Andrew Tate and the morality of the ban hammer
What digital God can correctly banish all sinners?
This week TikTok, Instagram and Facebook banned kickboxer turned life coach Andrew Tate. Add those platforms to Twitter, who banned him in 2017 for suggesting victims of Harvey Weinstein bared responsibility for their sexual assaults.
Fair warning, I’ve had very little exposure to Tate. Although I don’t suspect I was his target demographic. My media diet has a few rules and taking life advice from kickboxers beyond calorie counting, exercise and kicking is one of them.
By all reporting he is a pretty heinous dude with retrograde views about women and society at the tip of the iceberg.
But the digital exile got me thinking back to a more innocent age. Back when legions of users on Twitter would beseech the CEO and founder of the social network to clean up its act. Stop allowing awful content to permeate what was otherwise a revolutionary platform for free expression.
Those most passionate found a simple battle cry:
“Ban the Nazis, Jack”
Let’s break this prayer down, word by word.
Ban in the internet slang meant to signify denying a user access to the platform. But things aren’t quite as simple as it sounds. At it’s simplest, a ban means that the user name of the offending patron cannot log in to their account. So let’s say the Nazi we are talking about is @AdolfH. When @AdolfH starts spouting his nonsense the platform would recognize him and his crimes and the next time he tries to post or log on, he’d find that he was prevented from doing exactly that.
But that’s not really all that effective. Because there is no limit to how many accounts a human can make. So when @AdolfH is gone, up comes @AdolfH420. Then @AdolfH69. Then @AdolfH237382732862362. Sure, you can assume that person is the same as the others who have been banned and hit any new account for ban evasion, but there are ways of shielding that.
What we REALLY want is a permanent mark. Like a curse. When @AdolfH offends, we want a small red X to appear on his screen. Maybe even better, his face, like Post Malone. This would follow him around to every device he ever tried to log into and prevent him from doing so. A true malcontent would be gone forever.
Unfortunately, try as we might, permanent curses are to our current science impossible and surely if they were they’d be subject to some kind of government regulation.
So we are left to the technical solutions we have imperfect though they might be. An awful person with a true desire to pee in our digital pool will have unlimited chances to do it.
And now our easiest word to sort out…
In this sentence at least The is a pretty straight forward article meant to bridge the gap between Ban and Nazis. Good. Easy.
Bringing us to the trickiest word in this sentence…
Most popularly, if in notoriety and not enthusiasm, the Nazis are National Socialists who ran Germany during the period leading up to and through the Second World War. They have a track record of brutal authoritarianism and the wholesale slaughter of citizens based on religion, sexuality and ethnicity.
Western culture long ago decided they are bad news.
However, in our modern vernacular the term becomes more porous. Here are a few definitions off the top of my head:
People who seek to align themselves with the German Nazi party or even more bafflingly seek to revive the long dormant brand. There are not that many of those around, but banning them from posting would be fairly uncontroversial due to the afore mentioned lack of popularity.
People who believe that the Nazis had, if not understandable, outright good ideas. Let’s list among them ideas of authoritarianism and racism. This is a lot more pernicious as it becomes a test of judgement made more complicated since the toxicity of the label makes it a favorite of edgelords seeking attention.
People for whom you simply don’t like and would like to attach to the least popular brand in western society.
Our last two are really where things get complicated.
What makes a Nazi if the Nazi doesn’t walk into the door saying “I’m a Nazi and I mean that literally!” and really, really means it?
Which brings us to the final word…
Jack Dorsey founded Twitter in 2006 and during his run as leader and founder of the site he established it as an undeniably influential platform. For the purposes of this column we are going to reduce him to a simpler term: Guy Who Can Do Something.
If we are to deny how sticky this problem is and assume it’s the simplest problem in the world, he’d be the one to hit the keystrokes to end it.
But being the man with power is very different from being able to effectively identify and rectify the problem. To dole out the correct amount of discipline, to solve it without creating unintended consequences that degrade the performance for others is complicated.
Before we go any further, let me tell a personal story.
Around the time that Jack founded Twitter, I co-founded a website called iTricks.com. It sought to cover magic industry news (TA-DA!, not The Gathering) and did so successfully. I served as the main writer on the blog for many years as well as the moderator of the comment section.
I was the Guy Who Can Do Something.
Now let me tell you a little about the magic industry. Like many niches, the people who hate it the most are the people who are the most invested. Rivalries are forged and impassioned fans sound off on sites where they know their opinions will be read by other fellow obsessives. At the time I ran the site, there was no more controversial magician than Criss Angel.
