Jordan Peterson is mad at the mods
Cancel culture discourse has been completely consumed by rich posters dealing with online's oldest problem.
A few months ago I got an email that most people who use Twitter will recognize: the mods had locked my account. I suppose that I could lovingly detail the contours of this injustice — the innocence of my tweet, the double standard I was subjected to, the second third and fourth order political implications of not being able to say what I said, and so on — but instead, I’d like to talk about what actually went through my head:
That’s it. I saw the subject line, muscle memory kicked in, my eyes glazed over as I scrolled past the rest of the email, clicked on the button that deletes the tweet and unlocks your account, and went back to posting.
As you may have guessed, I bring this up because we are now five days into an extended meltdown by right-wing media over the exact same thing happening to Jordan Peterson. Jordan tweeted some ridiculous transphobic thing about Elliot Page, Twitter predictably locked his account, and ever since then he has been making a massive show of his very brave refusal to delete it. As have, of course, all of the usual liberal-right infotainment Cancel Culture warriors. 
I have zero interest in using this post to engage in our completely scripted debate over free speech, because no matter what I write here, liberal-right ideologues are just going to respond with the usual talking points. But I do want to stress that even if you are some kind of free speech absolutist, this behavior is absolutely crazy. There is a real critique to be made about the way that private capital controls speech in the United States, but it has become so completely dominated with the minor grievances of the rich and powerful that it’s hard to believe this has anything to do with principle. And nothing makes that clearer than Jordan Peterson bitching about the mods.
Contrary to what the Cancel Culture warriors would have you believe, political censorship on the internet is not a new problem. For most of the world, it’s been a fact of life for decades. Posters have been at war with the mods over what they can and cannot say ever since the ancient era of Usenet, and with all of the same complaints in play: unfair bans, oppressive rules, inconsistent enforcement, and so on.
I could point to a million examples of this. Look at Something Awful — a site that’s been around since 1999, and with such aggressive moderation that liberals have begged Twitter to emulate it. Consider the POE News forums — launched in 2002, and moderated so heavily that its own owner eventually just deactivated the entire site. Want to see what draconian posting rules look like? Here’s an excerpt from Shakesville’s 2400+ word comment policy:
Upvotes are encouraged so that community members can see that their comments were valuable to others. Downvotes, however, are prohibited…Some GIFs can trigger tonic clonic (convulsive) seizures…please do not post GIFs in comments…Also off-limits…disrespecting the mods, including ignoring them, telling contributors what they should be writing about or how they should be writing about it, and/or invoking the blogmistress’ personal experience to use against her…
This is an extreme example, but the point stands: the overwhelming majority of the internet has always posted at the mercy of completely unaccountable mods. This is the closest thing to a public platform we’ve ever had. And since media figures who have their own platforms couldn’t be bothered to talk about this problem, we’ve found ways to deal with.
I’ve already touched on one: superficial compliance. Ordinary Twitter users get the Your Account Has Been Locked email on a regular basis — it’s happened to more 43% of my followers, according to an unscientific poll I took this morning. And most people just do the same thing: delete the post and get back to posting. Why? Because everyone knows that you can’t win appeal, and everyone knows that you only deleted it because you had to.
There’s also another standard practice, which Peterson’s defenders have already discovered: screenshot and post the Your Account Has Been Locked notification. Which includes a copy of the tweet. Which means that you are literally reposting the exact same tweet. For some reason (probably because they want to be transparent) Twitter has never enforced this as a violation of its rules, which is why it’s trivially easy to find accounts posting their takedown notifications on a regular basis.
Another trick they’ve discovered: say what you want to say somewhere else, and then post a link to it. In this video, Peterson spends 15 minutes exhaustively laying out the exact point that he was supposedly silenced for. This has been standard practice among most people online as a way to finesse censorship for decades; I doubt most people even think of it as finessing censorship at this point, because it’s just how you post certain things on certain sites.
None of this, of course, is how it should be. Whatever speech rights you think we should or shouldn’t have, it’s obviously unworkable for them to be mediated and enforced in our society by a patchwork of micro-tyrannies ruled by unaccoutable mods.
But outside of the hothouse of liberal-right media, what most people I’ve talked to find striking about Peterson’s case is how explosive the meltdown has been over an unusually minor episode of a problem that is far more consequential for most other people — and that the media could not be bothered to care about until recently.
A few paragraphs up I said that Peterson has only been supposedly silenced. Why supposedly? Because we all know that this isn’t actually true in any meaningful sense. Peterson has been all over the news ever since. Here’s what happened just two days later:
Peterson and his fans can complain about the symbolic injustice of having to make an obviously insincere pro forma admission of a crime we all know he doesn’t think he’s guilty of, but as a practical matter the man is always going to have a larger megaphone to speak through than 99.99% of every person who has ever lived. Larger by several orders of magnitude. When your typical account on Twitter gets banned, it’s entirely possible that no one will ever hear from them again; even if they do come back, they have to start rebuilding their audience from scratch. If Jordan Peterson wants to speak to hundreds of thousands of people, all he has to do is turn on his webcam and start crying about the feminization of Batman or whatever.
So when our Free Speech media warriors can’t be bothered to say a word about lowbie posters getting arrested, for example — and then demand solidarity with some rich celebrity who already got a paying gig out of this, and who isn’t even suspended from Twitter — you can imagine how we’re going to react.