Rant: Bunz, the “Woke Corporation”, My Hipster Excommunication

Originally published (and then censored) on Medium.

Of Facebook bans and dick-shaped soap.

You know, the things that really matter in 2019.

In late December 2018, I was banned from a corporation’s Facebook group, the “Bunz Trading Zone” and its associated Employment+Entrepreneurial zone. Bunz is a Toronto based meet-up-and-swap page frequented by millenials and urban hipsters of all stripes.

I got banned, the same way I always seem to land in hot water: because I opened my mouth. It’s a fucking bad habit, people.

After stewing for almost a month, I spoke up again telling the story of what happened on my own Facebook page. That was apparently quite the transgression, since for the first time in my 12 year user history, my Facebook post was removed and I received a 24 hour ban apparently for criticizing a corporation. Take that, outspoken activists!

This writeup you’re reading right now was also banned from Medium.com which is why it now lives on a temporary blog created purely for the purposes of hosting this content.

The good news is, the Streisand effect is a thing, so here we are.

 

The inciting incident:

I raised a polite concern about a situation in the Bunz Trading Zone group on Facebook where a group of ‘well-intentioned’ white people were mobbing someone whose profile indicated they were a Latinx Mexican. This group of white folks mobbed him because he was seeking a hairstylist for “cornrows” (whether for himself or someone else I never found out). In case you were wondering, cornrows are an oft-appropriated hairstyle commonly understood to be reserved for Africans or people of African descent.

It seemed hypocritical for white folks to launch a vitriolic attack on a person from a community which is so widely detested that the United States government is willing to shut itself down in order to fund a wall keeping them out of 2/3 of the continent. And, in my defence, I didn’t say “Mexicans should be allowed to culturally appropriate black hairstyles.” I said “Are we whites sure about this?”

Here’s my comment:

bunzejection
Note the first response to me was a white woman sharing a video listicle produced to drive click-based advertising revenue to MTV, that bastion of progressive political theory. Such discourse, much wow.

 

For context, there is actually a substantial amount of nuanced discourse around this specific issue, but all of that discourse leads logically to the conclusion that these are intra-community discussions of deeply personal identities. I’m certainly of the view that white people are not and should not be the arbiters of the complex interplay between the cultures and identities of oppressed groups, especially when verifying the right of an individual to a given cultural product requires white people interrogating them about their ancestry and attempting to debunk their identity like a DNA detective. To do so amounts to a kind of weird lefty race essentialism, and that was my point.

I didn’t exactly have high hopes that a post in a trading group was going to lead to a collective epiphany for the left or substantially enrich the discourse, but I knew I wasn’t wrong and didn’t really believe it was aggressively pushing the line. Sure people aren’t going to get it, but “Hey whiteys, let’s stay in our lane on this one” shouldn’t be a controversial position. Lots of people I know believe these things, including plenty of people of colour (POC) and those people who think this way are some of the most radical leftists I know.

The Bunz head moderator Briony Smith responded as positively as I’d expected when I commented. She admonished me for posting critiques of my fellow white people, said that cornrows are a “cultural appropriation product” only eligible for visible people of colour to trade or seek and if I commented again, in the same tone she’d boot me from the group. She has power, she indicated she would use it. The cop put his hand on his gun. Fair enough. She turned comments off on the post and I did not break the rules again.

I couldn’t do much but sit by and watched as dozens of people liked my original comment, many with facebook’s ‘love’ react. A few hours later I was summarily banned from the Trading Zone.

As anybody who’se ever ruled with an iron fist can tell you, eliminating people whose dissent becomes popular is a reliable, if shortlived plan for limiting future dissent. And this is the sense I’m getting from progressives I’ve talked to about these issues: people feel cowed into silence by extreme and vindictive overreactions. It’s hurting discourse. You can’t really call out a Nazi in the same way you can call out a struggling activist whose next meal or paycheque is contingent on whether people continue to think they’re still a nice person with perfect politics. Precarity and the strong need for community has produced compliance in a lot of cases where true leftists might otherwise label something “liberal bullshit.” Don’t worry, we still do that behind closed doors.

Anecdotally, Bunz (originally Bumz) derived its name from a particularly ugly callout which posited that “Bumz” a self-effacing joke about the poverty of its founder and early members was somehow egregiously offensive to the homeless. I mean a record number of millenials (Bunz’ primary users) are poised on the edge of homelessness but sure, until they’re actually homeless they can’t joke about it I guess.

