birkbeck … We want to publicly denounce him as a white supremacist and racist apologist.” (Accusing Kaufmann of being a “white supremacist” is particularly risible, given that the man is not only Jewish, but part Chinese and part Latino.) The first tweet includes an image where Kaufmann appears next to a dog, with a whistle in his mouth. Emanating outward are his supposed “white supremacist dog …

When Sons Become Daughters, Part V: The Links Between Trans Identity, Gifted Minds, Categorical Thinking—And Anime

What follows is the fifth instalment of When Sons Become Daughters, a multi-part Quillette series that explores how parents react when a son announces he wants to be a girl—and explains why so many of these mothers and fathers believe they can’t discuss their fears and concerns with their own children, therapists, doctors, friends, and relatives. To find out more about how the author collected and reported information, please refer to his introductory essay in this series.   The first four instalments in this series already have covered many disparate topics, each of which merits a fuller discussion than one writer can present. But younger readers with knowledge of trans Internet culture may have noticed that, until now, I’ve failed to cover one of its most prominent aesthetic motifs. I am referring to the Japanese art form known as anime. Parents of trans-identified boys mention anime repeatedly. The animation style seems to loom large in the lives of many—at least half—of the young men whose stories I’m telling. Many of these boys have anime alter-egos, …

Weaponizing Social Justice to Protect School Administrators and Discredit Whistle-blowers: A Canadian Case Study

On March 6th, I published a Quillette article describing how Robyn Bourgeois, the newly installed vice-provost for Indigenous engagement at Canada’s Brock University, had been seeking to mobilize her peers against the anonymous operator of an obscure (and by then, defunct) Twitter account called @BrockCivis. On her social-media channels and at the university’s “Two Row Council” (a body tasked with managing Brock’s efforts at “Indigenization, reconciliation, and decolonization”), Bourgeois accused the account of operating a racist and “criminal” program of “cyber harassment” that targeted her in particular, and Indigenous people more generally. No one at Brock would feel “safe,” she said, in a world where @BrockCivis is still “allowed to dehumanize the highest-ranking Indigenous person at Brock” (by which she meant herself). At a February 22nd Council meeting, a recording of which was subsequently made available to me, school officials brainstormed with Bourgeois about how they might investigate the nefarious account. The contents of @BrockCivis, one participant suggested, were a threat not just to Brock, but to Indigenous people all over Canada. Later in the …

Who Is the Real Threat to Autonomy and Flourishing Online?

Is the web out to get us, or is it a force for autonomy and flourishing? Is it another instrument for the governing elite to channel the masses for political or business purposes? Is it a means for our baser nature to entrench everlasting fake news stories, political narratives, and even whole ideologies? In her 2019 book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff details what she regards as the dangers of losing our freedom, dignity, and democratic control to business by being “conditioned,” “tuned,” “nudged,” and otherwise shaped in unconscious ways to serve Big Tech and its business associates. Echoing many of her fears, the popular Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma portrays algorithmic tracking of our behaviour by Facebook and Google as a Frankenstein’s monster. The documentary has the endorsement of the historian Yuval Noah Harari, best known for his Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He argues that the web has become a tool to further reinforce the survival of fake news, to which he thinks humans already have a strong proclivity. Who …

Does Suffering Provide Meaning and Purpose in Life?—A Reply to Freya India

A recent article in Quillette by Freya India raises the age-old problem of how to understand the connection between suffering and meaning in one’s life. India’s argument is that some suffering is unavoidable, but more suffering may be beneficial if one is able to understand its advantages. Generation Z—those born since 1997—are historically unique insofar as they arrived in the Internet and social media age. But is suffering experienced differently according to a person’s circumstances? And are today’s under-25s that much different from earlier generations in the way they respond to stressors? A key characteristic of the social climate in which today’s under-25s live is that they cannot afford to ignore the pressures of creating and maintaining an identity on social media, and of trying to avoid the many hazards presented by aggressive activism and what has become known as “cancel culture.” This environment brings its own anxieties, because what is done on the Internet is very difficult to undo. Arousing serious and/or widespread antipathy from others may ruin one’s life-chances with no means of …

Beating Back Cancel Culture: A Case Study from the Field of Artificial Intelligence

It’s easy to decry cancel culture, but hard to turn it back. Thankfully, recent developments in my area of academic specialty—artificial intelligence (AI)—show that fighting cancel culture isn’t impossible. And as I explain below, the lessons that members of the AI community have learned in this regard can be generalized to other professional subcultures. To understand the flash point at issue, it’s necessary to delve briefly into how AI functions. In many cases, AI algorithms have partly replaced both formal and informal human decision-making systems that pick who gets hired or promoted within organizations. Financial institutions use AI to determine who gets a loan. And some police agencies use AI to anticipate which neighborhoods will be afflicted by crime. As such, there has been a great focus on ensuring that algorithms won’t replicate their coders’ implicit biases against, say, women or visible minorities. Citing evidence that, for instance, “commercial face recognition systems have much higher error rates for dark-skinned women while having minimal errors on light skinned men,” computer scientist Timnit Gebru, formerly the co-lead …

Big Tech and Regulation—A Response to the Quillette Editors

Donald Trump has been permanently suspended from Twitter. And Facebook, Reddit, Twitch, Shopify, Snap, Stripe, Discord, and—most crushingly of all—Pinterest. This was swiftly followed by a swathe of account purges across various platforms, ostensibly on the grounds that terms of service had been violated. Bizarrely, conservatives reacted to this development by lamenting the lack of arbitrary government intervention in private enterprise, while their liberal opponents celebrated corporate squashing of individual expression. If you don’t like it, build your own app. Arguably more important, if less sensational, has been the coordinated nuking of the efforts of those Trump fans who did, in fact, build their own app. Google and Apple banned conservative social media aspirant Parler from their app stores, effectively throttling its only viable distribution channels. Amazon then went a step further and revoked Parler’s right to host its site on its web service, AWS. For good measure, authentication service Okta and internet-to-telecoms interface platform Twilio withdrew their infrastructure too. If you don’t like it, build your own internet. The fallout has been intense and …

Social-Media Oligopolists Are the New Railroad Barons. It’s Time for Washington to Treat Them Accordingly

In 1964, an Ohio Ku Klux Klan leader named Clarence Brandenburg told a Cincinnati-based reporter that his hate group would soon be holding a rally in a rural area of Hamilton County. In the filmed portions of that rally, which later became the focus of legal prosecution, robed men, some with guns, could be seen burning a cross and making speeches, infamously demanding “revengeance” against blacks (they used another word, of course), Jews, and the white politicians who were supposedly betraying their own “caucasian race.” They also revealed a plan for an imminent march on Washington, DC. In American First-Amendment jurisprudence, Brandenburg’s name is now a byword for the test that is used in assessing the validity of laws against inflammatory speech—especially speech that can lead to the sort of hateful mob activity that played out at the US Capitol last Wednesday. When details of the Hamilton County rally were made public, prosecutors successfully charged Brandenburg under Ohio’s criminal syndicalism statute, a 1919 law that, in the spirit of the first Red Scare, criminalized anyone …