An activist journalist tried to take down Quillette; it backfired
On May 15th, far right twitter troll Eoin Lenihan shared a noxious thread denigrating the hard-working journalists of the world as violent, thuggish vandals and rioters. The keyboard cretin would defame and demean the most vulnerable of our society, lumping them in with the Molotov-cocktail wielding, University campus dwelling, hair-trigger censures. A truer crime had never been committed.
The only problem—that didn’t happen.
If you had read the Columbia Journalism Review article written on June 12th by Jared Holt, however, you’d have never known. In fact, Holt, in his very first paragraph, presents Lenihan as a “far right social media user” with “no known association with any previously known organization that researches extremism.” On CJR’s official Twitter Feed, Lenihan is called an “established far-right troll.”
From this, you’d have never known that Dr. Eoin Lenihan had won a contract to work with the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change as an expert combatting far-right extremism. Nor would you have known that he currently works with the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). In communications with The Post Millennial, Lenihan reveals that Holt never asked any questions pertaining to the academic, occupational, or experiential background that would have qualified him to speak on or research in to the issue of online extremism.
So, how did Lenihan get involved in researching Antifa? That was another question Holt conspicuously failed to ask, according to the communications. Lenihan’s journey began after speaking with Dr. Udo Baron, another extremism expert who works with Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz – the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Germany—at a counter-extremism conference in Berlin. In a casual post-conference conversation, Dr. Baron had noted the lack of sources and insight into the far left, which prompted Lenihan to begin establishing a data set from which further information could be derived. He never set out to create a link between Antifa and journalists. The information which was published on his Twitter and later in Quillette was, as Lenihan described to The Post Millennial, a consequence of the creation of his data set.
According to Lenihan, it is standard practice, in any online demographic research, to establish 15-20 seed accounts from which to ascertain a wider demographic. In this case, Lenihan primarily utilized 16 self-identifying large Antifa collectives as his seed from which to pull nearly 60,000 Antifa or Antifa associated accounts. As extremism research often seeks to weed out those accounts with the most influence and interactions, Lenihan condensed the pool of accounts into a core of 962 with overlapping connections. Surprisingly, 22 of those 962 were found to be verified, with 15 being journalists. In his Quillette article, Lenihan wrote that this did not necessarily reflect or suggest an immediate assumption that these journalists were associated with Antifa. After all, journalists routinely have to follow a diverse array of accounts to keep tabs on various sources and stories. Lenihan wanted to note these journalists for further study, and began a preliminary assessment of some of the journalist’s work covering antifascist violence. Lenihan then noted that it was disturbing that some of the journalists with the most pronounced associations with the Antifa seed accounts had the most pro-Antifa coverage. This is not just a claim—he gives evidence of this.
But Holt’s article demonstrated a clear lack of understanding to Lenihan’s explanation of his methodology, and, based on the communications released to The Post Millennial, no attempt to rectify his lack of understanding.
In his CJR article, Holt claims Lenihan told him that his “methodology consisted of labelling twitter users as “highly connected” to Antifa if they had “8 or more connections” on Twitter to accounts either run by antifascist activists or by a lecturer at Dartmouth university.” The first problem is that he fails to mention that the “lecturer at Dartmouth” is Mark Bray, the author of the Antifascist handbook. Initially, Holt had failed basic fact-checking, and claimed Mark Bray was a Professor from Hong Kong. The second issue is that Lenihan’s methodology was not based on “eight” connections to any antifascist accounts, but eight connections to the seed pool of 16, or an eighth degree range. In short—those in the eighth degree range do not simply have “eight” Antifa connections on Twitter. They have eight connections to the initial, carefully selected seeds and within that dataset they are in the top 1.65% of most connected (to those seeds) out of 60,000 accounts. One hell of a connection.
But this story is about more than simply about one man’s research into the radical left, and the influence—in some cases, admitted influence—that might have in the media. After all, that’s not new. Political influence in the media is absolutely everywhere. Jared Holt himself does similar activity, instead keeping an eye on the radical right at Right Wing Watch. This is good and necessary work.
This story is about a lie. A lie about Eoin Lenihan that was told and promoted without any regard for truth that was very much within reach. Eoin Lenihan is not a “far right” keyboard warrior, as CJR is advertising. He has dedicated much of his life to quite the opposite. Holt makes a broad spectrum of suggestive claims which Lenihan evidences through released communications were never investigated or interrogated. Absolutely no follow ups were provided to the vague, seven initial questions Holt provided.
The few comments Holt did explicitly request from Lenihan were not included, despite Holt telling him in plain language that they would be.
