Paradox Of Tolerance
By now, most people have heard of Karl Popper’s paradox of tolerance. The philosophy that in order to maintain a tolerant society, we must be intolerant of the intolerant.
To go with the old Nazi bar analogy: you open a new dive bar, and in the opening crowd comes a few Nazis. They’re comfortable making their views known, and using the bar as a platform to recruit others. The tolerant thing to do, is to give them as much right to their views as any other. The right thing to do, is to remove them from the bar. So long as they remain, they will recruit compatriots, push out regular patrons, and before long what you will have is a Nazi bar.
But here, I want to introduce the opposite, the paradox of intolerance. Assume the same analogy, but you don’t own the bar. The bartender isn’t keen on kicking out paying customers. In this case, you have only words. You attempt to organize a protest to shout the Nazis out of the bar, but in turn, they do the same. They bring in Nazis from all over the country to engage in a war of words. What you have now, is an even bigger Nazi bar.
In case you haven’t guessed, the latter example is social media. When you attempt to utilize the paradox of tolerance, but lack control over the space, what you get is just more intolerance. Everyone is forced to engage in intolerance be it for, or against the bad actors, but at no point will the intolerance ever result in the creation of a tolerant space. Now, you might be saying, isn’t that better than just letting them go unchecked? I’d argue not, and please allow me to explain.
The Bullshit Asymmetry Principal
So the law goes, “it takes exponentially more effort to refute bullshit than to create it”. But, personally, I think there’s more to it. The human brain is wired in such a way that we prefer comfortable lies to painful truths. It’s how much of the far-right works. They love the term “facts over feelings”, but the far-right has never been anything more than feelings.
Let’s take a common right-wing populist stance: immigrants are stealing your jobs. Are they? No. Every single bit of science, every study, every paper, points toward immigration growing the economy, making life better for everyone. So then, why is it such a popular belief? Well quite simply, it’s more comfortable to separate a group into “others”, then blame them for your own problems. Why didn’t you get that promotion to regional manager? Was someone more qualified given the job? Or was it because there’s too many immigrants and the industry is just too competitive now. Sometimes the wrong answer is the preferred.
Our egos are always leading us away from the truth. It hurts to acknowledge our own flaws, so we gravitate towards any way to blame others. And the far-right, they do blaming others better than anyone. Your personality isn’t why you can’t keep a girlfriend, it’s the women, they’re asking for too much. The immigrants are taking all the jobs. And the gays? They’re radicalizing your kids. All it takes is one Andrew Tate to destroy the minds of an entire generation. The bullshit is not only asymmetrical, it’s addictive. It feeds right into all our insecurities.
Call-out culture has been a powerful tool in accountability. If someone says something objectively questionable and faces backlash, it may cause them to reconsider their position, or at least not make it public in the future. Unfortunately, it’s become all too predictable. Right-wing grifters know they can spread their message by intentionally making posts that are disagreeable to all but the intended audience. Everyone else will quote-tweet their posts to dunk or debunk them, spreading the message far and wide until it reaches its target.
Essentially, when you try to debate feelings with facts, you are playing checkers into their chess. If the target were looking for facts, they’d unlikely be gravitating towards far-right content in the first place. They’re hurt, and they’re looking for someone to blame. The last thing you want to do is point them towards whoever is going to show them who. Many activists feel as if they’re convincing people by calling out far-right misinformation, but in doing so extend its reach, helping it find its way to the people who wanted to hear it.
If you were to make the case against any far-right talking point in a vacuum, depending on your communication skills you could probably convince at least a couple of people. Unfortunately, this is almost never what happens. Many right-wing talking points are so silly, so ridiculous, that you’d look a fool to even debate them. If I randomly start a Twitter thread denouncing the existence of jewish space lazers, I’d look like a complete lunatic. I need a trigger, a post or an article making the claim I wish to debunk. And this, is how the paradox of tolerance fails.
