Steven Crowder is a buffoon with a YouTube channel who churns out simplistic, reactionary political takes every day. This might be passably acceptable if he were funny – but he is not. He’s just annoying and obnoxious. Still, annoying and obnoxious people have populated the internet since it first became available to the masses: bitter insults were hurled at the dawn of the online bulletin board. And yet suddenly, the moralizing tattle-tales who comprise the contemporary digital media have decided that directing insults at public figures constitutes ‘harassment’ and/or ‘abuse,’ and are demanding that monopolistic tech companies effectively transform into school-marm disciplinarians – punishing anyone whose mean comments the journalists deem excessively hurtful.
Carlos Maza is not a child on a playground. He’s an adult professional employed by Vox, a major digital media company, which presumably compensates him financially for the internet videos he creates under some sort of journalistic pretense. Maza, who chose the Twitter username ‘@gaywonk’ and frequently discusses his sexual proclivities in public venues, was evidently shocked that others on the internet might be inclined to mock this. An adult who gets paid by a major media entity to espouse provocative political opinions online, such as routinely accusing others of being white supremacists, Maza was also evidently shocked that the targets of his accusations would respond with similarly combative insults.
Maza might be right or wrong in his contention that various people are white supremacists, or that street violence targeting his political adversaries is justified, or that free speech is an obsolete concept. But it should go without saying that these opinions are highly incendiary, and bound to provoke incendiary reactions in kind. Rather than accept this hostility as an inevitable consequence of his chosen profession, Maza has used the ensuing mean insults as a basis to demand that YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter more stringently regulate political speech on their platforms. His years of complaints culminated this week with a ‘viral’ tweet thread denouncing the allegedly heinous depredations of Crowder, who frequently ridicules Maza on YouTube. Issuing what he described as a ‘cry for help,’ Maza declared that YouTube was not doing enough to ‘protect’ him. Why Maza, a thirty-something adult journalist employed by a major media corporation, should require ‘protection’ of this sort was never fully elaborated.
Nonetheless, the outrage eventually snowballed to the point where YouTube could no longer afford to ignore it. Initially, some hapless sap manning their official Twitter account said YouTube had investigated the matter and unfortunately for the outrage peddlers, Crowder simply hadn’t violated any of their policies. Predictably, Maza became even more furious, and a chorus of journalists chimed in with their own blithering indignation. That was the point of no return for YouTube; nothing spooks them like the potential for a spate of negative articles in the elite press. Overnight they changed course and proclaimed that Crowder actually had in fact violated policy guidelines in an ‘egregious’ manner, and he was punished accordingly. The tattle-tales succeeded; Crowder had been sent to time-out. Perhaps by sheer coincidence YouTube magically concocted a brand new set of policies in the span of 24 hours… or they caved to the likes of Maza and his squawking Twitter allies. Whatever the true explanation, YouTube’s stated rationale for the anti-Crowder action was laughably unintelligible. While conceding that Crowder ‘did not violate our Community Guidelines,’ YouTube nevertheless decided to punish him in light of ‘the widespread harm to the YouTube community.’ What harm? What community? What are they even talking about?
Simultaneously, YouTube put out another banal blog post detailing new developments in their solemn commitment to ‘tackle hate,’ whatever the hell that means. Part of their hate-tackling initiative now includes ‘partnering closely with lawmakers’ to combat ‘extremism,’ a concept so fluid that it defies any coherent description, as well as ‘raising up authoritative voices,’ which essentially means giving precedence to established corporate media and snuffing out the little guy. Demands by journalists for YouTube to more aggressively police speech will inevitably result in independent journalists and commentators getting short shrift, or even receiving outright bans on comically spurious grounds – but that’s acceptable collateral damage for the journalists if they can ensure their political preferences are enacted in official tech company policy.