In his responses to Holt, Lenihan noted that his study was not seeking to make a relation between journalists and Antifa—but was instead attempting to categorize Antifa accounts on Twitter. Holt never mentions this, and instead presents Lenihan’s research as targeting journalists exclusively.
Holt also declines to include Lenihan’s response to likely the singular most important personal question he asked, that regarding Lenihan’s Twitter suspension, instead choosing to craft his own narrative. After reporter Andy Ngo brought attention to Lenihan’s thread, Lenihan became inundated with threats, and reports against his account, and was eventually suspended as a result. That Lenihan used to operate a parody Twitter account which was suspended is irrelevant, as his personal Twitter predates that other account. Therefore, it does not violate Twitter’s policies on creating new accounts to avoid suspensions.
It appears that Lenihan’s only transgression was that old satire account. Bearing a resemblance to Godfrey Elfwick or Titania McGrath, he called it ProgDad, and it spoofed woke culture. It was legitimately funny, even receiving praise from Joe Rogan’s podcast. This is the only evidence that the Columbia Review of Journalism has to connect Lenihan to the “alt-right.” That’s it.
Lenihan’s research was not conclusively submitted to the Twitter commentariat for review, though. His work is currently undergoing the peer review process with Social Networks, another detail Holt failed to acquire despite its accessibility, choosing instead to lead people to believe it was deliberately withheld. Lenihan had begun to conclude and release some details about his findings only because of an upcoming talk he was giving on online counter-terrorism at a major European research University. The name of the University is known but being withheld by The Post Millennial to protect the peace of the event.
Ultimately, all of the details that were needed, were available. Lenihan was an open book, and honestly answered all of the questions posed to him.
For years, conservatives have claimed that Twitter censors their views; that Twitter has a “left-wing bias” and purposely blocks opinions on the right.
They are only partially correct, however.
Twitter does censor, suspend, and ban users and their tweets. Yes, this is prevalent on the right-wing.
However, Twitter is not a leftist haven either. In fact, Twitter has increased censorship leftist opinions, especially those that are on the more populist brand.
For example, a “Democratic Socialist” candidate for Congress, Joshua Collins, saw a one-week ban on Twitter after quarrelling with Republican congressional candidate Joey Saladino.
What this demonstrates is that Twitter does not have an explicit or implicit bias against the right-wing. Nor does it have a similar bias against the left-wing.
Twitter censors anyone that challenges the status quo from either side of the political spectrum.
The bias against the right
In a discussion on the Joe Rogan podcast, Tim Pool sat down with Jack Dorsey (Twitter CEO) and Vijaya Gadde (Twitter head for legal, policy, and trust and safety).
Pool described the platform as heavily favouring the “left” by enforcing rules such as misgendering. He said many Conservatives do not believe in this, and hence, there exists bias.
So Pool is right, but only partially.
Slavoj Zizek, the most prominent leftist philosopher alive today, is one of the fiercest critics of political correctness. He has, in fact, labelled it as one of the “most dangerous forms of authoritarianism.”
This form of radical liberalism, according to Zizek, has no real place on the actual left-wing. It is a form of liberal political discourse that is used by the establishment to divide people into competing identity camps.
Pool further claims that holding such an immense monopoly over online information, and enforcing its own biased set of vague rules, as Twitter does, are not conducive to free speech.
Gadde responded that Twitter “doesn’t look at the political spectrum of people when looking at their tweets.”
She may be right. However, when your platform already has an inherent bias, anyone who doesn’t wish to conform to this bias is at risk of being expunged.
And according to Pool, that is wrong.
The bias against the left
Leftists on the more populist side of the argument, such as Berniecrats and Marxists, have faced explicit censorship and bias on Twitter.
Joshua Collins, a socialist candidate running for the Democratic nomination for Congress (WA-10), personally faced the wrath of Twitter’s censorship.
Collins has more than 40,000 followers on Twitter. His fame has resulted in numerous fake accounts popping up using his name.
“I attempted to get verification because there were, at one time, five people pretending to be me, with my same display name and profile picture,” Collins told The Post Millennial.
According to him, he should thus be verified. But Twitter changed its rules fairly recently.
The Intercept mentions that “Twitter’s government relations team has been telling candidates seeking verification that they won’t be giving any new contenders a blue checkmark until after they win the state’s primary.”
Mckayla Wilkes, another socialist candidate for Congress, told The Post Millennial, “This leaves unverified candidates who are clearly public figures, like Cory Bush and Paula Jean Swearengin, and gives yet another advantage to incumbents.”
