Am I galaxy-brained enough for the newsletter world?
I spent some time thinking about a ridiculous Twitter thread.
Hello and a happy Monday, dear readers.
I’ve been trying to get one particular Twitter conversation out of my head for days. Matt Taibbi, who at one point in time was a really insightful guy who wrote a lot of really great stuff about the mid-late-00s financial crisis, tweeted… well, I’ll just show you.
It started out fine.
“I’m not particularly a leftist but I agree with people like Bernie Sanders, that politicians have to choose between donors and people, and until Democrats stop living off money from Goldman, Northrop, KKR, and Pfizer, we’ll get inherently regressive politics,” he tweeted.
Okay, cool. Obviously, there’s nothing new about the idea that big corporate donors have too much influence in politics. It’s something that people across the political spectrum actually agree on.1 Nothing about Taibbi’s tweet is particularly insightful or revelatory. But then someone asked him why he always frames this problem in terms of Democrats being beholden to corporate cash while ignoring that Republicans are just as stuck on that money, as well.
There are a few answers he could have given here. He could have said that he doesn’t expect better of Republicans, so he doesn’t bother criticizing them. He could have argued that there’s more dissonance between what Democrats say they’re for and what corporations want than there is with what Republicans say they’re for and what corporations want. There are a bunch of answers that he could have gone with to address this fair question. Instead, he went full galaxy brain mode.
“I find the Republicans mostly irrelevant, at least on speech,” he posted as a quote-tweet response. “Are Republicans advising Google, Twitter, Meta, Visa, MasterCard, Apple, Amazon, etc. on whom to censor? No. At the state level the Rs have passed some shitty laws, but at least they’re laws.”
He goes on to defend that point by saying, “Laws can be repealed. There’s a process. People zapped from platforms have no rights and no recourse.”
WHEW. Where to even start with this?
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To address Taibbi’s first question: Yes, Republicans are “advising Google, Twitter, Meta, Visa, MasterCard, Apple, Amazon, etc. on whom to censor”
Taibbi matter-of-factly says “no,” but that’s just flat-out false. Yes! Yes, these companies are being advised by Republicans to censor people, boost their own views over others, and even fire employees who dare to criticize them. Taibbi’s claim is absurd. Deep down, whether he’ll admit it or not, he knows this.
People at Facebook are so afraid to upset conservatives that the company decided to more or less write its content rules centered around how Republicans had been using the platform… only to then simply not enforce them when Republicans took an even more outlandish approach to platform use. Then, the company created its “XCheck” program, which gave special treatment to high profile conservatives like Ben Shapiro and Charlie Kirk. And don’t forget the many times Facebook executives directly intervened to protect right-wing accounts for fear of political backlash.
Twitter is its own sort of cesspool. You had former CEO Jack Dorsey taking meetings with guys like Ali Alexander, known for his far-right views and attempts to overturn the 2020 election. Dorsey said Alexander had “interesting points.”
In 2018, right-wing media personality Candace Owens took objection to Twitter listing her as “far-right.” Right-wing content creators insist that being called “far-right” is a slur, but it’s not. If someone called me “far-left,” I’d say, “Yep.” Dorsey immediately rushed to apologize to Owens… for accurately saying her political views were “far-right.”2
But also, no matter how the right feels about Twitter, the truth is that it amplifies right-wing content more than it amplifies content from liberals and progressives. That is a fact.
Plus, in 2019, Vice reported that when an employee asked why Twitter’s mostly-successful strategy of flushing the platform of members of ISIS wasn’t being used to address white supremacy (which violates Twitter rules) on the platform, the answer was simply that it didn’t want to risk blowback from Republicans.
With every sort of content filter, there is a tradeoff, he explained. When a platform aggressively enforces against ISIS content, for instance, it can also flag innocent accounts as well, such as Arabic language broadcasters. Society, in general, accepts the benefit of banning ISIS for inconveniencing some others, he said.
In separate discussions verified by Motherboard, that employee said Twitter hasn’t taken the same aggressive approach to white supremacist content because the collateral accounts that are impacted can, in some instances, be Republican politicians.
The employee argued that, on a technical level, content from Republican politicians could get swept up by algorithms aggressively removing white supremacist material. Banning politicians wouldn’t be accepted by society as a trade-off for flagging all of the white supremacist propaganda, he argued.
And then there’s billionaire Elon Musk, who recently purchased a 9.2% stake in Twitter. After moving Tesla’s headquarters from California to Texas, Musk was asked for his opinion on the state’s new anti-abortion bounty law. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) said that Musk was a fan of the “social policies” in the state, which are wildly right-wing. And Musk… didn’t exactly deny it?
Mastercard and Visa? Okay, here’s Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) demanding that the companies stop allowing Pornhub to use their services.
The point is that I could go on and on listing examples of Republicans in massively influential positions within these companies, but I doubt they’d be enough for Taibbi. You’ve got Peter Thiel putting his thumb on the scale at Facebook while donating tens of millions of dollars to Republicans. Facebook’s Joel Kaplan helped get Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination through the Senate.
Blah, blah, blah, etc.
I’m not even going to get into how ridiculous the idea that it’s worse to be, say, a pregnant woman forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term because of, as Taibbi put it, “some shitty laws,” than it is to be suspended from Twitter. He absolutely knows how ridiculous his argument is here, but he made it anyway.
Then again… maybe I’m the fool here.
Sure, Taibbi’s comment was stupid, ahistorical, and just plain old wrong. But on the other hand, his Substack apparently has “tens of thousands of paid subscribers,” landing him a spot at number 3 on Substack’s politics charts.
Also in the top 10, you’ve got purveyor of absolutely bonkers takes Glenn Greenwald, “COVID contrarian” Alex Berenson, Bari Weiss, a man known as “the most influential spreader of COVID misinformation online,” race science-enthusiast Andrew Sullivan, and Matt Yglesias.
These are not people I’d like to emulate. And yet, they make way, way, way, way more than I do3 with my writing.
I suppose I have to ask myself who the real fool is here. Maybe it’s me and not the guy who seems to think that Republican laws are no big deal because at least it’s not a Twitter ban.
Republicans tend to oppose corporate involvement in politics only in instances where they perceive corporate involvement as something that helps Democrats. In all other instances, well, to quote Mitt Romney, “Corporations are people, my friend!”
The reason they object to being called “far-right” is that they want their views to be considered “mainstream” and “common sense.” This is an attempt to shift the Overton window to the right. That’s all it is.
My annualized revenue from my Substack posts is currently less than the median U.S. income. Let’s put it that way. My point here is that this crew is clearly more in touch with what people want to read. Good for them, but bad for me.