When considering the inescapable “free speech” debate there is an important maxim I want everyone to keep at the top of mind:
Never in the history of the world have more human dingleberries had larger platforms to spew deranged nonsense about politics than they do right now, at this moment. We are in a golden age for fools with political views outside the mainstream.
If you bookmark this page and come back to it in a week, or a month, or a year, the dingleberry maxim will be as true then as it is today. There seems to be a Moore’s Law for the dispersion of idiotic content and no matter what the cEnSorS do to slow it down, the takes transistors still find a way to double capacity every year.
The breadth and depth of this speech is so vast that someone who hasn’t engrossed themselves in internet political culture might have no idea of its reach. If you are over the age of 35, there are people on YouTube and Twitch and TikTok that you have never heard of who have significantly larger audiences for their radical political ravings than the most preeminent policy journals had during your formative years.
Example: Hasan Piker or “Hasanabi” is a 30-year-old smokeshow socialist gamer who once complimented the Mujahideen heroes for fucking Dan Crenshaw in the eyehole. He makes over $200,000 per month to share his political insights with his 1.5 million followers in between binge sessions of Grand Theft Auto V. I promise you that even in the heyday of Henry Luce’s Time, no political writer, anywhere, ever brought in that kind of cheddar.
And when it comes to eyeballs, Hasanabi has nothing on right-wing YouTuber Steven Crowder, who has over 5 million subscribers. Crowder’s signature contribution to the national dialogue is a “Socialism is for F*gs” t-shirt, where the asterisk is a wingding of a stork carrying a baby.
There are more, so many more. The self-described “most censored rapper in the country,” is Bryson Gray, a comically bad wordsmith who has ridden his most recent song, “Let’s Go Brandon”—for the uninitiated, this is code for “Fuck Joe Biden”—to the #1 spot of the iTunes download charts. So much censorship. In Gray’s monument to political protest songs of yore, he fantasizes about taking Biden out back for a round of “Smear the Queer.” Though to be honest, I kind of doubt that Biden is into that kind of role play.
The Daily Wire has become a home for misfit, canceled toys and as a result they are dominating the podcast charts, as well as YouTube and Facebook. Allison Williams got the axe from ESPN for refusing the vax and now she joins fellow medical science skeptic Candace Owens on a site that has the kind of reach that would have given R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. a thrill up his leg during the salad days of the American Spectator.
Over on Telegram, Ron Watkins, the son of a slovenly hog farmer who is almost certainly behind QAnon, has amassed a half million followers, as a second act following Q’s successful gambit that convinced tens of millions of Americans serial sexual harasser Donald Trump was stopping a secret, omnipresent pedophile ring.
And yet conservatives—the people who used to never shut up about the unlimited power of markets—won’t stop complaining about all of the Big Bad Businesses that are discriminating against their viewpoints. Back when the Republicans held Congress they hosted multiple hearings about the “censorship” of conservatives online that featured the MAGA sibling tour de force, Diamond & Silk. The duo has over 2 million likes on their Facebook page—including 14 of my friends, cringe—with a prominent button at the top that allows users to donate funds to their “journalism.” Facebook will begin taking fees on these subscriptions in 2023.
This is a serious question: If this were 1950, or 1993, or whenever right-wingers now say the golden era of free speech was, how big do you think the audience for Candace Owens, or Steven Crowder, or Ron Watkins, or Diamond & Silk would be?
Just for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that the answer is 1950, just so that we can note that three of those folks are non-white, so they would’ve been on the receiving end of an actual government effort to suppress their constitutional rights and this would have been supported by their conservative forebears up through (at least) the 1960s. From that point up until the mid-aughts the absolute best possible case scenario for these “influencers” would have been niche talk-radio stardom. More likely they would have been sending unintelligible, wheels-off letters to the editors of their local papers.
But today they’re all amassing generational wealth by simultaneously telling people that Joe Biden has dementia and is the mastermind of the greatest crime in world history.
For every Piker, Crowder, and Owens, there are countless mini-influencers amassing thousands upon thousands of followers for every radical ideology under the sun. Antifas. Proud Boys. Oath Keepers. The Dirtbag Left. Anti-vaxxers. Harvard professors who yearn for a Catholic theocracy. Flat Earthers.
Literally Flat Earthers. That is a thing.
Meanwhile despite Facebook’s supposed monopoly on the takes market, MAGA social media is fast becoming the most crowded start-up vertical in the entirety of the tech economy: Gettr, Parler, Gab, TRUTH, and Telegram are all competing to be the platform of choice for people who want to post AOC slasher porn and Sonic scat memes.
Years ago the people who are now on Gab would’ve been either doing Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: emails to their annoyed nephews or meeting in the dark room at the local RST Video for a weekly rendezvous.
Today they have multiple platforms to share whatever taboo shit pops into their brains. And if the TikTok algorithm hits right, their take could get a six-figure audience of teens from Bangor to Brisbane.
Despite this vast diarrhea ocean of amateur punditry, it is the received wisdom on the right that anyone who shares their politics is being SILENCED. Conservatives suggest that the threats against ordinary folks who just want to dabble in their God-given right to do some light hate speech are so grave that anti-PC real Americans need to look over their shoulder for the Woke KGB anytime they want to deadname someone for the lulz.
National Review’s Rich Lowry entered the fray on this point yesterday sharing a tweet that declared the real “bad thing” about the never-ending saga over Dave Chapelle’s trans “jokes” is that the pushback Chapelle has received will have a “chilling effect” on young comedians.
But what evidence is there for this exactly?
It seems to me that the incentives for an ambitious young contrarian are exactly the opposite.
Dave Chapelle is a national sensation! People won’t stop talking about him! When was the last time this many people cared about a stand-up act?
Meanwhile, the number one cable news show host is a white nationalist troll. The top articles on Facebook are consistently posted by a meathead conspiracist and the anti-pc poster boy. The Substack charts are littered with “silenced” heretics banking huge subscription fees. The number one podcaster in America, Joe Rogan, prides himself on engaging with verboten speech.
In fact, driving through New Orleans the other day I saw a massive billboard promoting the Rogan/Chappelle performance at the city’s basketball arena. These guys have become superstars while their more woke middle-aged ’90s comedian peers do theater shows or clubs.
If you’re a replacement-level young comedian (or rapper or political commentator) assessing the landscape right now, the success path of least resistance is riding a “cancellation” to widespread attention. Any other route requires actual talent, an ability to compete in the marketplace of ideas, and coming up with good material. Not easy!
Yes, there are instances of “cancel culture” that are problematic. And yes, there are real illiberal trends on the left and right to be worried about. And yes, in other contexts, the mob mentality of the internet has chilled people’s desire to share their political views. These problems are real and worth addressing in a serious way.
But anyone who is concerned that anti-trans jokes or subversive, conspiratorial political speech is going the way of the dodo can rest easy. The Dingleberry Maxim and Moore’s Content Law are as solid as ever.