Mikhaila Peterson’s survival guide to troll culture
I’m the daughter of Dr. Jordan B. Peterson. I’ve also made a name for myself by promoting an all-meat diet (The Lion Diet) for the last two years. This diet, I believe, healed my medically-uncontrollable autoimmune disease. Hence, I know a thing or two about trolls. Trolls are a bipartisan problem, and we need to know how to deal with them.
It started with my dad when he went viral in 2016 due to his stance on preferred pronouns (Bill C16 in Canada). His principled stance led international notoriety and fame. It was the left that first came after him. The onslaught was an attempt to put him in a box—who was Jordan Peterson? We’ve had the terms alt-right, male-chauvinist, free speech warrior, an anti-trans rights conservative thrown around a lot. Some even compared him to Hitler. None of that was remotely accurate—he just thinks people’s lives would be improved if they told the truth. Most manifestations were online, but some were quite real—we’ve had posters put up around our neighbourhood with a “warning” sign and his face on them.
I wouldn’t call the people who did this trolls. While they were certainly out to harm his reputation, their key driver was fear. They were also devoid of a sense of humour.
Trolls use humour, or most of them do. There are funny ones who tease, ones that make memes, satirical trolls (see Titania McGrath), those who push boundaries, but there are also trolls who see someone struggling and take that opportunity to add in a bit more suffering. There are trolls who are really just damaged individuals, and instead of taking that hurt and thinking, “I’ve experienced pain and the world would be a better place if there was less of that,” they think, “I’ve experienced pain and that wasn’t fair, so everyone else should suffer as I did.”
The left is interesting insofar as they claim to discourage bullying, but there are many vicious bullies among them. My father was attacked without an ounce of humour, initially. After the left had their fill, there was backlash from the right when they realized he didn’t really fit into their box, either. Some just poked fun at my dad—particularly with memes which we quite enjoyed. But there were also those who psychopathically hid behind their keyboards and looked for any sign of weakness to exploit, just because they were bored.
The internet has had a field day with my story, and how could it not? “Single Mother—Daughter of the Custodian of the Patriarchy—Touts An All Meat Diet To Cure Disease.” There couldn’t be an easier target. I had a vegan YouTuber send his 300k+ vegans after me at the same time as a former U.S. comedian with a large (legitimately) alt-right audience, sent his. The barrage of malice and ridicule was overwhelming. I reached a point where I couldn’t laugh it off anymore.
Then someone published a book about my diet claiming to be Jordan and I. It was listed in the Toxicology section of Amazon. Definitely a troll, somewhat annoying, but at least it was a little funny, and brought my sense of humour back. I bought one of the books just to have around. That all happened in a two week period, at the same time as my Dad entered rehab (at least partly due to the stress of being attacked from all angles for the last three years). This is what a well-permeated troll culture can achieve.
So how did we get here? Well, a couple of things have led to this troll culture we live in. The first was the uniting power of the internet. Most people are fairly agreeable, or society wouldn’t function. Disagreeable people (mostly men), being a statistical minority, have a hard time getting along with others, and trolling in real life can have very immediate consequences. However, if you say something provocative online, it’s from behind a screen so there really isn’t much danger. You venture out to different corners of the internet, trolling, until you find your little group with relatively few repercussions. It’s these communities of disagreeable, rather malicious individuals that can self-organize towards attacking a particular person or idea.
The far left has—and still is—trying to shut down our ability to tease each other, and joke in real life. One of the reasons teasing is fun is because it is provocative—a safe means for pushing boundaries. However, the logic of the far left resembles something like “if something is provocative, then it is mean, and if it is mean, it needs to be stopped.”
There’s no nuance. Comedians are getting censored, for God’s sake. Comedians. They’re professional jokers and they’re getting censored. What type of message does that send? That you don’t know have a right to judge what is offensive or non-offensive anymore? For example, I was part of a Facebook group where someone demanded a trigger warning before talking about renovations, just in case someone couldn’t afford to do the same renovations. And they were dead serious. How could a disagreeable person, especially one with a support group not attack that? Hell, I couldn’t even help it, and I was a pregnant woman at the time.
