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On Alex Goldman Calling For Matt Yglesias To Be Bullied Off Twitter
Hurt people hurt people, et cetera
This was a little thing, but it stuck with me. Last month, Matt Yglesias joined the latest Twitter replacement (LOL), Bluesky. He was immediately dogpiled by screaming assholes. As a result, he posted that he was going to leave the platform.
“We did it folks,” tweeted the People’s City Council of Los Angeles (“Abolitionist, anti-capitalist & anti-imperialist collective amplifying the voice of the people through direct action, public ed + community space”). “We bullied Matt Yglesias off of bluesky .” That account screenshotted Yglesias’s announcement, alongside thoughtful responses sent to him like “nobody likes you,” “shut the fuck up,” and “Go back to Twitter loser.”
Alex Goldman, who used to be the cohost of my onetime favorite podcast, the now-defunct Reply All,retweeted either this or another, similar tweet gleefully documenting the abuse directed at Yglesias (looks like he has since un-retweeted it, but I saw it at the time). He then called on his hundred-thousand-plus followers to escalate this weird campaign: “Alright now let’s bully Matt Yglesias off Twitter too.”
The tweet didn’t perform that well, but still: as the former cohost of a podcast that engendered rather strong parasocial relationships with its listeners, Goldman’s tweet was likely to influence his followers’ online behavior. He’s a prominent, popular figure in a certain very online world whose denizens are likely to heed his cues regarding which sorts of behavior are and aren’t appropriate.
Why should Matt Yglesias be bullied off Twitter? No one really knows. The point is he’s some sort of weaselly centrist bothsides-ing asshole. I also heard he’s a transphobe! I mean, everyone says he is. There’s no need for fact-checking when It Is Widely Known.
Alex Goldman gets in a lot of online fights. Surely he knows how unpleasant it is to have a lot of people yelling at you. And surely he knows how negatively it can impact your mental health. After all, he has spoken and written movingly about his own mental health struggles. In fact, if you scroll down his timeline you’ll see that the tweet below his call for Matt Yglesias to be bullied is about his own incapacitating depression.
Goldman also wrote about it rather movingly on his Substack recently, referring to depression as “a razorclawed little goblin standing on my chest as [I] lay immobile underneath it. It glowers oppressively over me, and makes movement in any direction impossible.” It’s a horrible, memorable image. Any decent person would feel bad for Alex Goldman.
But how does Goldman know that Matt Yglesias isn’t also going through some stuff? He really can’t know, is the answer. So I guess my argument is that you can’t really call for pain to be inflicted on others while also trying to call attention to, and generate sympathy for, your own pain. And what Goldman is doing here is unfortunately characteristic of a broad swath of the online lefty world, which is just a miserable, deranged, angry place. (It goes without saying that a lot of online harassment is worse than a bunch of people calling you an asshole, and in this instance no one is, like, doxxing Yglesias or making credible threats on his life, but we can acknowledge these gradations without losing sight of the bigger picture here!)
I think Twitter in particular has gotten worse because over time, the better-functioning, less sadistic and damaged people have left (I am not including myself — my departure is temporary). Whether or not my theory is correct, you see this a lot: you see people rapidly vacillate between trying to express their pain, or trying to defend their friends against pain being inflicted on them, and seeking to firehouse as much pain as humanly possible at their own enemies.
One way this often goes down is through weaponized accusations of “online harassment” or feeling “unsafe.” I’ve written about this before, this dynamic in which I can say and do whatever I want, but as soon as you criticize me (or my friends), even if it’s done in a milquetoast manner, I’ll scream bloody murder. Matt Yglesias is a Bad Guy, so no amount of “go fuck yourself” or “eat shit” is enough, and the Good Guys certainly won’t rise to his defense (because if you do, you’re defending a Bad Guy, and then, by the Transitive Properties Of Good Versus Bad Guys, you can become a Bad Guy yourself!). An example I shouldn’t bring back up, but that is irresistible: back in 2020 Matt Yglesias signed the Harper’s letter, which his colleague disagreed with, so that act made her feel “less safe” at work. Does it make Matt Yglesias feel “less safe” when people are sending him abusive garbage on social media? You won’t hear a peep of protest from the “anti-harassment” set.
I think at the end of the day there’s a (lower stakes and more online) version of “the cruelty is the point” at work here, whatever you think of that theory. There are certain people who, as a result of trauma or personality disorders or boredom or resentment or some combination of these and other factors, have a strong will to hurt others. They can’t just go torment some random weak, hapless person, because in bien-pensant lefty circles such bullying is in theory verboten. In theory. But if you can find someone who is a bad person (because everyone says they are), then all bets are off: You can bully them and call them a piece of shit and seek to inflict so much harassment on them they flee a social media platform. That’s just social justice, baby! That’s the kind of fearless activism favored by organizations that are “abolitionist, anti-capitalist & anti-imperialist collective[s] amplifying the voice of the people through direct action, public ed + community space.”
Progressive organizations all over the country are in the midst of wave after wave of embarrassing, time- and money-wasting meltdowns, largely because shared ideas about norms, about decency, have been seriously corroded. Antisocial behavior — both outright, obvious bullying and the more subtle, manipulative variants that tend to weaponize shared lefty contempt for oppression and various -isms and -phobias — is, if not endorsed, certainly endorsed tacitly by the silence of a lot of people who are otherwise super concerned about bullying and meanness and online harassment. At least theoretically.
So yes, Goldman’s tweet was just a tweet — but it was an illustrative one. To be clear, I don’t want people to go and harass him as a response. He’s in pain too. But I think we should all just recognize that being human can be tough, and maybe try not to be such raging assholes to one another all the time. If you are going to be an asshole, though, you should own it. You should explain why and under what circumstances you think bullying is good, just to help clear things up on that front. I actually did email Goldman (politely) to see if he’d talk about any of this. I didn’t hear back, because of course I didn’t.
Questions? Comments? Ideas for new social media platforms to bully Matt Yglesias off of? I’m at email@example.com and am certainly not on Twitter. Image: “Two one year old boys are sitting in the sand while one grabs the face of the other one while playing” via Getty.