When it comes to challenging leftist orthodoxy from within the left, nobody wants to be Spartacus. I’m not talking about Jordan Peterson levels of debating whether certain minorities are actually people or whether Trans people exist. There’s still plenty of space to stomp on tired unnuanced alt-right talking points. I’m more talking about more nuanced positions like debating whether you can use pejoratives like ‘stupid’ on Facebook in 2018 (some say it is ableist), or whether penis shaped objects should, on pain of death, require mandatory “content warnings” to make people feel safe from rape (both of these things also happened in Bunz).

I mean damn the parochial social justice wannabes who haven’t been educated in third-year social science classes. Like the catechism of old, much leftist gospel is curated only by a special in-group who are endowed with special powers to teach others of the mandatory content warning shibboleth. They are ordained conduits of the “woke.” It’s an important duty when apostasy is everywhere. We all know that a nuanced take on any issue that liberals get emotional about can essentially be described as discrimination that hasn’t happened yet.

Of course, not only did my punishment not fit the ‘crime’, but they went the extra distance to make sure it hurt. I wasn’t just removed from the trading group where I posted. As though to salt the wound, and without any further interaction, Smith also banned me from the ‘Bunz Employment +Entrepreneurial Zone’, a separate Facebook group where I’d been quite constructively engaged. I had been successful in seeking short-term gig work there before, steps to help keep my head above water after very publicly losing my journalism job for standing up for the rights of another minority community.

The implicit message here is that in the eyes of a corporation and its representatives — my opinion makes me unworthy to trade, eat or work in the city of Toronto. They wouldn’t give me a nickel if they saw me on the street. My removal from that group was obviously vindictive, but of course, it wouldn’t be a punishment if it didn’t have life altering consequences that continue to enforce class oppression and perpetuate my own poverty, right?

It’s a hipster excommunication.

The implicit message here is, that in the eyes of a corporation and its representatives — my opinion makes me unworthy to trade or work in the city of Toronto — It’s a hipster excommunication.

Now, this piece isn’t intended as a deep-dive into my views as a white man on the nuances of identity. Nor is this an expose on what it means when a private corporation with an overwhelmingly white user base declares a stake in the conversation around cultural appropriation and unregistered or inherited intellectual property-by-identity. There is actually a lot that can be said and a lot that HAS been said about these things, including by many people of colour. If you’re looking for a radical critique of left orthodoxy around cultural appropriation theory, here’s one that amounts to “get off the internet, into the streets.”

Those people who are in the streets and engaged in the active process of trying to save the planet from psychopathic politicians and corporations who want to destroy it, need to be safe to politely say “This looks like liberal bullshit” in leftist spaces without being purged. And to be clear, it is liberal bullshit that is the problem. The fact that my saying ‘this is liberal bullshit’ probably just offended you, is, itself liberal bullshit.

With few exceptions, the goals behind social media callouts are rarely justice. There’s an intense emotional validation and a powerful release of endorphins that comes along with venting our rage at a stranger who is about to have a negative experience BECAUSE WE SAY SO. Having the moral high-ground makes us feel powerful. I’ve experienced it, like that time I pissed off half the comedians in the city.

Unfortunately, despite any contributions I have made to social justice in Toronto, I now face starvation and poverty due in great part to the very personal choices of the Bunz moderators. And it’s part of a pattern with the community’s moderation: two years ago, a vindictive Bunz Helping Zone moderator, Mira El Hussein tried unsuccessfully to destroy my reputation in Toronto’s broader activist community by engaging me in conversation via direct message and then publishing what she felt was ‘damning’ dialogue on her own Facebook page, while tagging all of our mutual activist friends, in order to discredit me.

To their credit, several of those people appear to have unfriended her, and this approach failed. I do firmly believe that her latent grudge poisoned the culture of Bunz against me, as a client, customer and community member and contributed in no small part to the more recent moderation decision.

For context, that moderator tried to defame me because I disagreed with a group of predominantly white Facebook commenters who were bullying and insulting some more apolitical Bunz community members. Those apolitical community members had dared to suggest that a picture of a penis-shaped soap-on-a-rope gag gift probably didn’t need a “content warning”. Yes, really.

Shortly afterwards Bunz groups instituted a social media policy mandating that any requested content warning is 100% mandatory. This is a common moderation policy for groups which belong to ‘Leftbook’ ( a loose collection of leftist, liberal and social-justice oriented social media pages).

Leftbook groups are run most commonly as petty dictatorships under the authority of a collective of self-described “authoritarian communists” who believe (and even joke) that excommunication or public executions are the only viable solution to dissent. If, as it appears, Bunz’ social media footprint is being run according to the rules of ‘leftbook groups’, that’s fine, but as a corporation it needs to stop claiming that it is representative of the broader community in Toronto. They are actively harming the broader community by association with leadership decisions and policies that aren’t representative, transparent or accountable. “God help us all if people like this ever formed government.” says the Anarchist.