Rebecca Parson, a third socialist candidate for Congress, informed The Post Millennial that this decision by Twitter has, “made it harder to get found by media and to raise money through organic online traffic.” She says this is important for grassroots campaigns like hers.
Collins, Parson, and Wilkes mentioned that Twitter, “seems to make exceptions to their own policy, in opaque and arbitrary ways.”
In another instance, many Berniecrats were unable to check replies to a tweet by the Working Families Party. The WFP chose to endorse Warren over Bernie, and Twitter blocked Berniecrats from viewing replies to the tweet (and hence replying), but others were able to freely reply.
Parson also confirmed she couldn’t see the replies on the tweet.
In a more recent case, Joshua Collins was suspended from Twitter for proving that Joey Saladino, a YouTuber running for Congress as a Republican, drank his own piss in a video and used black people as a prop to propagate racist views.
Censorship affects populists, on the left and right
With the cases highlighted above, it is clear that Twitter’s arbitrary policies and lack of transparency is hindering discourse on its website.
As many on the right and left notice the challenges big-tech poses to discourse and politics in general, they are raising their voices.
It seems like it will only be a matter of time until these voices reach the doors of Congress.
Free speech is under threat, and the calls for censorship are coming from journalists. In the past few weeks, op-eds have been published in The Washington Post and The Walrus, as well as many other outlets, demanding that action be taken by legislators and corporations to restrain and control speech online. The writers of these op-eds are certain that the problems of violence and intolerance in our society can be solved by quieting those who espouse views that are anathema to a tolerant, equitable society. But there is something else at play here. They are not merely concerned for the public at large, but for the viability of their own outlets.
These op-eds that oppose free speech are chock full of good intentions—enough to pave a superhighway to hell. Indeed, it almost seems that the people running these establishment outlets want this more than anything. They pour out ink and pixels to evidence compassion for those who might feel hurt by words, fear that violent speech is a slippery slope to violent action, or that the population lacks enough discernment to parse speech for themselves, but none of these is a good reason for placing limits on our fundamental liberty.
From governments to establishment media outlets to corporations, the push for censorship is on. The op-ed in the Washington Post called for the U.S. to draft hate speech laws that would modify the First Amendment’s provision for free speech. While Canada has hate speech laws enshrined in its Charter of Rights and Freedoms, The Walrus’ essay demands that those restrictions tighten. Media outlets and authors demanding more censorship, not less, foolishly deny that free speech is essential for journalistic integrity.
In the case of WaPo’s Richard Stengel, he notes that it’s his career in publishing and diplomacy that gives him the bonafides to tell Americans what’s best for them and that it’s time for limits to their own free speech rights. He found that free speech rights were an “outlier.” This is not surprising. What is surprising is that a man who should know first hand how precious free speech is, is dazzled by censorious foreign nations.
Stengel’s critique of the First Amendment is that “it should not protect hateful speech that can cause violence by one group against another. In an age when everyone has a megaphone, that seems like a design flaw.” But this is a feature, not a bug. We must not change our core values simply because others don’t share them.
A bigger problem is how to determine just what constitutes hate speech. Stengel defines it as “speech that attacks and insults people on the basis of race, religion, ethnic origin and sexual orientation.” At first glance, that looks fine, until we realize that the definitions of all of those words and concepts are currently being interrogated and rewritten.
Meanwhile, North of the border in the more censorious landscape of Canada, Erica Lenti has penned an essay basically demanding that Canadian hate speech laws be strengthened. She advocates for the aims of the Canadian Digital Charter—an initiative to force social media companies to regulate and censor the content of their users. Lenti cites a Ryerson University professor who claims that “so much of the internet’s hate and violence problem can be blamed on a lack of oversight: the internet is the only global industry without regulation.” But we do not live in a global democracy, and if we did, Lenti would find that many of her values would be upended.
Why is it that writers—of all people—are advocating for external regulation of citizens’ expression? Are they simply motivated by the fear of losing their jobs? In a recent Quillette article on free speech, Jon Kay revealed to us the current lay of the land in establishment media:
As recently as the late 1990s, which is when I began my career in journalism, media organizations were able to insulate themselves against social panics and fads through the employment of a large corps of experienced, risk-averse, highly professional desk editors and middle managers. They supplied a sort of ideological ballast, so that a small number of activist journalists within the organization couldn’t exert veto power on controversial issues. Over the last 20 years, that entire stratum of professionals has been packaged out, and the editorial staffing in these organizations generally consists of just two groups: (a) a small corps of managing journalists in their 50s and 60s who are desperately trying to make it to retirement; and (b) a larger corps of poorly paid 20-somethings.
