There’s an old Peter Gabriel song with some lyrics that really stuck with me when I first heard them as a teen.
If you jump to 1:49, it goes:
There’s safety in numbers
when you learn to divide.
How can we be in
if there is no outside?
People divide into groups, and most of the time they do this to feel better about themselves as compared to the people they exclude. Anyone who has ever felt alienated or left out knows about the wrong side of this arrangement, and anyone who has found “their people,” be they Geeks or Jocks, and felt some kind of innate superiority over those on the outside (say, the “Mundanes” or “losers” respectively), knows the kind of power that has in your life.
But power corrupts, as they say. For some, the best part of being in the in-group is the power to exclude others, and moreso than merely enjoying the company of their fellows.
Online communities take this tendency and turn it up to 11. The developers often provide tools to form exclusive social groups and manage membership in them, and this allows the “Mean Girls” types to grasp those levers of power and wield them to their own ends. It gets even worse when the developers get into the game themselves. Yes, I’m looking at you, Twitter.
But what happens when the whole service has thrown over entirely into one side? Reportedly the Twitter alternative site “Mastodon”, which is known for much stricter community moderation than even Twitter, is entirely dominated by Social Justice-related concerns. Well, refer to the lyrics above.
Wil Wheaton migrated from Twitter to Mastodon a week or two ago, claiming that Twitter’s sub rosa censorship of voices he didn’t like wasn’t strong enough for him because it hadn’t completely banned someone he didn’t like. (For the record, I’m no fan of Alex Jones either, but I don’t need Twitter to keep him out of my life, I just don’t follow him. I take responsibility for what I see on my own.) Apparently Mr. Wheaton is, in fact, a huge fan of letting other people make and enforce his voice-blocking preferences, because he outsourced his enormous Twitter blocklist to others. That seems to be a trait among the left, adding to and circulating blocklists numbering in the hundreds of thousands, built by blocking not only some hated person, but anyone replying to or subscribing to them. Personally, I have about 100 blocked accounts, mostly Junk advertisers and fake pornbot accounts, but every single one of them I added myself (and frankly, I haven’t added to that list in years – I should prune the dead accounts from it). These huge blocklists lead to the situation where people are blocked by folks they have never interacted with, and indeed, a lot of false-positives. This doesn’t matter, because for the blocklist purveyors, the important factor is quantity, not quality. They brag about how huge their lists are in order to get other people to use them, gaining status that way.
So Wil imported a blocklist created by a Feminist, because that seems like a good thing if you’re committed to Feminism, right? But he made a mistake because this particular Feminist was one of the dreaded “TERF” kind (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist IIRC). So littered among the quite possibly innocent people in his blocklist were various Transsexual/Transgendered/Transvestite activists. There’s no way he could know, because when you’re blocking half a million Twitter accounts at once, there’s no time to review every single one of them when you’re counting on a list being full of people you’re supposed to hate anyway.
But this huge blocklist wasn’t enough exclusion of voices he didn’t want to hear for Wil, so he moved to Mastodon, where everyone was like him. Which is to say, really hot on the idea of using the social network’s tools to exclude anybody not ideologically pure enough. The problem is, with virtually no ideological diversity, the SJWs turned on themselves, dividing up and finding excuses to find other members “Nekulturny” and attack them in mobs (while praying that nobody else finds fault with them next, for example, for not being mobby enough). The fact that Wil had blocked any Trans activist in the blocklist on another service that he hadn’t reviewed personally was just such a Social Network Death Sentence. He was chased off the service within days by people supposedly of his same will.
The Irony is overpowering, and totally lost on Wil. But the lesson is more interesting. As much as people claim they want a community of like-minded people, people also love conflict. Intellectual diversity is necessary because it allows for that conflict. Without it, with enough identical rats crammed into a small enough cage, they turn on each other for the most trivial of reasons. With a huge and diverse population, no one group of mean girls can dominate. That is, until the referees put their thumb on the scale, as Twitter has, and then the whole thing starts sliding downhill. (Mastodon uses a lot more than a thumb, puts more administrative power in the hands of the users, and is smaller as well, so the slide is far more accelerated).
It is funny how those who make the most noise about diversity are often the most exclusionary, and their communities of like-minded people are the most vicious viper’s dens. True diversity, where there is such a wide variety of opinions that no one faction can form a powerful majority, and thus all sides must learn to get along, is a much more peaceful and tolerant place. This however is not very likely to be found online, because people do seek their own before seeking power over the group. In the end, the ability to form online communities of like-minded people could spell the end not only of diversity, but of community itself.