Negative Engagement Farming
In needing to prove to my audience that “yes, someone really said that”, I must boost the original content. I need to show my followers that this is a real argument that must be debunked. Deep down, I know it’s not. I know it’s dumb, I know nobody who is capable of rational critical thought is buying into it, but we love to take the moral high ground, the air is so clean up here.
People taking time out of their day to deconstruct and fact-check every nonsensical take not only spreads the original, but adds credibility. It’s the forbidden knowledge phenomenon. People are drawn to conspiracies because it gives them the feeling of superiority that comes with possessing information that experts don’t want them to have. If this claim isn’t credible, then why are so many people desperate to discredit it?
When you quote retweet that racist, misogynist, transphobic, homophobic, xenophobic nonsense you allow it to proliferation. A quote-tweet is a retweet. Take a post that nobody in a million years would retweet, give them a quote-tweet button instead, and it’s going viral yesterday. The debunking is just preaching to the choir. For every fence sitter you may convince with facts, 5 others are lured to the other side by feelings. It’s no coincidence that far-right content is spreading like wildfire on Twitter. It’s not suddenly any more popular an ideology than before, you’re just placing it in front of more eyes.
Every quote tweet call-out, every article debunk, every intolerant reply, you’re just boost them in the algorithm. It comes back to the age-old saying “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”. You tell yourself if you fact-check them hard enough, embarrass them thoroughly enough, then they’ll stop. But this is their entire marketing strategy, why they hell would they stop? It’s bait, it was always bait. The more baity the better.
Do we honestly believe an account named “Nick Adams (Alpha Male)” was not aware what they were doing when they Tweeted “Alphas don’t need to announce they’re alphas, everyone just knows.”? The bait is so low quality, so obvious, but people simply cannot help themselves.
Twitter’s Home-field Disadvantage
With Twitter specifically, you don’t just not control the space. The owner has made it clear they are on the side of far-right reactionaries, and are skewing the algorithm in their favor. Any possible ground you think you’re holding can just be taken away with the click of a button. You’re not fighting a war, you’re not stopping Twitter from falling into the hands of the far-right, you’re selling burgers in a Nazi bar, paying more than you profit in rent. Every dollar Twitter makes in ad revenue is a dollar against everything you stand for.
People don’t come to Twitter for its far-right hate content. Nor do the advertisers come to market to them. If that was what the masses wanted, then Parler, Gab, TruthSocial, amd 8chan would all be far more popular than they are. The fact of the matter is, people come to Twitter for news, culture, discussions. By staying, you don’t hold any ground, you maintain the viability of a platform hell-bent on promoting far-right ideology. So long as there’s content other than hate, people will have a reason to stay.
I can say with almost 100% certainty, Twitter is dead. Its business model was not viable back then, and its definitely not viable now. Twitter will collapse. It’s not a question of if, but when. At the end of the day, you’re going to have to rebuild your followings elsewhere. The only question is, do you start now, encouraging your followers to migrate while you still have access to them, or do you prop up this system until the very end?
With every passing day, the platform become more and more extreme. The algorithm is twisted to amplify far-right authoritarianism, dangerous conspiracy theories, and hatred of minorities. Twitter will go away, but the damages it has caused will not. The platform cannot survive without you, but it can survive in spite of you.
Fear Of The Unknown
I’ve talked about how the far-right favors feelings over facts, but let’s think about ourselves. Why are we still on Twitter? Do we really believe we’re fighting the good fight? Or is it just convenient. Subjecting oneself to the constant hate and vitriol is not healthy. It’s psychologically damaging. It’s like a trauma bond in an abusive relationship. Maybe we’re scared to leave? Maybe we don’t want to find out how many of our friends and followers won’t join us at the new place? But then I’d ask, were they really friends or followers to begin with?
By establishing an account elsewhere, you give people the reason they need to leave. Some may be stubborn and stay, but ultimately, the platform will eventually collapse regardless. You only get to decide whether you start over from scratch and risk getting lost in the noise, or have a well established presence on other platforms for others to gravitate to.
I’ll leave you with that thought, and ask of you the following: if you see someone talking about “fighting for Twitter”, please send them this.