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Freethoughtblogs, is this the image you want?

2012/06/19

Edit: I don’t stand by most of this. I blogged angry and went off the rails. See this post.

I fell out of the habit of posting daily in the finals crunch and it’s hard to get back on the horse, as has happened before, something finally got me angry enough that I had to wrote about it. I feel behind on reading FreethoughtBlogs, so just realized this, even though it was announced a week ago, but Thunderf00t is joining the network. I have a problem with this: namely that Thunderf00t is a xenophobe and a tribalist who cares more about winning arguments and congratulating his audience on how they are so much more clever than whoever he’s pwning than being right or effecting any sort of positive change. To this end, he is not above quote-mining, bullying or much of anything else. Also, he has a martyr complex where he can’t shut up about how brave he is to keep speaking the truth in the face of all these death threats. I’m not accusing anyone of endorsing any of this. Despite all this, he has made a lot of good science videos that manage to be very funny while either teaching important stuff about science or tearing down bad anti-scientific arguments. I subscribed to his channel for several years. I can see why someone would think he was a good fit if they didn’t dig deep into his archives. To be clear: the problem isn’t that I disagree with him on some issues. I disagree with everyone there occasionally. The issue is that his positions and tactics are contrary to the goals of the site. Evidence is below the fold. Keep in mind that he operates on YouTube. I’m talking about a period of several years and can’t just do a Google search for phrases and pull things up. Videos have a tendency to go down the memory hole there either because the poster didn’t like how they were received and deleted them or a bunch of people false-flagged it for offensive content and YouTube deleted it. Many things he said are gone or have no good way to find them. There’s enough left to make a good case, though.

I should point out first that this has come up before. If you follow Internet atheist blogging at all, you probably remember TJ Kincaid, aka TheAmazingAtheist flaming out rather spectacularly in February when he argued that post-traumatic stress disorder and triggering are fictions and that people who want trigger warning are just whiners. To illustrate this point, he threatened to rape a rape victim. He had some defenders pop up as always happens, but the blogosphere pretty much washed their hands of him. I was pissed. When I say I was pissed, I mean that I was pretty much unable to work on anything else for several days and missed time with my girlfriend because I was busy on the Internets. This wasn’t the worst thing he’d done, just the latest. More than two years earlier, he had made a video mocking a young creationist woman where he essentially said that she was a bimbo and she should stop talking because her mouth was only good for sucking dick. Laci Green, another YouTube atheist, made a video calling him out on this so he made a follow-up accusing her of pretending to be upset and showing cleavage in order to manipulate her audience. Guys would see it and feel protective of her and not listen to her arguments. There was a bit of other slut-shaming mixed in. TJ had been a bully and a misogynist for years and was the most popular YouTube atheist by a large margin and was probably the only person to make enough money at it to do it professionally. He had hundreds of thousands of subscribers who ate this stuff up. I brought this up in the Pharyngula thread dedicated to TJ’s melt down. I said that TJ was not an obscure guy. If he wasn’t the official face of atheism on the Internet, he was pretty close. This behavior was not new. This was typical for him.  Everyone seemed willing to ignore it until the latest blow-up, where he notably went after an atheist, not some creationist with a few dozen subscribers. This led to an argument in the comments. The general assessment was that YouTube was a sewer and the Pharyngula readership hadn’t criticized him because they were only vaguely familiar with him. His subscriber base had very little overlap with the written blogs and certainly not with the social-justice oriented ones like Pharygula. It isn’t their job to seek out every atheist jack ass and condemn him, even if he may be popular in some sense. After I calmed down, I had to admit they were right. Lots of fishing through the discussion archive turned up very little mention of him. He really had flown below the radar of polite society until this point. So what does this have to do with Thunderf00t?

Look through the comments in the linked thread. Thunderf00t is brought up as exhibit C of how YouTube is a sewer, full of people more interested in posturing, pwning and epeen than making good arguments or promoting some rational cause. (Exhibit B was Pat Condell.) The most positive thing anyone had to say about Thunderf00t in that thread was that he was on the low-end of informational science videos as opposed to be completely worthless and that he wasn’t as bad as TheAmazingAtheist or Pat Condell. I would like to call special attention to what jijoya said on comment 1226:

Speaking of the YT atheist community, Thunderfoot has given me yet another reason to regret ever subscribing to him. He favorited a video by some guy bashing Coughlan’s input on TJ-gate (because TF hates Coughlan). However, to this day I’ve yet to see him utter a word or like / favorite a video dealing with the actual subject matter. Once again, it seems that militant misogyny displayed by one of the YT atheist icons clearly isn’t all that important (compared to petty personal grudges, for example), so a comment from the other YT icons isn’t really required.