The contemporary online media, oblivious that their liberal cultural sensibilities are shared full-bore by growing portions of corporate America – Silicon Valley in particular – constantly pretend as though they are beleaguered victims, rather than culturally ascendent. The specter of Donald Trump gives them some fleeting justification for this posturing, but what they fail to realize is that the presidency is not the sole locus of power in the United States. Rather, cultural power is increasingly wielded in the Bay Area by a handful of unelected tech mavens. The economic preferences of these private officials might be roughly described as ‘libertarian,’ but on cultural questions they are firmly in line with the squealing journalists. That’s why the companies routinely cater to journalists’ obstreperous demands, and capitulate whenever one of them, like Maza, launches a protracted hissy fit. The companies of course seek to avoid bad publicity, and are pathetically oversensitive to criticism from the elite media – a concerted pressure campaign from the New York Times and CNN can coerce them into inventing brand new policies at the drop of a hat. But on a deeper level, their cultural attitudes are fundamentally in tune with the whinging media scolds. As such, the political sensibilities of the scolds are increasingly being codified into tech giants’ speech regulation policies.
In their hysterical offense-taking, the journalism hordes have come to resemble previous outrage profiteers: such as Christian conservative groups who crusaded against Howard Stern in the 1990s and 2000s, proclaiming him too vulgar for the airwaves, and calling for disciplinary authorities – then the federal government, in the form of the Federal Communications Commission – to purge him from the radio. No doubt the subjects of Stern’s ire, whether celebrities or ordinary individuals whom he often mocked, felt they were being ‘harassed’ in a similar fashion as Maza. (Stern’s regular conflict with the FCC actually made for entertaining radio. When he transitioned to satellite, free of governmental regulation, he became less interesting and relevant.)
The media mobs also share much in common with ‘concerned parent’ groups who fostered panic in the Nineties over music CDs with dirty or disturbing lyrics, like Eminem and Marilyn Manson. The problem with such lyrics, these phony front groups insisted, was that they created an ‘unsafe’ environment for the nation’s vulnerable youth. Maza invokes the same logic today, albeit with a different political spin. At heart, the censorious pretense is the same.
Silicon Valley’s eagerness to appease political instigators has been on full display since 2016, as they have validated the Russia-crazy narrative propounded by media elites and elected officials seeking an excuse to absolve themselves of responsibility for anything that’s gone wrong in America. According to this narrative, the election was fatally undermined by malicious Russia-directed Twitter trolls and Facebook memelords, who brainwashed pliable voters into believing that it was in their self-interest to elect someone as repellent as Trump. This narrative granted a convenient ‘out’ to the decrepit, debased US political class: they have never fully reckoned with the enormous failures that gave rise to the 2016 election result. Facebook later revealed that ads purchased by ‘Russia’ which allegedly impinged on our sacred democracy amounted to a grand total of ‘approximately $100,000’ over a 23-month period – a pitifully trivial sum which nonetheless was somehow spun as evidence that the American constitutional system was teetering on the verge of collapse. Rather than dispel this hyperbolic idiocy, tech titans fed into the delusion. They placated the mob.
Placating the mob, and lurching incessantly from crisis to manufactured crisis, is seemingly the only PR strategy available to these companies. In the wake of the Maza/Crowder nonsense, Sheera Frenkel of the New York Times anonymously quoted a high level Silicon Valley apparatchik who lamented: ‘I could see Mark [Zuckerberg] Sundar [Pichai] and Jack [Dorsey] tripping acid at Burning Man faster than I can see them all getting to a consensus on content policy.’ Ingesting hallucinogenic drugs together would likely be a better use of their time, because the position they’re in is manifestly untenable: constantly caving to pressure campaigns waged by an emotionally-reactive elite media, creating farcical ad hoc policy on the fly, and all the while seizing ever-more-enormous power for themselves to dictate the terms on which adults may consume political speech online. Their speech-regulation policies will never be sensible and rational, because there’s nothing sensible or rational about the position they’re in to begin with. They simply wield too much unilateral power, and the result is never-ending sputtering chaos.
Crowder’s mockery of Maza was juvenile and stupid. Maza’s wildly overwrought reaction was also juvenile and stupid, in its own special way. The two seem made for each other; it’s a shame they can’t hash out their dispute over a game of tiddlywinks on the playground. Instead, they bring forth their juvenile stupidity for all to see, and create a situation whereby the YouTube teachers must stage a sort of pathetic disciplinary intervention. It’s absurd and infantile, but then again, so is the present media climate.