Business Tips for Culture Makers #624: CAUTION: how your principles and beliefs get leveraged and EXPLOITED to grow the platforms of our opponents
This blog post is long and a little grim, so please read it with this in mind:
We are the culture makers. Our social media comments and who we follow, online, determines what the mainstream media covers. That means we have the power to determine who makes the news and whose platforms grow. Let’s take ourselves seriously and use our culture-making power, DELIBERATELY.
Jordan B. Peterson recently announced that he’s starting a new online platform. I’m sure the incels and white supremacists and gamer-gaters who feverishly follow him are delighted. FREE SPEECH!!!!
(A long time ago, I wrote an essay for Salon about how theoretical ‘free speech’ gets invoked to silence the ACTUAL SPEECH of women. It’s here.)
Here’s what I think about this: I think it would be a great idea to ignore the hell out of JBP’s announcement.
That’s why I’m writing you this email. I’m hoping you will join me in NOT contributing your time and comments to protesting the platform.
And yes, I 100% get the irony of me writing an email to you naming the platform and him and then asking you not to mention his name or this platform. Let’s chalk it up to taking one for the team.
JBP has secured a handful of infamous anti-feminists and white supremacists to publish on the platform, including one dude who organized the relentless harassment of Anita Sarkeesian during and after Gamergate. Such esteemed company.
Another of the commentators he’s secured for the site is James Altucher.
I was surprised by this. James Altucher is someone whom I’ve followed off-and-on for a decade and sometimes appreciate for his smarts and vulnerability.
Altucher is also a client of Ryan Holiday’s PR company, Brass Check. So is Lewis Howes. Lewis Howes seems irrelevant to this conversation but bear with me…
I’m going to connect some dots.
I: Anti-fragile Marketing aka BAIT THE FEMINISTS
Ryan Holiday has a method for getting mainstream media attention — he wrote a book about it called Trust Me, I’m Lying — and one important step in the Trust Me I’m Lying PR formula is this: BAIT THE FEMINISTS.
Here’s the strategy:
be deliberately egregious –> stoke a controversy, especially with feminists –> secure mainstream media attention –> monetize that attention
Here’s an example of his formula, in practice:
- First, Ryan Holiday bought a billboard advertising Tucker Max.
- Then, in the middle of the night, Ryan Holiday defaced it and took photos of it.
- Then he called blogs and newspapers and said that feminists were protesting against Tucker. Proof? The photos of the defaced billboard.
- Blogs reported on the apparent feminist controversy (all manufactured! It didn’t exist!!!!!), then mainstream media reported on it, and suddenly the book Tucker Max wrote was everywhere in the media and selling, selling, selling.
Do you see what happened? He used apparent feminist protest to break into mainstream media and create a buzz around Tucker Max, which created book sales.
Another example of the formula, in practice:
In 2016, Derek Halpern of Social Triggers retweeted a 2015 Breitbart (!!!!!) post that maps this exact formula:
Sidenote: Halpern’s tweet has been deleted. https://twitter.com/derekhalpern/status/595208838934077440 ; but Halpern defended retweeting it by tweeting that he thought it was a great marketing case study.
Here’s the skeleton of the process that Halpern thought was good marketing:
- A supplement company launched a sexist, fat shaming poster campaign in the London tube
- Feminists protested the ad
- Mainstream media reported on the feminist protest
- Sales actually increased from the controversy.
Ryan Holiday invented this method, and to Derek Halpern — side note: Halpern used to be an affiliate of Marie Forleo’s B-school and Halpern and Holiday are friends and colleagues — exploiting feminist outrage is just smart marketing.
It doesn’t even have to be real feminist outrage; as he detailed in his book, Holiday is happy to fake the feminist outrage, himself.
But imagine how happy it must make them when the actual feminist blogosphere takes the bait and takes up the cause and basically goes to work for them, for free.
They’re getting paid by our protest efforts. We’re building the platforms and book sales of our ideological opponents.
This is how YOUR emotional labour on social media gets co-opted to build platforms for anti-feminists.
I call this kind of marketing ‘anti-fragile marketing’ because it uses critique, outrage and anger aimed at itself to grow stronger.
(Antifragile is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s concept and I think he would hate that I applied it to marketing, which in turn delights me.)
This at least partially how the infamous Milo Y leveraged outrage, too. To grow his profile. It was not an accident. Antifragile marketers court controversy, especially with feminists, because it gets them known and makes them money.
One more time: this is how YOUR emotional + intellectual labour on social media gets co-opted to build platforms for anti-feminists.
Allow me to digress:
So many women entrepreneurs and culture makers come to me, worried about what happens if they get on the radar of trolls and MRAs. Their question to me is how to either avoid or endure that kind of blowback — because outrage and backlash can destroy their reputations and businesses.
Meanwhile, anti-fragile marketers court blowback in order to get paid.
This is how privilege works in an unjust culture. Get attention and get paid for being an asshole; the rest of us have to be beyond flawless or we lose everything.
II Lewis Howes and Ryan Holiday/Brass Check
In fall of 2017, Lewis Howes’ had a book published called The Mask of Masculinity.
