This past weekend, Twitter erupted into a storm of controversy when the “verified” status of conservative journalism icon Milo Yiannopoulos was taken away from him. The reasons were not explicitly stated but a letter from Twitter said it was for vague violations of the rules.
I've been sat on the naughty table! pic.twitter.com/2ppJ3X4J62
— Milo Yiannopoulos ✘ (@Nero) January 8, 2016
It really made no sense because verification isn’t supposed to mean anything other than that a notable Twitter user is who they claim to be. It’s so that users can know if the tweet they saw from William Shatner was really him or just some trekkie who used his name. So trying to take it away was a petty and stupid punishment. And it totally backfired, when thousands of Twitter users took Milo’s name as a protest and the hashtag #JesuisMilo became one of the top trends.
But this isn’t an article about the Milo/Twitter controversy. It’s about the bigger picture. Like they did with the traditional media, the Regressive Left goes out of its way to try to infiltrate and subvert the new internet media. In an age where so much of our news, communication, and political activism happens on internet social media, this is dangerous for conservatives and libertarians.
Recent trends on the internet have led to more and more social interaction happening on less and less places online. It used to be people talked on all kinds of mailing lists, forums, websites, chat rooms and other dispersed corners of the internet. But now, the vast majority of news, conversation and debate happen on just a few sites.
If these social media sites allow for the free discussion of ideas, you can have vibrant debate and news from a wide range of viewpoints. It can start social movements, cause revolutions, tell stories that major media won’t, maybe even change elections. But if they fall into the hands of people who oppose free speech, they can end up controlling a frightening chunk of the public awareness.
Twitter has become a problem because its corporate leadership is filled with regressive leftists. Not just that, but Saudi Arabia is now Twitter’s second-largest shareholder. The unholy alliance between Western leftists and Saudi Islamists means that various critics of Islamism have been punished by Twitter’s moderation, while the 50,000 Twitter accounts ISIS controls and uses to spread their propaganda can mostly operate freely.
After the Milo incident, people have been talking about trying to figure out alternatives. If Twitter continues to be more hostile against conservatives and libertarians, it might be necessary to try to set up some kind of new alternative to Twitter where Free Speech is protected.
Here’s a subject where I have some very personal experience.
A long time ago, before places like Twitter even existed, my hobby and other job (tabletop roleplaying games) did most of its discussion on internet forums. And by around a decade ago, the D&D hobby ended up doing most of its discussion on one forum in particular. Originally, this forum was so open that it was nicknamed The Wild West. Everyone could say what they wanted to. And like most nerd hobbies, there were a lot of flame-wars. Eventually, the off-topic forum on the board became more and more important, and soon there were quite a few nerds there arguing about politics as well as elves or magic swords.
Pretty soon, a small group of people, many of whom had joined the forum just to talk about politics, a few of whom weren’t even RPG gamers at all, ended up complaining about harassment and dangerous speech. These proto-SJWs (the term SJW not having been invented yet) wrote up a manifesto demanding a safe space (back then they called it an emotionally safe environment). At first they were laughed out of the room. The whole idea seemed crazy. But this group brought in more of their friends. Eventually some of them became moderators. And even though the majority of users had resoundingly rejected their demands for censorship, they started to change policy so that they could ban anyone who didn’t agree with them.
As soon as people realized what had happened (in a really short time span too) and that it was already practically impossible to stop the new censorship on this forum, attempts at making rival forums started to spring up. Almost all of them failed, for many different reasons. Some of them chose to focus on subjects that were too narrow. Some of them weren’t good at getting a message out. A lot of them defined themselves as “the anti-SJW forum” and ended up attracting only tiny audiences. More than a few of them became hypocrites about free speech, banning people who didn’t agree with their right-wing political views just like the big forum was banning people who didn’t agree with their leftist political view.
For one reason or another, they all flopped. And this only made the big forum seem all the more unstoppable. It probably wasn’t a bad bet to predict, when I announced I was going to start a new forum called theRPGsite, that it too would come to nothing. But instead, I made it a success, in less than six months. And it’s been going strong for almost a decade now. It’s now one of the top Tabletop RPG forums around. It has some of the most vibrant discussions. It has one of the biggest communities of game designers in the entire hobby. People who were sick of the bias and bannings over on the other forum came to us in droves. But so did a lot of other people, who just found theRPGsite to be better for what they wanted. Less off-topic, more free-speech, no enforced collectivism.