I believe that by striving for tolerance and conformity, the left both bred new trolls and made them much more influential by removing real-world competition. When trolling first started it would have been a few disagreeable individuals, but now anyone with a sense of humour can be considered a troll. Since society can’t handle comedians anymore, we now have trolls to poke fun at us and see how far we can be pushed. Some are funny. Some push too far, but, is it because they are, perhaps, getting pushed themselves? At least partly.
This is what happens when people aren’t allowed to tease each other, and discussions are literally banned. Combine that with digital impunity and a loyal fan club for the most vicious trolls… What do we expect? We can’t really fight back. And you know what? That’s okay. Just like a comedian is defined by the response of his or her audience, so is the influence of a troll defined by the attention they can stir up.
So I’ll end with a few suggestions coming from years of experience dealing with trolls.
- Do not engage. They will say anything to get a response. Ignore them. There’s no winning against someone trying to make the world a worse place.
- Laugh it off. Try and see the humour in it. Instead of taking offence. Our culture is more and more devoid of poking fun at stressful situations and we should be trying to increase that wherever we can. How else do you deal with the brutality of life? Humour is key. Even if that’s making fun of my family and my ridiculous diet.
- Support free speech in real life. If we want to limit trolling on the internet, we should make trolling more acceptable in the real world. The more free speech is shut down, the more comedians are censored, and the more disagreeable people are silenced, the stronger this troll culture will get.
Try not to take yourself too seriously. And have a steak.
Felicia Sonmez has received an outpouring of support from colleagues who were aghast at her suspension from the Washington Post. She was suspended after tweets reflecting mixed emotions over Kobe Bryant’s death, and while the media fusses and fumes over whether or not the suspension was justified, this is a classic case study in contemporary cancel culture. Sonmez took the reins on calling people out for alleged misdeeds, and now she’s being called out for her own.
It goes without saying that Sonmez should not have received death threats on Twitter about her mixed emotions about basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s tragic death. She shouldn’t have had to live in such fear that she retreated from her home to a hotel. All that is unacceptable, but in our age of cancellations and persistent moralistic vitriol, it’s what a person can expect when they befoul the Twitter stream. Sonmez probably should have known all this. She has been vocal about the necessity of removing men and women from their positions without the benefit of due process. This turn of events, where the social media verse turns on her for a couple of tweets wherein she expressed her personal view, should not come as a surprise.
Sonmez is one of the architects of the cancel culture that currently plagues us. She was one of the first accusers of former LA Times foreign correspondent Jonathan Kaiman, sending a letter to the LA Times in which she described him as exhibiting “problematic behaviour.” While they were both heavily intoxicated, by Sonmez’s own admission, she writes: “Even though parts of the evening were consensual, while on the way, Jon escalated things in a way that crossed a line.” She noted that the alcohol made it hard for her to remember, and Kaiman has stated that he remembers it differently. Though he refuted the story, he lost his job, and like Sonmez, he was afforded no due process.
Sonmez is also the person behind two mobbings of women writers. She tried to get Caitlin Flanagan and Emily Yoffe fired from their positions (at The Atlantic and Reason respectively) for the high crime of criticizing her.
Brett Kavanaugh was shamed by Sonmez for his lighthearted speech to The Federalist Society in 2014, which she published along with excoriations against him and his college behaviours. She called him out for comments such as “Always act as if your actions are public,” and “You will make mistakes. Sometimes big ones. Admit it, resolve not to do it again, and make sure you don’t do it again.” Apparently that’s no good when you’re going to end up in confirmation hearings before the Senate and a woman who you don’t even remember ever meeting accuses you of raping her at a party you’re pretty sure you didn’t attend.