Leading up to it, in the summer of 2017, Lewis Howes posted a really stupid, clumsy post about gender on his Facebook page…and feminists and culture makers started commenting on it, correcting him and arguing with him.
Let’s survey the landscape behind this post:
A) Lewis Howes is a client of Brass Check, Ryan Holiday’s PR firm — and, as I wrote, Ryan Holiday is the inventor of the “bait-feminists” PR strategy.
B) Lewis Howes knows the strategy, because he’s interviewed both Tucker Max and Ryan holiday repeatedly on his podcast.
So I looked at the really awkward, stupid post on Lewis Howes’ FB page and thought, Oh I see what’s going on here…
In my opinion, it wasn’t an accident that Howes was posting an article lauding an anti-feminist and blaming feminism for “hardening women” and for the struggles of young men. He wasn’t going to be surprised that a post like that would generate a lot of feedback and feminist pushback. THAT WAS (arguably) THE PLAN.
Stoking controversy around gender would help get him more mainstream media attention. He’d be able to leverage all the labour on that thread to show that he’s at the centre of an important discussion and an expert on the issue. Mainstream media attention — and a lucrative book launch — could ensue.
One of the giveaways, in my opinion: starting a fractious and clumsy conversation about gender and feminism and then not stewarding the conversation. Not moderating, not checking people going off the rails, not really contributing anything thoughtful or meaningful. Just sitting back with popcorn and enjoying the show.
And…Lewis Howes made that post in tandem with links to his book about masculinity that was about to launch.
So, caution. Look for antifragile marketers using your labour to generate controversy that pays them, not you.
I don’t have a huge preexisting issue with Lewis Howes. He’s probably not really explicitly anti-feminist. Maybe I’m wrong and this wasn’t a deliberate strategy mapped out in the marketing section of a book proposal, just a weird accident.
Either way, I’m not interested in pushing back or playing into this.
I’m noting that I think I see a pattern and a way that our work gets used against us, to advance the causes and profiles of people uninvested in our rise.
I’m keeping my labour for myself… and mapping this strategy out for you, so you can avoid getting sucked into a so-called “controversy” and contributing your uncompensated labour to grow their platforms and bank accounts.
III Jordan Peterson, James Altucher and Ryan Holiday/Brass Check
Bringing it back to Jordan Peterson’s new platform.
I look at this announcement and think that feminist protest and outrage would be GREAT PR for this new platform. I’m willing to bet that’s EXACTLY what they’re hoping for.
Which brings us back to the media/PR/online marketing professionals who teach people to deliberately, publicly bait feminists in order to make their anti-feminist clients famous.
Antifragile marketers court controversy, especially with feminists, because it gets them known and makes them money.
Again: picking fights with feminists is deliberate. It’s not something personas like this fear or try to avoid; instead they court the call out.
So when culture-makers, feminists and people who are anti-oppression contribute our comments and pushback on the threads and platforms of The Usual Suspects who are deliberately stirring the gender pot by posting incendiary and stupid hot takes on the nature of gender and feminism…
…we’re often supplying our uncompensated time and intellectual labour to building their platform and moving their books.
Our righteous and well-intentioned intellectual labour gets leveraged by our opponent into proof that he’s at the centre of an important discussion and an expert on the issue. Mainstream media attention — and a lucrative book launch — will ensue.
Again: caution. Look for antifragile marketers leveraging your labour to generate controversy that pays them, not you. Watch for this formula in action.
Energetic Tip for Culture Makers: Whenever you’re outraged, and tempted to comment on someone’s page, ask yourself: WHO BENEFITS FROM MY OUTRAGE?
Your outrage has a monetary value; so who gets paid from this effort?
If it’s not you, or a cause you care about…that might be a sign that anti-fragile marketers are laying a trap for us.
IV If Anti-fragile Marketing is Brass Check’s formula…
- Ryan Holiday mapped out the formula and practice of deliberately baiting feminists in order for their clients to get mainstream media attention in his book, Trust Me I’m Lying.
- Ryan Holiday owns Brass Check.
- We just saw how the Holiday/Brass Check bait-the-feminists formula was deployed for BC clients Tucker Max and (possibly) for Lewis Howes.
- James Altucher, a future commentator on Jordan B Peterson’s new platform, is a client of Brass Check.
- JBP’s entire public career and book sales are a testament to how oppositional outrage boosts someone’s fame and reach.
Right now, I suspect the Peterson’s new platform has a PR strategy in play that plans to leverage feminist outrage to grow its reach. Certainly the principals are familiar with the formula.
Let’s not fall into the trap set for us.
THIS FORMULA EXPLOITS OUR LEGITIMATE PROTEST TO GET THEMSELVES PAID.
So…after I this email, I will be deliberately, aggressively ignoring JBP’s platform. I won’t be writing hot takes about Jordan B. Peterson. I will not supply any more of my elbow grease to shine his star.
Every time I’m tempted to write about him, I will write about one of you — deliberate, committed culture-makers growing a world in which we all flourish — instead.
I’m going to invest my time, attention, and social media comments in people and platforms that I want to grow — not those that seek to exploit us.
We are the culture makers. Our attention, efforts and social media comments can and do boost people into the mainstream. Let’s use that culture making power deliberately, to grow the causes and people we care about and who care about us.
love + justice,