Perhaps the prospective retirees are just trying to hold on to their jobs as long as possible, but the poorly paid 20-somethings are probably naive enough to think that preventing people from expressing their opinions will lead to a “safer” environment where they will finally be able to thrive. The truth is, they are signing the death warrants for their own careers.
Their view that safety is more important than liberty will eat them as well as the rest of us. The things that matter most are not how we deal with our day to day concerns, but how we maintain a viable process to continue making decisions that ensure the greatest individual autonomy so that each person feels determinacy over their own lives. We are not our groups. We are much more.
For decades, legacy publications have had a monopoly on perceived veracity. The New York Times surety that it contained “all the news that was fit to print” went largely unquestioned. Now that anyone can access the digital megaphone, outlets fear that they will no longer have the final word. There is something of a power vacuum in media right now, and while that may be terrifying, it is actually a good thing. There are more people able to speak their minds, more ears that can hear them, more minds that can evaluate for themselves and think critically. There will be some rough spots, but the goodwill outweigh the difficulty. And even if it doesn’t, we have to uphold our principles, because without that we have nothing. The fact that we do not always live up to our highest expectations does not mean that they aren’t worth having.
The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Walrus, Vox, HuffPo, Slate… the list of outlets with editorials decrying free speech goes on. All of these “concerned” establishment media outlets don’t want speech restrictions for themselves—they want them for you. The scary news is that it seems to be working. The cries for silence are coming from those who already have a platform to speak. Interests of authoritarians are meeting those who want to keep their jobs, and those who feel cowed by an overindulgence of compassion. These writers would have us believe that there is nothing more frightening than a bigot with a microphone, but a populace that is not permitted to speak in full voice is substantially worse.
The Trudeau Liberals plan to regulate and censor your social media if reelected, according to a new report from Blacklock’s Reporter.
“To help stop the proliferation of violent extremism online, we will move forward with new regulations for social media platforms starting with a requirement that all platforms remove illegal content, including hate speech, within 24 hours or face significant financial penalties,” the Liberal Party of Canada responded to a questionnaire distributed by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
The Liberal statement was in response to the question: “Does your party support the development of a national strategy to combat online hate and disinformation?”
It has been noted by many experts that Trudeau’s plans for censoring social media are dangerous and Orwellian. Parliament had previously repealed Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act that had banned posts on the internet that were considered to spread “hatred or contempt.” Trudeau and the Liberals have been exploring reinstating that section.
Last year, Mark Steyn warned the Parliamentary Justice Committee’s task force on hate speech that “Ultimately, free speech is hate speech, and hate speech is free speech. It’s for the speech you hate, the speech you revile. The alternative to free speech is approved speech, and that necessarily means approved by whom?”
Free speech activist Lindsay Shepherd added that reinstating Section 13 would “cast too wide of a net and extremists who are already intent on causing real-world violence will go to the deeper and darker web to communicate whilst individuals who shouldn’t be caught up in online hate legislation will inevitably get caught up in it.”
This election, political censorship has already reared its ugly head. A few weeks ago Facebook censored a Toronto Sun opinion piece, deeming it fake news.
In the past, Trudeau and his ministers have had private meetings with top Facebook execs asking them to censor content the Liberals find problematic. Trudeau also announced his party was planning to implement a Digital Charter in May of 2019.
Often one for not caring about the irony of the situation, the Chinese government has banned South Park in China following an episode that critiqued the U.S. media’s acquiescence to Chinese media investors and censors.
The controversial episode “Band in China” follows Stan and the gang as they try to promote a band in China by making a biopic, only to be told they need to censor themselves to appeal to Chinese audiences if they want access to Chinese revenue streams.
The episode is also rife with criticism of Hollywood, depicting Randy Marsh on a plane full of Marvel characters owned by Disney. They are all on their way to do the exact same thing the boys are asked to do: prostrate themselves and accept Chinese censorship for money.
South Park now joins the likes of Winnie the Pooh, who was featured in the episode. Pooh Bear was also banned in China because the lovable children’s character was used as a facial comparison to mock Chinese President Xi Jinping. Pooh Bear, first seen in a Chinese prison, is assassinated later in the episode by Randy Marsh at the behest of China, after a student makes the comparison.
Following their ban, South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker made a mock apology, which was really a tongue and cheek rip on the NBA’s apology for offending the Chinese government and upsetting the international market.
Not strangers to controversy, the two creators are unlikely to ever seriously apologize to China, no matter how much money gets thrown at them to self-censor, unlike Hollywood and Disney who have been all too ready to kowtow in order to make more money.