So in this major blow-up where most people on FTB condemned TJ as generally reprehensible, Thunderf00t passive-aggressively supported him. Why? Because Richard Coughlan was criticizing TJ and Thunderf00t has a grudge against him for previously criticizing him. IIRC, that situation started with this video:

Most of you are likely already familiar with the alleged ground-zero mosque, but in case you aren’t,suffice to say that video is just uncritical recitation of right-wing propaganda that mostly originated with Pamela Geller. It’s a mixture of lies and spin with zero unvarnished truth. The site isn’t ground zero, but several blocks away. It isn’t a mosque, but a Muslim community outreach center. The people behind it have nothing to do with terrorism and are the sort of Muslims that participate in interfaith dialogues and are generally more tolerant than your average Southern Baptist. This isn’t to say they are harmless, no religious group is, but they are definitely not militants or fundies. This is a serious category error. These people had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks and are in fact wanted to build this partially to have  positive image of Islam in the neighborhood and not let a couple dozen assholes they didn’t know define who they were.

The next big blow-up was about death threats from Ali aka Dawah Films. Pharyngula covered it here. This article only covers Thunderf00t’s account. Ali shows up in the comments, but he’s no more objective than Thunderf00t and doesn’t do himself much good. This is one of those cases where the original videos have been deleted, so you may have to trust me on this. Ali is a Muslim apologist. He got in an argument with Thunderf00t about something. I had already unsubscribed him at this point, so only found out when other channels picked it up. It ended up with Thunderf00t responded to a claim about the great accomplishments of Islam by saying that Islam only survives  because the West allows it. Ali responded that if anyone tries to kill innocent people, Muslim or non-Muslim, Muslims will rise up and kill the invaders as the Koran commands. Thunderf00t edited this clip to remove the part that made it clear he was talking about a hypothetical self-defense situation and made a video about how a “moderate Muslim” was giving him death threats, but he wouldn’t be intimidated and would keep speaking the truth even if it cost him his life. This was part of his usual schtick. He would take any example he could find of Muslims threatening violence and then use it as an example of how “moderates” support violence. He also did a lot with the “Why won’t moderate Muslims condemn violence?” meme. If you are unfamiliar with this, plenty have condemned violence, but guys like Thunderf00t just go on pretending it didn’t happen. Ali, instead of doing anything sensible at this point, obtained Thunderf00t’s personal information and tried to get him fired. He rounded up some support at this point. To be fair, I don’t think he intended the original video as a threat, just as cultural dick-waving, but I can see how Ali took it that way. Ali’s behavior was indefensible, but that doesn’t excuse anything Thunderf00t did, especially since he was quote-mining the guy before he did anything wrong. He caught a lot of flack for this from other YouTubers, which led to the following videos:

To summarize: anyone who criticizes him is saying what Ali did is OK. He is an Internet doctor who can speculate about what mental illnesses people have and then discredit them for said illnesses, despite all his hammering creationists for basing conclusions on scant evidence and leaps of logic and trying to weigh in on fields in which they are not qualified. Anyone who’s ever taken drugs is not credible, even once they beat the habit. Of course, he only insinuates these things instead of directly saying them for the most part, so he can claim he has been wronged if someone criticizes him for what he said. (I should also point out he picked a video of Coughlan from a year or so earlier unrelated to the dispute the were having and called him emotionally unstable for crying about something that would have reduced any man to tears. So we have more quote-mining mixed with some gender-normative shaming for emotional displays.) Perhaps the worst point is the second video, where he argues that atheists should never speak out against other atheists, even when they are wrong, because it’s important to keep a united front. This is terribly ironic since he constantly condemned Muslims for not speaking out against other Muslims. Also, he was saying this to criticize several other users for calling out his dishonest tactics and questioning the validity of his guilt-by-association arguments. And he took his title from the Bible.

Oh, and Muslim countries suck because they don’t do publish enough scientific research. I’m sure that Islam does have effects that restrict scientific inquiry, especially when it comes to evolution, but he doesn’t show any evidence of this. He just says that correlation equals causation and ignores that the non-Muslim countries used in his comparison are quite a bit richer than the Muslim ones, which is a far more likely explanation.