Now it’s Sonmez’s job on the chopping block. Maybe she’s looking for a way to apologize and keep her career intact, or maybe she’s going to double down. Neither, as we have seen, is likely to lead to success. There’s no due process for stupid tweets, and we know from years of this nonsense that apologies only lead to further public abrasions. Probably, she won’t lose her friends, so that’s lucky. Lots of her friends and colleagues don’t understand what the big deal is, or why so many in the media are out for her job. Hundreds of her colleagues have signed a letter to Marty Baron and Tracy Grant stating that they don’t think it’s fair that she should have been suspended. The Washington Post’s union has condemned the actions of management.
What they don’t seem to understand is that the plight of Felicia Sonmez is an object and abject lesson about cancel culture. She has done this to others. She has called for the suspension of due process and the termination, of her own peers. Her voice has loudly denounced those who have been hit with allegations without evidence. Sonmez has helped us get used to the idea that accusations are enough to take you down. It’s a commonplace idea, now, thanks to her and her peers in thought crime. Once we are so long immersed in the sludge of it, turnabout seems like fair play.
It isn’t, of course. Everyone deserves a second chance (or a proper first chance)—an opportunity to clear their name, to shake off wrongful incriminations and proceed with life and livelihood. It’s better when we do away with game theory and start treating each other like human beings. After all, life is not a game and the people we love are not players. Sonmez foolishly thought she would always thrive in a world without due process. She thought that due process was irrelevant when we could all discern the truth based on platitudes and hashtag callouts. But her situation is illustrative of the truth that no one survives in such a world. That’s the nature of this beast. The accuser will always become the accused.
Don’t believe us? Just wait.
Actor Laurence Fox says that “the wokist is a fundamentally racist bunch.” On BBC’s Question Time, he said that the backlash against Meghan Markle was not racist, and called a woman of colour racist for suggesting that his identity means he can’t discern racism.
“The problem we’ve got with this is that Meghan has agreed to be Harry’s wife,” a woman spoke up from the audience, “and the press has torn her to pieces, and let’s be really clear about what this is, let’s call it by its name: it’s racism.”
He decried her view, saying “It’s not racism, we’re the most tolerant lovely country in Europe.”
“Says a white privileged man,” she shot back.
“It’s so easy to throw the charge of racism at everybody,” Fox replied, “and it’s really starting to get boring.”
“What worries me about your comment,” she said, “is you’re a white privileged male.” A round of audience boos rose up.
Fox was clearly annoyed by her comment. “I can’t help what I am, I was born like this,” he said, “it’s an immutable characteristic, so to call me a white privileged male is to be racist. You’re being racist.”
For this, he was skewered in the press and received death threats. Even after “Equity’s minority ethnic members committee… called on fellow actors to ‘unequivocally denounce’ Laurence Fox for comments he made during an appearance on BBC1’s Question Time,” author Shappi Khorsandi spoke against that denunciation.
And Fox wouldn’t back down. Instead, he took to the airwaves with Julia Hartley-Brewer on Talk Radio’s Breakfast Show this morning to expand upon his views.
It was in talking with Hartley-Brewer that he said “I think there’s racism everywhere but I don’t think we’re a systemically racist country. I don’t see a lot of racism, but then I’m a straight white male.” He went on to say that “identity politics is fundamentally racist as well,” because “it’s about silencing opinion,” and “seeing colour everywhere.”
Fox gave voice to what many people have been thinking, that the language of racism and accusations of bias have jumped the shark. Racism had been a charge that could only be levelled by minority racial groups against dominant racial groups. It was a scourge that needed to be rooted out at the highest levels of power to prevent systemic inequity. This project was undertaken by Civil Rights activists, and that work has continued in all of us. As Fox notes, there is still racism.
But the way to fix that racism is not by categorizing everyone into their own little identity boxes and determining what they are allowed to say or think based on the rights and privileges of that identity. The thing to do is to treat everyone like a human being, capable of having their own thoughts and ideas. People must look for the best in one another, not the worst, and not seek out every opportunity to be offended.
