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Dystopic Implications of Sam Kriss’s Trial by Social Media: Oct 18, 2017

October 18, 2017 7 comments

The event discussed in this post is a bit obscure, and not well publicized, but it carries highly dystopian implications. While I have mentioned its central character in an older post, it is worthwhile to quickly go over some relevant details. Sam Kriss, is a young but somewhat well-known freelance journalist whose articles have been published by a number of alternative and not-so-alternative online media outlets such as VICE, Jacobin, Slate, Politico, Baffler etc. He is known for his verbose and often personalized style of writing, which includes insulting some of the subjects of his pieces. It is also worthwhile to know that he has strong leftist and marxist leanings (at least in his articles) in spite of being born to wealthy parents. His outspoken support for the “feminist cause” during the Gamergate controversy is relevant to the current controversy.

So did the current kerfuffle, which is the topic of this post, start? Well.. like many controversies nowadays it started with a celebrity driven social media phenomena and a social media post. More specifically, the “#metoo” campaign on twitter in the wake of revelations of prolonged sexual improprieties by Harvey Weinstein has seemingly opened the floodgates of accusations against men of some fame in the entertainment and media industry. While some of the new accusations are likely true and rather disturbing, more than a few of the newly publicized accusations seem to be less about rape than about aggressive and unwelcome sexual comments and advances. In other words, many of the newly surfacing accusations are about stuff that is not illegal under current laws, but could be perceived as unwelcome or insulting by one party to the interaction.

If that was not the case, many of those being accused would have been tried and convicted by the existent legal system a long time ago. Either that, or those making the accusations would have been far richer than they are now.

Why is any of this relevant to the main focus of this post? Well.. it comes to the circumstances of the recent accusations made against Sam Kriss. A day or two ago, a woman journalist published a lengthy denunciation of Sam Kriss on FaceBook. In it, she claimed to have been sexually assaulted by him on at least one occasion. As you might expect, tons of twitter feminists and their “male allies” went on denunciation spree of his alleged actions based solely on her version of the story. Anybody who dared to suggest that the accuser’s version of the events might be incomplete or not completely true was brushed away as ‘mansplaining’ and evidence of patriarchic oppression or complicity with “rapists”. As it turns out there was more than side to this story and one detail which was very relevant to what occurred.

Sam Kriss published his response yesterday. To quickly summarize, he does not deny that the alleged incident took place. He does, however, provide the very relevant detail that he had a pre-existing casual sexual relationship with his accuser when the event in question occurred. Let me rephrase that, he already had sex with her on more than one occasion prior to the events in question. He claims that he was just aggressively flirting with her with the expectation of another sexual encounter. He also claims that she did not at any stage of that encounter, ask him to stop. Moreover, she continued to message him for many months after that encounter suggesting that a future hookup was possible. As it stands today, it is still his word against her- though I am sure that both parties have some electronic evidence of their past conversations.

And as most of you would expect, these accusations have unleashed a storm of “indignation” (for public display) against Sam Kriss based solely on accusations made against him on a social media platform. To be clear, it is hard to know which of two parties is being untruthful since there has been no formal process of (legal) discovery, let alone a formal criminal or civil trial. Personally, I think it is unlikely that the accusations made against him would stand in any half-decent court of law- largely because it is one of those ‘he said-she said’ type situations without physical evidence to decisively support either of their accounts. This has however not stopped some of the media outlets which had previously published his articles from dropping him from their roster. A backbench Labor MP in UK has even called for him to be locked up even before he is formally accused (if that will ever happen) and proven guilty in a court of law.

It is hard to ignore the similarities between witch hunts in previous eras and such cases. In both, the accuser (or accusers) version of the story was usually believed in an uncritical manner while all evidence contrary to the accuser’s version of events was suppressed or deliberately ignored. In both cases, prosecution of the accused was justified as a moral good and backed up by an ideology, irrespective of any evidence that it was neither. In both cases, those who dissented were labelled as enablers of “un-goodness” and agents of the “great deceivers”. In both cases, kangaroo “courts” and mob “justice” were seen as far more desirable than due process and a fair trial. My point is that making significant decisions about the innocence or guilt of any person without due process or a fair trial is a reversion to the pre-enlightenment era rather than an improvement over the current setup.

As an amusing side-note to this story, it is worth recounting that Sam Kriss was an outspoken supporter of “social media feminists” who ranted and raved about all those “sexist” male gamers during the Gamergate controversy. While it is hard to say what drove him to make fun of all those “loser” male gamers and their concerns during that period, whatever he did was unable to protect him from the witchunt caused by an accusation of sexual aggression (and maybe assault) on social media. Notably, almost none of the “feminists” he so vocally supported during the Gamergate controversy appears willing to give a fair hearing to his (very plausible) version of the story. Maybe, uncritical support of a bunch of ideologues with no real interest in fairness or due process was not a good idea in the first place. In any case, it will be interesting to see how this story develops in the near future.

What do you think? Comments?