Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lessons from the fall of Thunderf00t

Once upon a time there was a young man named Phil Mason. Using  the pseudonym Thunderf00t, Phil became famous on the interwebs by making a series of  youtube videos he dubbed "Why people laugh at creationists." Over and over he pleased his audience, pointing out the absurdly backward logic adopted by young-earth creationists. His audience watched in awe as he pwned one crazy zealot after another. One of the my favorites was his  refutation of Ray Comfort and his assertion that the banana is proof that god designed all living things in their current form and plopped them on earth's surface around six thousand years ago. Thunderf00t made many a video where he was the hero and his vanquished enemies were exposed as utter slime-balls. The Westerboro baptists, Ray Comfort, and VenomFangX being some of the most egregious creationists he refuted over the years.

But making yourself look good when pitted against idiots is an easy task I suppose. It is much more difficult to convince someone who you mostly agree with about some subtle point you happen to differ in opinion over.  As Thunderf00t and his droves of fans made their way to a new internet venue, Free Thought Blogs (FtB), things got a bit hairy. Phil Mason decided to test his boundaries in this new internet-hood right off the bat. Keep in mind, he was invited to this forum in an attempt to include more video participation at the FtB network.  He came in at the same time as other famous free-thinking rationalist video-bloggers like Cristina Rad.

Phil decided to make his debut on FtB by taking serious swings at some prominent feminist bloggers, namely the founder of the Skepchick network - Rebecca Watson. Phil accused Rebecca of causing unnecessary rifts in the skeptical community by shouting "Rape" at conferences without warrant in his opinion (Google 'elevatorgate'). Less than a week after publishing his first few blog posts at FtB Thunderf00t was stripped of his blogging privileges there and banned from the network.

Edit: Ian Watson kindly points out in the comments that Phil is not banned from commenting at FtB just writing a blog there.

I understand why the FtB leaders (namely PZ Myers) gave Phil the axe almost immediately. FtB is turning out to be a Juggernaut in the identity-politics coalescing around the freethinking, humanist, atheism+ community. Thunderf00t is free to keep on making you-tube videos and writing at whatever internet venue he creates, but the leaders at FtB decided they did not want him as a front-man on their network. I get it, and I do not see this as a violation of his freedom of speech or press or whatever. We are all allowed to choose our associates especially on the internet. We can choose to ignore whoever we want. The bigger your tribe the harsher the effects of a public shunning. 

Now, I’d like to explain why I see the demise of T-f00t on FtB as a good thing even though I am a staunch advocate of free speech. What are we (free-thinkers) fighting for? The big issues for me are the anti-vaccination movement, any kind of faith healers, homeopathic quackery, religiously induced bigotry and a slew of other social justice and environmental issues. I have witnessed self-proclaimed hardcore feminists also argue against vaccination and talk about how western medicine is "patriarchal" and how they need to fight it tooth-and-nail. Please do not get me wrong, I am not saying all feminists do this, just a vocal sub-group. As a white, able-bodied male in my late twenties it is nearly impossible to even start a conversation with a person in this camp because I am written-off before I open my mouth. So, rather than having a front-man on FtB loudly defending his rights to be a bit sleezy at skeptic conferences I’d much rather have strong feminists like Rebecca Watson and Jen McCreight who also speak out against anti-vaxers and other charlatans front and center on the most prominent free-thinking forum in the English speaking world. 

The biggest lesson I take from the fall of Thunderf00t is “Choose your battles wisely.”
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