In a 2017 Motherboard article, Sascha Mojtahedi the head of Bunz, described it as a community transitioning into a ‘city network’. This terminology implies Bunz is a digital public-private space, like a town square. Only, this is a town square policed for ideological inconsistency by people who are unelected, unaccountable and shielded from criticism by the ‘private’ part of the business, and apparently by Facebook’s platform as a whole.

Bunz enjoys an ideological monopoly over that space. Officially the group is apolitical as a trading platform, its Facebook presence (now supplemented by an app) is run as an incubator for the kind of political viewpoints and reactionary progressivism or “Radical Liberalism” which is compatible with a corporate liberal agenda.

bunzresponse
When I sent him a small flurry of tweets about my issue, Mojtahedi ducked.

Now it’s pretty clear from his statement that there is intent in his statement to shield the Facebook group with the private entity. The chief executive of the private entity makes it clear that it isn’t accountable for what is done or said in its name or with its brand. I wonder as to how long he’d hold that position if the group’s moderators were posting far-right propaganda or took fire for summarily banning liberals from the space. Not very long, I’d reckon.

That Bunz the corporation (private) benefits materially from its relationship with Bunz the leftbook group (“public”) is undeniable. The group promotes the corporation’s app, shares its corporate communications, uses its “currency” and carries its brand. I’m not really concerned whether Bunz is proud that it has offloaded the labour of moderating its social media presence on volunteers. That’s their shitty labour practice to contend with. What is certain, is that its Facebook moderators are de facto brand ambassadors curating a corporate fan-club and the brand and CEO can both be held to account if those brand ambassadors behave like total nitwits.

Given this disingenuous evasion, my own experience and the company’s obvious willingness to use coercive and exceedingly harsh punitive means to address any dissent, I’d suggest that that the Bunz corporation can’t be trusted as a responsible or ethical custodian of the space they’re taking up in Toronto’s alternative economy.

Corporate liberals, particularly those working at social media companies will always favour the instant gratification of a Facebook callout, a behavior (validating anger) which increases engagement. People doing the tough and necessary work of purging fascism or capitalism from the streets is just too real and uncomfortable, you know?

Capitalism loves callouts for the same reason it loves slot machines — it keeps you pulling at your news feed putting in the virtual drama coins that sustain the outrage machine. Corporations on “both sides” of the culture war can package and sell faux outrage for monetizable clicks and conversions, but try as hard as they might, they can’t package and sell the real revolution. They’re incompatible with it. Sorry Gillette.

We live in a time when when the collective mania of the center-left drives mass media furor around cultural appropriation, or a christmas song or whether we should say “bringing home the bacon”. These (often wholly invented) controversies are the single biggest recruiting tools available to the far-right and intellectual dark web. “Look how irrational and chaotic our opponents are; they’re eating each other alive. Do you want to join them?” Is a pretty compelling us vs. them position for the uninitiated.

I’ve always believed that the (monolithic) “left” has an increased responsibility to get these things right. Being open, inviting and reasonable in the face of “drawbridge up” Conservative religious dogma were the strongest recruiting tools the left ever had. It feels like we’ve lost our penchant for dangerous thought.

Transgressiveness, or at least heterodoxy, was for decades, even centuries, the bread and butter of progressives. It used to mean things like handing out blasphemous or sexually provocative pamphlets in public spaces in order to challenge the sensitivities of social conservatives. In 2018, I wonder whether progressives handing out sexually provocative pamphlets in public would be called out for peddling obscenity which offends the senses (like dick shaped soap), or receive some other substantial negative attention. If you posted the sexually provocative image in a leftist space online, you’d undoubtedly run the risk of being compelled to add a content warning, or banned outright — because that’s something corporations are doing now, too. Sorry sex workers of Tumblr!

And I’m not talking about transgressiveness in the style of the so-called internet edgelords masquerading as leftists trying to get a rise out of people. I’m talking about the very deep need for the left, including the mushy middle and the liberal corporate left(tm) to allow for reasonable discussions about orthodox positions especially in places where that orthodoxy is enforced.

“…It seemed hypocritical for white folks to launch a vitriolic attack on a person from a community which is so widely detested that the United States government is willing to shut itself down in order to fund a wall keeping them out of 2/3 of the continent.”

