Yesterday, the Wrap reported that MSNBC was cutting ties with its contributor Sam Seder, host of the progressive podcast Majority Report, after the following old tweet of his, archived here, was unearthed:
At the time of the tweet, there was a heated discussion going on over filmmaker Roman Polanski, who some liberals were attempting to rehabilitate despite the fact that he had been convicted of child rape for a case involving a 13-year-old girl, forcing him to flee the United States. Seder’s tweet comes across as shocking, of course — that’s the point — but any adult human who takes more than 20 seconds to sit with it will realize that Seder was abrasively ridiculing those who were defending Polanski on the grounds of his artistic brilliance. He was not — and the fact that anyone even needs to type this sentence suggests that the invention of the internet may have been a grave error — literally saying that if his daughter were raped, he would hope that the rapist possesses certain creative attributes.
But the tweet’s obvious intent didn’t matter to the far right, which began enthusiastically circulating the tweet after far-right manosphere personality Mike Cernovich first resurfaced it last week. Soon it was further broadcast by a sizable chunk of far-right Twitter, including figures like, well, the son of the sitting president of the United States, Donald Trump Jr.
Last week, Seder put out a video explaining the situation:
The video is worth watching because it captures the full extent of the campaign against him and just how disingenuous it is. The people attacking Seder for supposedly making light of rape and sexual assault, he explains, consist primarily of staunch supporters of two men Seder has criticized — Donald Trump and Roy Moore — who have been accused not of making a joke about sexual assault, but of committing it. By multiple, credible women.
But the most important moment of Seder’s video might be when he shows, onscreen, an example of the sort of comment advertisers to his podcast have been receiving:
Last week, I wrote about how companies desperately need to do a better job distinguishing internet outrage that can be safely ignored from outrage that needs to be responded to. The former often comes from people who were never your customers in the first place — but online, they can pose as your customers to try to force you to take some action that furthers their agenda.
This is a textbook example. The people trying to get Seder fired have every incentive in the world to pose as outraged customers of his advertisers, and as deeply concerned about sexual assault, when in reality, all the available evidence suggests that they are mad at him for criticizing men who, overwhelming evidence suggests, actually committed sexual assault.
But think about this from the point of view of a corporate employee at MSNBC, or at one of Seder’s advertisers. Suddenly, they receive a slew of complaints from “customers” about a tweet that, at a quick glance and in the panic of a corporate emergency, certainly looks bad. Maybe you can ignore the complaints for a day or two, but you notice that they just grow and grow. They won’t go away. This is a genuine consumer revolt. How much money will be lost? At a certain point, the calculus becomes clear: It’s better to just cut ties with the figure in question.
Of course, things look quite differently if you have a little bit of knowledge about the denizens of the far-right internet and how they operate. If you know, for example, that Cernovich, the ringleader of this operation, has said things like, “Have you guys ever tried ‘raping’ a girl without using force? Try it. It’s basically impossible. Date rape does not exist,” or “A whore will let her friend ruin your life with a false rape case. So why should I care when women are raped?” — you might be a little less likely to take his and his fans’ concerns seriously. More basically, if you understand that the source of the anger has to do with political preferences and ideology and a desire to attack one’s enemies rather than, well, actual outrage, it might affect your decision.
But all of this stuff is complicated. The internet can quickly fill every room of your house with smoke, and it’s possible to waste a lot of time, and do a lot of damage, stumbling blindly through all that smoke, searching for a fire that doesn’t actually exist. Until MSNBC and other companies realize this, they will get rolled by bad-faith far-right provocateurs over and over and over. Every scalp emboldens them, and Seder’s scalp was a big one.