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.”


Unknown said...

Excellent article but for one minor nitpick:

While tf00t was indeed stripped of his blogging priveledges, at no point was he banned from the network. He's still able to visit and comment on others' blogs.

Some of those individual bloggers may have banned him from their blogs, but he hasn't been banned from the FtB network as a whole.

TychaBrahe said...

Why are you bringing up Freedom of Speech in this context?

The First Amendment guarantees people in the United States the right to speak, publish, and assemble peaceably without restriction from the government. There is no guarantee that any private business (which Freethought Blogs is) will not restrict your speech. No one will arrest you for writing a letter to the editor (government suppression), but the editor of the paper is not required to publish your manifesto (private business).

Anonymous said...

Without commenting on anything else I don't understand how "free speech" even enters into the picture here. "Freedom of speech" refers to government action. Period. Not private actions by private citizens. Whatever your thoughts about tF00t or FTB free speech ain't part of the debate.

tompainesghost said...

"I do not see this as a violation of his freedom of speech or press" This is what I am saying. I am addressing things T-foot and his minions have claimed over the past several weeks.
@Ian Watson - Thanks, I like constructive criticism! I will make that edit.

Triplanetary said...

Contrary to how the name sounds, radical feminists, as the term is generally applied in that community, aren't just feminists who are even feminister. There's no amount of being feminist that would make me dislike a person. No, radfems (I use the abbreviation to make clear that I'm referring to a specific self-identified community here) are a nasty lot where I've never failed to see homophobia, transphobia (against the "wrong" kinds of trans people, anyway), and racism on display.

The term "radical feminism" is a total misnomer, because theirs isn't feminism taken to an extreme. It's feminism stripped of the reason, egalitarianism, and awareness of society's numerous vectors of privilege that characterize most feminists. So like you, I'm glad to see brilliant feminists like Rebecca Watson at the forefront of FtB, because feminism is a rational position and people need to realize that the anti-vaxxers and the like are NOT representative.

dalekpete said...

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

Ironically Thunderf00t fought the wrong battle about the atheist community choosing the wrong battle.

Arthur said...

You're largely correct in your assessment of the demise of Thunderf00t.

But I don't understand why he was considered such a hero in the first place. A pompous egomaniac man-child going about calling himself "Thunderf00t" with a straight face. Regularly begging for dollars on behalf of "science and education" but in fact permanently mired in seedy online feuds about nothing.

He wasn't exactly Carl Sagan, was he. C'mon.

Good riddance.

Anonymous said...

hello from 2019 year. Stupid article and the author does not seem much smarter than text. :) Free Thought Blogs, so called and behave like the last censor of the Russian empire of the 19th century, you have to behave like this. This is ridiculous.