It became one of the best places to talk about D&D and other RPGs. It was one of the reasons that when a new edition of D&D was in the works, the designers hired me (and not any of the people from that other forum) to be a Consultant on the project. The new 5th edition of D&D has become a huge success. So creating a space for alternative ideas that would almost certainly have been blocked otherwise led to saving the Tabletop RPG hobby from being controlled by the Regressive Left.
Why did I succeed where others failed?
I think there’s a formula to this, and you can use the same formula I used to make theRPGsite work to make a free-speech alternative to Twitter work.
First, if you want to make an alternative social media site that’s safe for conservatives AND successful, you can’t make it a “Conservative site.” That would automatically turn it into an echo chamber; it would doom the site. It can’t be defined as “we’re opposed to Twitter.” It has to be defined as “we’re a better, more free social media site.” If it only appeals to people who are disgruntled at Twitter, that’s all you’re going to get – and it’ll be irrelevant.
In other words, it has to be a social media site FIRST. Consider it from the other side: has there ever been a social media site founded by leftists that became a huge success? No. But that’s not their strategy. Instead, they take over social media sites that are already successful and then make them havens for censorship and collectivist groupthink. And becoming more partisan hurts sites like Twitter, whose stock is now at its lowest point ever.
The whole point of the SJW strategy is that sites like Twitter at least appear neutral. They still claim to be for everyone. Trying to make a rabidly conservative social media site succeed enough to be a real alternative to Twitter would be foolish.
Compared to some of the other forums that tried to set themselves up as competitors, I made sure that theRPGsite was first and foremost a cool place to talk about games. That same broad-based appeal is even more important if you’re talking about a modern social media site. To make a site that can really compete with Twitter, you need to make it one where liberals, moderates, and people not interested about politics at all will go. That’s the biggest challenge.
Second, it means that you need to offer a system that’s better than Twitter’s, or at least different. Maybe something where it’s even easier to connect with people and groups, or to focus yourself in certain areas of interest. Whatever the case, you need a big tent. It can’t just be about politics.
Mind you, if you want it to beat Twitter at being the aggregator of news and political events, one of the things you’ll have to do is figure out a way to make it better at networking between the site, major media sites, political sites, and news blogs. That would be a killer app. With theRPGsite, I went out of my way to draw in and encourage game designers to come, talk about their games, use the forum, and see it as a much healthier and more useful promotional tool than the other forum was.
Third, of course, you need to have an unwavering commitment to Free Speech. This means that you have the mechanics of the system itself set up to make it really hard for censorship to even happen. In the case of theRPGsite, it meant having a mission statement and moderators who don’t go around handing out bans for what people think. And it meant having a boss (me) with thick enough skin that there can be hundred-page threads about games I hate, or posters who constantly criticize me, the games I’ve written, and the stuff I like, and know they’re completely safe to do so. Moderation has to be limited to stuff like spam, illegal material or activity, or efforts to disrupt the functioning of the site itself. Nothing else.
In brief: it can’t be just about what you like or what you’re against. It can’t be hypocritical on free speech. It has to have as good or better a ratio than Twitter of stuff you find interesting versus stuff you’d just swipe past. In either structure or administration, it MUST have free-speech hardwired into the whole system so no one can subvert it. That’s the recipe.
If someone can set something like that up, you’ll find that the enemy will largely do the rest for you. With theRPGsite, the more the other forum clamped down on free speech, the more people left it to come to my site. The more the moderates left, the more that the leftists could clamp down. John Gilmore (of the Electronic Frontier Foundation) once famously said that the internet interprets censorship as damage and tries to repair itself around that. If cultural libertarians can create a social media site that is equally appealing but more committed to Free Speech than the others, that cycle of dissatisfaction with censorship will lead to steady gain. If you build it right, they will come.
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Kasimir Urbanski doesn’t write on a specific subject; he’s EveryJoe’s resident maniac-at-large. A recovering Humanities academic and world-traveler, he now lives in South America and is a researcher of fringe religion, eastern philosophy, and esoteric consciousness-expansion. In his spare time he writes tabletop RPGs, and blogs about them at therpgpundit.blogspot.com. Follow Kasimir on Twitter @KasimirUrbanski.
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