Plus there’s the issue of him censoring any entries into the Draw Mohammed Day contest that made fun of him instead of just Mohammed. I agree with basically everything in the following series, which includes a lot of responses explaining things that happened in the videos which disappeared:

If Freethought Blogs wants some good vloggers who can put out a steady volume, I would suggest Laci Green or Divinty33372 or really any of the people featured in the above videos. The bottom line: PZ told me when I got upset about TheAmazingAtheist that the guy was not part of the community. The mainstream blogs didn’t link him and didn’t invite him to the major conferences. As I pointed out at the time, Thunderf00t was being invited to conferences. Now, he’s on the verge of being promoted by one of the biggest blog networks. This time, you can do something. You do not want this guy to be a spokesperson for you. I am a rationalist first, a liberal second and an atheist third. I am an atheist because it is reasonable and because religion has terrible social effects. I am not a member of any team and won’t give a pass for bad reasoning and bigotry just because they are being used to support a position that I hold. Thunderf00t has done a lot of good work, but all rationality or honesty goes out the window when he has a point to score against religion or his ego is on the line.

From → meta, Religion

6 Comments
  1. To clarify: Thunderf00t paints Christians with a broad brush as well, though not as broad. My issue with him isn’t so much that he isn’t being fair to religious folks. It’s good to have these kinds of arguments out there to get people thinking about them, especially since plenty of religious types want to blame us for Stalin and Pol Pot. My problem is the way he handles criticism, where he consistently goes to unwarranted personal attacks, quote-mining and generally claiming that anyone who disagrees with him is hurting the movement.

  2. From what you’ve said above, he should fit right in with the Free Thought Lot,,,,,

  3. aceofsevens, you’ve seemed like a pretty reasonable guy in my previous interactions with you, but I think this is catastrophically off-base. I stand by what I said in my Facebook comments:

    (1) At the time of the Pak51 controversy, my reaction was that I don’t care for Mosques (or other Islamic buildings), but that they should have the legal right to build the thing. Don’t necessarily agree with everything he says in that video, but I don’t think he’s so far off base.

    (2) Quote mining is bad, unfortunately without original videos it’s hard to judge how unfair thunderf00t was being.

    (3) Mental illness is not always a barrier to making valuable contributions to online discussions (case in point: JT). But sometimes it is.

    A whole video on the Coughlan616 guy seems excessive Perhaps it would’ve been wiser to say “I believe his behavior is a reflection of mental illness and I don’t want to mess with that” and leave it at that. But it may have felt like an appropriate response at the time, given the severity of the guy’s behavior and/or a lot of people wanting to know what was up with him.

    ~~~

    Another point: it’s dangerous to read very much into one “like” or “favoriting” of a YouTube video. And even more dangerous to read much into what someone doesn’t say.

    There are all kinds of thoughts I have in my head but don’t publicize because of lack of time / not sure where to begin sorting out a particular mess / not wanting to shock my mom / bad things could happen if my boss found them.

    Condemning someone on such thin evidence is the way of the internet flame war.

    ~~~

    I’m a firm believer that the kind of things you say about thunderf00t shouldn’t be said unless you can really back them up. And I think you failed to do that.

    • While the videos themselves are gone, multiple people back my account of what happened in the videos linked above.

      I’ll admit some of this is a bit thinly documented due to the memory hole. The evidence of him quote-mining has largely disappeared, as has the evidence that he likes to bait people by saying things that sound like death threats, then acting shocked anyone would interpret them that way. He may have liked a video arguing that rape threats are actually OK and anyone who complains just wants attention for some reason other than agreeing with it. In fact, I’m pretty sure that this is the case. Let’s leave all this aside for a moment.

      His claims that atheists should not criticize other atheists are demonstrated pretty well. When he was accused of being wrong, instead of explaining how he had been misinterpreted or arguing that he was right, he made personal attacks against his critics and, more importantly, said no one should point it out if he’s wrong because they are on the same team. Apparently, political unity is more important than the truth. I don’t think that there’s any way to excuse that.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. An apology to Thunderf00t or sometimes I’m that Greater Internet Fuckwad « The Hypothetical Bus Stop
  2. Addressing some things Thunderf00t definitely actually said « The Hypothetical Bus Stop

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