Quillette Op-Ed: Tech Companies Fear ‘Humor,’ the ‘Most Powerful Weapon Against Authoritarianism’

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An opinion editorial by Quillette highlights YouTube star PewDiePie’s battles with left-wing smears and censorship as illustrative of an internet dominated by “a cartel of politically aligned capitalists” who are “hoarding power” while controlling “the very means of online business functionality.”

Farrington focuses on YouTube’s dealings with Felix Kjellberg — who operates the platform’s most popular channel under the name PewDiePie — as illustrative of left-wing political censorship across the internet. “PewDiePie remains an emblem of our times, worthy of study,” he writes.

Last year, Vox sought to link Kjellberg with Nazism and anti-Semitism, describing Kjellberg’s satire as “a blueprint for mainstreaming the alt-right” and falsely accusing the star of “dallying with white supremacy”:

But his historical tendency toward inane humor has increasingly evolved into a concerning use of Nazi imagery and anti-Semitic comedy in his videos. And while his loyal fan base staunchly defends his work as satirical in nature, the frequency and apparent lack of a larger purpose for these hateful elements has raised serious concerns about whether he’s just being ironic or crossing a fine line between humor and harm.

Vox also framed Kjellberg as a “racist” via the following headline: “YouTube star PewDiePie used the n-word in a live stream, after months of denying he’s racist.”

Kjellberg was later cut from a multi-million dollar pending deal with Disney following the Vox-led campaign. The Wall Street Journal similarly framed his content as “anti-Semitic.”

In an ostensible analysis of Breitbart News in 2016, Vox derided this news media outlet — and American conservatism, more broadly — as advancing “a kind of white populist nationalism,” “outright racism.” and “white nationalism”:

One of Breitbart’s key distinguishing features today is lurid, fearmongering coverage of minority groups, particularly African Americans and Muslims.

On one level, the significance of a publication like Breitbart taking over the GOP is obvious: The Trump campaign is, to an unprecedented degree, openly catering to racists and xenophobes.

Farrington warns of how Vox and YouTube made “common cause in trying to diminish the influence of PewDiePie and other off-brand YouTube celebrities.”

Among “major tech and media companies,” writes Farrington, “promotion of progressive principles has become a matter of humourless, ironclad dogma.”

Farrington describes humor as a “weapon” against authoritarianism:

Kjellberg’s true crime is that he’s funny. And the online corporate giants have no idea what to do with humour, since humour always will target a society’s prevailing dogmas—including, at the current cultural moment, the earnest mantras that govern corporate messaging. Humour also happens to be the most powerful weapon against authoritarianism (corporate or otherwise), because it leaves an irreversible impression on its audience. Your intellectual ideas may be revised or rejected as you re-evaluate your premises in light of new experiences or reflection. But if you find something funny, that can’t be edited out by intellectual efforts. It will sit with you, and may well fester into thoughtcrime. Humour can turn heretics into folk heroes who must then be shunned and de-platformed. (Just ask Godfrey Elfwick.)

Farrington contemplates the internet’s future, considering the possibility of a “Great Decentralisation” to shatter large technology companies’ increasingly concentrated controls over online. speech and expression.

Follow Robert Kraychik on Twitter.

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