Criss Angel is a rarity in the world of magic. Firstly, he has abs. Secondly, he had two things that many magicians covet… a television series and a live show in Vegas.
iTricks desired to be a fair clearinghouse of information for the entire magic industry. Despite the fact that Criss was widely derided amongst his peers, denying them news about him would have left a deliberately incomplete picture of the industry. So we covered Criss, a lot.
Professional reviews of his television show Mindfreak, which were largely unkind. Reviews of his live show Believe, also lyrically cruel. But also his dating habits. His personal appearances. News of his career including renewals from his network and third-party rankings of Las Vegas ticket sales.
Here is something else you need to know about Criss Angel. He’s got a lot of fans who care very little for the magic industry outside of him. They called themselves The Loyals and in an era which saw the explosion of online fandom for a lot of art popular with teen girls (Harry Potter, Twilight et. al.) he was no different.
When we posted about Criss, the Loyals flocked to the comment sections. They cheered on their hero.
I loved The Loyals. Mostly because creating content on the internet is a very lonely profession. I found it kind of like throwing four messages in four bottles into the ocean every day. If when I woke in the morning I saw 18 bottles washed on the shore I was thrilled to know that anyone read my missives in the first place even if they read in all caps: CRISS! YOU’RE SO TALENTED! I LOVE YOU!
It was nice to know someone noticed.
Then Charles appeared. He HATED Criss.
At first, it was a comment every few Criss posts. He derided Angel as an untalented hack who faked every trick he ever performed and therefore undeserving of his success. He was older than the rest of Loyals, often referring to his granddaughter who was more talented and smarter than Criss. But most importantly to this story, he became increasingly antagonistic to The Loyals.
He belittled their hero and them personally for enjoying such a fraud.
Soon there was not a single Criss post that didn’t have a Charles comment. And at first, I LOVED IT!
If the average iTricks posts garnered .5 comment, Criss posts regularly racked up dozens… if not over a hundred when a flame war got particularly spicy.
So many people read my work! And they were so emotionally triggered by it they would fight about it for hours! If not days!
What I didn’t realize is that a comment section is a living community. If it stops becoming fun, people will leave.
Charles was a troll. Like many trolls he had more time in his day dedicated to griefing casual readers than the casual readers had to respond.
So the comments section slowly weakened. Then eventually all but died.
Soon, Criss posts ONLY had Charles comments.
One of the wisest men I’ve ever met once told me, “You get the chat room you deserve.” It’s a shorthand for a simple idea. When you create a gathering point for commentary you are responsible for guiding it responsibly. If you want congenial dialogue, you need to punish those who do not provide it. If you have a hands off approach you will quickly realize that only the most bored will rule and you are effectively keeping the lights on for them to do what they will with your platform.
In hindsight, I should have banned Charles. And then Charles420. Then Charles69. Then Charles237382732862362.
I liked the Loyals more. No matter the public feelings for Angel, I appreciated their youthful enthusiasm for what he did. I remembered the places I used to read about my passions at that age and how I would respond to news. It was pure.
By not doing anything I let someone very bitter ruin their gathering place.
Moderation matters. The internet is an extension of all communication and the administrator is something between a parent and God.
I also tell you this to say that it’s very, very hard. It’s hard to know where the line is. Charles never violated a stated rule, he was just a dickhead.
If we are to look at my story in relation to Twitter, a LOT of people would be banned.
But, then again, I knew that community well. It contained at most a few hundred people. Twitter has (at the time of this writing) 396.5 million.
The desire to rule with an iron fist is understandable. But what man can do it with that size of a user base? What team? All day and night? Forever?
And what happens when the users become used to the toxicity? When they want to fight it and protect their turf?
And back to our problem of identifying the odious content that harshes the vibe. Can you codify that?
Take it beyond the artistic merits of Criss Angel and make it about the most contentious arguments of our modern era. Gender, politics, religion and Star Wars which has somehow become all of the previous issues wrapped into one. Is it even possible to “Ban the Nazis” no matter how large a consensus to do it?
And so, we come to our final question: why do we make the demand?
Is it a call for censorship?
A slip in the suggestion box of our digital town square?
Is it a futile ask from a harried man to an uncaring God?
Or more frustratingly, is it a reasonable prayer to a God that agrees with us but even in his infinite power can not fulfill it.
If that’s the case, what can we learn from our unfulfilled prayers. Isn’t every ask of the heavens a carbon copy of our own soul at that moment? No matter how righteous or ugly: it’s us.
If we understand that we are all unique then it’s impossible to find a true consensus.
We are the righteous but we disagree on who the wicked are, what is a sin or a fair punishment for the transgression.
So even if God wants the best for us to act on everyone’s plea simultaneously could leave Him without a kingdom.
Very well done and thought provoking. Thank you!