Calling someone a privileged white male, said Fox, is a way of “silencing opinion,” saying “you’re not allowed an opinion, mate, you’re white.” Fox has had enough of it, as have so many people.
There are no identity factors that make someone a bad person. Identity factors, such as race, sex, ethnicity, or sexual orientation should not have value judgements associated with them. For one hot minute, we used to know this. The goal was to look at each other and not parse up individuals into their requisite labels, to not use a person’s external characteristics to determine the worth of their ideas or their rights under the law.
That all turned around with concepts like “valuing differences,” wherein we were supposed to look at the ways in which we were different first, dissect and acknowledge those, before seeking for the ways in which we were the same. How much better it is to find kinship with one another first, before sorting all the ways in which we are different.
Fox’s perspective on racism and identity will most likely continue to be discredited because his identity factors are deemed more essential than his actual perspective. His views are taken with large grains of white cis het male privileged salt. But it’s time to start realizing that the brilliant Civil Rights movement, which told us not to judge someone on the basis of their physical characteristics, has been co-opted by haters who would have us do that very same thing. It doesn’t matter who is being boxed by immutable identity factors and judged by them, it matters that it’s being done at all, and it must stop.
Some stories do have happy endings. Yesterday, we reported on journalist David Leavitt’s mean spirited attempt to shame an innocent Target employee over a mislabelled toothbrush. He even went so far as to call the police because the electric toothbrush wasn’t $0.01.
Well, shortly after the viral moment, Twitter user and notorious meme-maker @CarpeDonktum decided to set up a GoFundMe page to give the Target employee, Tori, a much-needed vacation.
Today, we’ve learned that the fundraising endeavour was a massive success, with over $19,500 raised for Tori to take a break and put this nasty incident behind her.
@CarpeDonktum tweeted today: “I have made contact with #TargetTori, she has received authorization to release 2 photos to verify that we are in contact. I need a representative from @gofundme to contact me to arrange the transfer of control of the account to Tori.”
GoFundMe has arranged the transfer of the funds to Tori and now the story is complete. Happy ending achieved!
David Leavitt, an award-winning multimedia journalist who has worked for CBS, AXS, Yahoo, and others just tried to shame a Target employee over a toothbrush.
Leavitt spotted an Oral-B electric toothbrush that was incorrectly labelled at a list price of $0.01.
When Target manager Tori did not honour the “price,” Leavitt thought it would be a good idea to a) call the police, b) tweet a photo of the manager in an attempt to shame her, c) announces his intentions to sue the company.
“I just had to call the police because @target refused to sell me the toothbrush,” he tweeted.
“I have not been able to afford to go to a dentist in over three years. So yes I wanted a good toothbrush and was thrilled to see such an amazing prize on an @OralB but @target refused to honor it and now I have to take them to court,” he said in a follow-up tweet.
Twitter was quick to respond, defending the Target employee, who was clearly just doing her job. “Dude, please take her photo down. In what universe do you think it’s ok to shame a woman working at @Target because she didn’t sell you a toothbrush for 1cent? Calling the cops was bizarre, too. It’s an obvious labelling error, she did her job.” said Sky News’ Rita Panahi
“Leave the girl out of this and take down her picture. You’re a bad person for doing this to her,” Bridget Phetasy added.
Popular Twitter personality Imam of Peace was not impressed, and exposed that Leavitt was lying about not seeing a dentist in three years:
This isn’t Leavitt’s first attempt to shame an employee at a retail store. In December 2018, he pulled a similar stunt by targeting a Wal-Mart Assistant Manager.
It’s also not Leavitt’s first experience being ratioed. In 2017, Leavitt tweeted a truly tasteless joke about the Manchester terrorist bombing that killed 22 people.
This most recent bizarre Twitter outburst has led many to ponder what one Twitter user put quite succinctly: “WTF is wrong with David Leavitt?”