Friday, 30 October 2015

My summary of the Thunderf00t vs Laughing Witch controversy

So as many a YouTube denizen will know, there’s been yet another insane dust-up in the internet atheist community.

The central characters are YouTube science vlogger and atheist/skeptic juggernaut, Dr. Phil Mason, AKA Thunderf00t, and four relative pipsqueaks of hyper feminist bent going by the names Jenny McDermot, Laughing Witch, Hannibal the Victor 13 and Bewildered Ape.

As well as making videos on the wonders of science and his love of research, Dr. Mason has a longstanding habit of debunking bullshit, from creationism to Solar Freaking Roadways. His videos have attracted a massive following of ardent fans, with his channel boasting over 400k subscribers, and some 95 million video views. During the Atheism+ fiasco that split the community a few years back, he began taking a closer look at certain brands of feminism, and, well, he spotted bullshit.

Feminist icon and professional victim Anita Sarkeesian has become a perennial favorite target of his to take the piss out of. Her videos and public behavior are loaded with bullshit, and there’s significant overlap between fans of his skeptic videos and the saner elements of the gaming community, who’ve been undergoing a similar social justice onslaught to the one the atheist community is still struggling with, an onslaught spearheaded by Sarkeesian. Mason’s videos on Sarkeesian and other popular internet feminists are some of the most viewed on his channel.

Enter our four intrepid feminist dunces. They were not at all pleased at Mason’s targeting of Sarkeesian, arguing that his videos were largely responsible for the “waves” and “barrages” of harassment and hate the poor dear receives. After all, the mere act of criticizing Sarkeesian or her ideas acts as a literal call to action for one’s loyal evil minions to embark on campaigns of sustained abuse. Of course, the takeaway message from this would necessarily be that no criticism of her ideas should be allowed at all.

At first, their antics involved mild pokes at him in the form of videos spreading lies and misrepresentations of his positions. Next, Bewildered Ape, the only member of this “not exactly fantastic four” to have never shown his face, took it into his head to write Mason’s employer in hope of getting him fired. 

The accusation? Holocaust apologism and nazi sympathizing. For Mason, who lives and works in the Czech Republic, this was a bit of a problem, as like many European countries, the Czech Republic considers this type of speech to be a criminal offence. 

Of course, nothing came of it. Dr. Mason was not fired, as his employers apparently have IQs at least equivalent to that of Forrest Gump, possibly higher. Indeed, Mason made a video roundly scolding the Ape for such underhanded tactics, and indicating on no uncertain terms that further attempts would in no way jeopardize his employment nor his good standing in his field. You know, because they’re not retards. He also reminded Bewildered Ape that fraudulently making such allegations is a crime, and that taking internet disagreements and differences of opinion into meatspace sets a dangerous precedent that could potentially backfire.

Bewildered Ape shot back that his actions were “performance art”. I’m not joking. And the not so fantastic four retreated back to bitching and moaning on their mostly empty channels to people at least as crazy and intellectually challenged as they are. Hannibal the Victor uploaded a particularly lovely rant wherein he threatened Dr. Mason with physical harm and swore that it was now his life’s mission to utterly destroy him.

And then just this month, these feminist crusaders blatantly and publicly organized a letter writing campaign similar to the Ape’s erstwhile self-described performance art. 

This time, the letters were sent not only to Mason’s employer, but to the local police and various news outlets.

One has to wonder what kind of moral certitude is required for four gnats such as these to pit themselves against a goliath when they were well aware he had 400 times as many minions as they did, and when they seemed to genuinely believe Mason’s minions are capable of sinking to any level of depravity and atrocity.

If there was an award for self-destructive, deluded ideologue of the year, Laughing Witch put herself in the running. Over the course of several videos on her since-deleted channel, she was observed to have boasted that as a “boss” within a small business her husband owns, she’s untouchable. She can’t be fired. She was observed to have boasted, providing video evidence, that her email to Mason’s employer, the police and the media, was written under her real name. 

In other words, believing herself immune to the type of attack she was about to launch against a superior power, she doxxed herself. 

And in a follow up video, believing he’d been fired from his job, she gloated and celebrated it as a victory.

Mason’s response, on October 20th, was more circumspect than it might have been. In a video response to the campaign, he informed her that he had not been fired, and showed clips of her own videos that demonstrated her megalomaniacal levels of hubris, including the one in which she generously gave the internet all the information it needed to attack her—her real name. He also questioned the ethics of a woman who gives glowing online reviews to a company she co-owns and helps operate and negative reviews of other companies. And he warned her that her delusions of immunity were just that: delusional.

