Photo: Steve Floyd
The Netflix release of the documentary Nobody Speak, Trials of the Free Press got me obsessed with re-reading about PayPal founder Peter Thiel and his involvement in backing the Hulk Hogan suit against Gawker for posting an excerpt from a sex tape he was in. You can read about Thiel’s motivations, but the main takeaway is that a billionaire single-handedly wiped out a major independent media outlet for reporting things about himself and his friends in Silicon Valley that he didn’t like.
There’s something we have to acknowledge about the darker interpretations and utilizations of the first amendment: There’s a dogmatic belief among purists that one should be sternly devoted and uncompromising to the doctrine of all or nothing, the “you either believe in it or you don’t” concept of protecting free speech. Libertarians like Peter Thiel and baby fascist Milo Yiannapoulos want free speech to be treated with the same consideration as the laissez-faire philosophy of a free capitalist system, where free speech and ideas can compete against each other and have marketable value. And through anti-multiculturalism rhetoric, they’ve managed to hijack the function of free speech and press to serve their interests. They (and the corporations that think like them) want unlimited freedom of speech extended to themselves to degrade groups of people with impunity through public discourse or systematic oppression, and they will hesitate at nothing to silence, lambast or sue anyone who obstructs or even mocks corporatocracy.
This belief that abhorrent and/or thinly veiled threatening racist and sexist language should be tolerated in the so-called “marketplace of ideas” because it “leads to the truth” is regurgitated by edge lords all over the internet. A few years ago, I was added to a Facebook meme group some Houstonians might be familiar with called “All People No Value.” Let that name sink in. In the very beginning, there was some decent dumpster material that got a solid “heh heh” out of me, but at some point it very quickly got littered by, for example, a picture of a black man using a cell phone with top text that said “Siri take me home” followed by bottom text that said “starting route to local jail.” I can’t remember if that was verbatim, but it’s true to the spirit of unfunny, degrading trash that admins would approve but never post themselves. And that was mild. You can’t see them tipping their fedoras right now, but they want you to know that this was a bold experimental marketplace of ideas where wholesome puppies and pictures of violent anal rape with edgy bottom text could co-exist. If you don’t like it you can just leave!
The decision for me to leave the group was clear, but before I split I thought it would be a good idea to post a suggestion that maybe everyone should reconsider posting n***** memes or liking them because, well, they’re repulsive and also because it’s conceivable that they can be screenshot by anybody in the group and maybe they should think twice before clicking submit? No pressure. Keep showing yourself in the name of free speech. It’s supposed to make way for the truth to prevail!
The thought of screenshotting racist normie memes or comments and doxxing anyone never occurred to me. I posted because I had a few friends that were still members, and my hope was that they and anyone else who was on the fence would abandon ship even if they were silent, inactive observers.
However, I grossly underestimated the response I would get. This was a cult. I knew there would be some backlash, but within the one hundred or so comments I learned that you do NOT criticize the group. And if you make it known that you are leaving, you are treated as a suppressive person or, in my case, a self-righteous cunt. A few members even threatened to doxx me even after I repeatedly said I wasn’t interested in doxxing anyone else. One commenter photoshopped my Facebook name and photo next to an MS paint drawing of a stick figure hanging from a noose with the words “all n****** should die” and politely asked if I would like to get doxxed with something he was able to shop in five minutes to prove a point… that anyone can get doxxed? For real or fabricated reasons? I don’t know. It shocked me enough to take a few screen shots and delete the post. The abuse was snowballing.
For a while, All People No Value had been grappling with users reporting content followed by suspensions or warnings. It was well known throughout the several hundred members that if APNV was reported one more time that would surely be the end of it. It’s what prompted the mods to change the privacy settings so that if anyone made another report it would be known that it came from within. I only wanted to say my peace and leave, but after I was told that I should be raped I was like “Fuck it.” There was no reason to protect this meme group or their stupid ideas about free speech, so I went for it. APNV was nuked within the hour. Everyone knew there was a backup group page called “The Joke” they could parachute to at any time, but I felt wonderful kicking these edge lords in the balls. Some members privately messaged me asking if I reported them, and my response was always “who, me? I would never rat!”
The irony of the situation is that these hairless trolls were so concerned with my critique of their racist, sexist safe space they couldn’t handle it and ended up being partially responsible for getting zucc’d. It was so easy to get them removed, but I’m aware that this is somewhat of an anomaly. Facebook can seemingly arbitrarily look the other way at homophobic racial slurs, or they can aggressively wipe it out along with critical journalism. Perhaps if they had vetted their members for covert snowflakes, maybe their utopia would have had a better chance of survival.
APNV was a microcosm of the free marketplace, and it failed the test of egalitarianism. It proved that it’s not possible to give equal value to all ideas. In fact, maybe Peter Thiel libertarians have the right idea about the way free speech operates in this country. In the marketplace, some ideas have more value than others, and eventually those ideas are bankrupted or get sold to the highest bidder. And in the center of it all is Hulk Hogan’s penis.