Oh the morbid deliciousness of it all. He deliberately and unerringly gave the internet everything it needed to detest her even more than it already did, and everything it required to exact revenge. And in a masterful demonstration of cynically preserving the moral high ground, he demanded a grovelling apology from her—not to him, but to the internet in general, which is populated by people who work in coffee shops and PR firms and insurance companies and software firms, and whose jobs are not as resilient to such attacks as his own.

Mean? Certainly. Intentional? Oh yes. But I have a hard time pitying Laughing Witch. 

Within hours of Mason’s video going up, Laughing Witch’s business’s Yelp page began to be flooded with bogus one-star reviews. Most were obviously fake, my personal favorite being, “I hired these guys to renovate my bathroom, and all they did was paint swastikas everywhere.” I’m not sure if Laughing Witch realizes what a courtesy that is—reviews that are obviously fake are easy to spot and remove, making the damage to a company temporary rather than permanent. They’re also easier for potential customers to spot and dismiss as pranks. 

Laughing Witch then deleted her channel, hoping to minimize the damage.

On the 24th of this month, Laughing Witch’s husband quietly uploaded a video to their business’s channel, narrated by him, and describing the situation in the most Sarkeesianesque terms. I shall paraphrase it thusly:

"My wife 'stumbled across' Thunderf00t, and [something something vague something that's not her fault because she dindu nothin other than just be a feminist online] and now there are dozens of misogynistic trolls posting 1-star reviews of our company on Yelp just because my wife 'stumbled across' this hateful evil guy and he decided to attack her for no good reason. Also, I was disabled in a work accident years ago, and the recession, and here's a picture of my dog with a sad face... My wife didn't do anything to provoke this, other than find herself in the evil Thunderf00t's line of sight. Please send us innocent victims your money, or these 14 employees will go hungry, because my wife came across Satan and Dick Cheney’s love child online and even though she was nothing but friendly to him he decided to destroy her life.”

They linked this video to an indiegogo fundraiser asking for 25,000 dollars to help them weather the damage that was incurred by this completely unprovoked and unjustified attack that was a result of Laughing Witch falling afoul of Thunderf00t for no reason whatsoever and by no action of her own. They have so far raised a little over $2000.

The next day, Laughing Witch created a new channel for the sole purpose of uploading the apology TF had demanded. She said she was sorry, and I believe she was. But not because she believed what she had done was wrong, or because she felt bad for the harm she might have caused TF (3 to 5 years in prison, if someone in power took her allegations seriously), but because the blowback from her actions had hurt her husband’s business and other people she cared about. There’s a huge difference between, “I wish I hadn’t done that because it could have hurt someone” and “I wish I hadn’t done that because it backfired and hurt me.”

Of course, the sincerity of this apology is undermined by the fundraiser video, in which Mason is described as “evil” and Laughing Witch as an innocent victim who just happened to stumble into his view. As one commenter on the debacle said, “it’s hard to trust the honesty of someone who’s waving a white flag when they’re still shooting at you…”

Since then, notoriously neutral and fair YouTube skeptic Agent of Doubt has revealed that a court judgment was levied a few months ago against LW’s company by a bank to the tune of about $25,000—what a coincidence! An update was quickly posted on the fundraiser’s page indicating that the company was already in trouble, and had filed for bankruptcy protection before any of this debacle started. Another update indicates that Laughing Witch and her husband have contacted their state senators and the FBI in hope of criminally prosecuting…….someone. 

Of course, Laughing Witch is not the only massive casualty in this debacle. The denizens of chan-life reportedly released Hannibal the Victor’s real name along with that of Jenny McDermot, and certain individuals intent on proving once and for all that no, Hannibal was not actually studying anthropology at an accredited institution of higher education, stumbled upon the uncomfortable news that he’s a sex offender fresh off the the registry, convicted by way of a police sting operation of attempting to procure a sex act from a minor. When his dox dropped in chanland, he deleted his channel and hasn’t been directly heard from since. 

Meanwhile, during the heat of the confrontation, Jenny Mcdermot, so outraged at the completely unprovoked attack on Laughing Witch who had done absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever, uploaded a video wherein she publicly engaged in criminal extortion, demanding that Mason somehow, someway, call off every single one of his 400k subscribers he doesn’t know from Adam, and anyone else who might be involved in the “cyber attack”, or else she’ll send letters portraying him as a nazi to pretty much every media outlet that has ever given Anita Sarkeesian any screentime. As an added twist, she then set conditions even more outside of his control—if her video got more than X upvotes or Y downvotes, she’d send the letters regardless of what he did or didn’t do. 

Oh the drama. Oh the stupidity. Oh the human carnage. 

It’s looking like the only member of the less than fantastic four who might emerge from this dust-up unscathed is Bewildered Ape, that master of performance art, who has never shown his face to the public.