I shouldn’t have to say this, I really shouldn’t, but my left “cred” is substantial. Not that you care, or it should matter, but I’ve been at all the protests, fought pipelines, participated in indigenous solidarity work, been assaulted, harassed and doxxed by fascists, gone to war with the mainstream media more than once, shut down far-right organizing, shut down problematic comedy shows, supplied reams of data to journalists and activists about far-right organizing, helped build professional opposition to Jordan Peterson in Canadian media and I’m suing one of Ontario’s leading anti-Muslim bigots. Of course, Bunz the corporation doesn’t care about that.

The Bunz corporation seems to take the opinion that hipster excommunication is the only just resolution for a problematic opinion, even if that opinion is a critique of liberals which comes from left of their position, and not an endorsement of racism or rehash of far-right ‘free speech’ talking points. And, (this may be burying the lede) when I posted a shorter writeup on my Facebook page about this incident, I was summarily banned from the whole Facebook platform in less than half an hour. It appears there’s a vested macro-corporate interest in defending this fledgling enterprise from criticism.

fbban
Apparently Bunz has some pull with Facebook.

This is the same Bunz corporation which wants you to buy virtual play-money, a reward points system they’re calling a “cryptocurrency” for use in their app. A nightmare scenario for civil libertarians (and dream-boat for capitalists everywhere) is a digital currency which is subject to political influence. It’s a feel-good woke-libertarian ploy, dressed up in a progressive branding. I mean look! Its smiling blonde rags-to-riches founder has been winning “Woman of the year” and other such awards left right and center, to much adulation in the mainstream press! It’s CEO is a former banker! It’s a model of non-threatening capitalism. If the mainstream press likes Bunz that much, I’m telling you from experience that you should be very, very wary.

The same weekend I got banned from the Bunz groups, a shocking study was published demonstrating that black people are 20 times more likely to be killed in an interaction with Toronto Police Services. There are still cops in Bunz Trading Zone. Also that weekend, real racists and bigots wearing yellow vests marched on the streets of Toronto calling for the overthrow of the government and the expulsion of immigrants. In a city of 3 million people, only a handful of people showed up to oppose them. Certainly none of the Bunz moderators or white people indignant about cornrows were there. Maybe that’s because they were all at the cottage. Maybe that’s because their activism is performative and plastic. You be the judge.

Putting these horrors in perspective, it’s all O.K. because four white liberals felt validated after using memes to totally own that racist Mexican who wanted cornrows in a Facebook trading group. The one member of the far-left who said ‘hey maybe we could think’ got banned and will have a hard time finding jobs now. Justice has been served all around. Pass the champagne. At least we have our priorities in order as we hurtle toward collective oblivion.

Attacking ‘problematic’ people and policing others’ opinions through callouts and social media purges has convinced an entire generation of young liberals that they’re secretly revolutionaries. The only thing revolutionary about it is that they’ve managed to disguise ego-gratification as wokeness and used it to market you shit. God give me the confidence of someone citing corporate MTV woke(tm) slogans, because THEY ARE THE GOSPEL TRUTH GODDAMMIT AND IF YOU DISAGREE YOU CAN JUST LIKE, DIE.

I am of the opinion that when we allow the personal biases and bounded rationality of a corporation’s brand ambassadors to arbitrate what is “correct” in political spaces, we wind up with a situation where vindictive or biased ambassadors or representatives of a corporation can wield their power in the most corrupt ways possible, including for very personal reasons, against people who most would otherwise consider to be on the ‘same side’.

And look, I get the need to reduce the prevalence of racist and sexist trolls in the Bunz community by aggressively moderating. I support that. I’ve moderated some pretty big pages myself and I know the struggle. I also believe that the evidence speaks for itself that I am neither a racist nor a sexist troll.

Please note: I am neither a racist troll nor a sexist troll.

A wise and diligent community moderator should be able to tell the difference.

In discharging her duties, I believe that their head moderator, Briony Smith failed to exhibit even the smallest shred of compassion or empathy. What kind of person excommunicates a committed long-term social justice activist from a viable social media support network over an inconsequential issue? It’s an affirmation that it is alright if I wind up jobless and starving, because my politics weren’t “pure”. If I end up homeless I’m making a point of camping outside the Bunz office.

Corporations in Canada do reserve the right to prohibit people from using, receiving or accessing their services, but in the context of my contributions to the broader community, I believe their ambassadors in this case made a grave mistake, inconsistent with the kind of community Bunz claims to be trying to promote. Cutting off people, especially over-exposed social justice advocates from support networks which they are using isn’t “mutual aid”. It’s punitive, it’s abuse.

I’m holding out hope that they’ll see their mistake — that the “harm” I am supposed to have done to the community by voicing a “controversial” further left opinion, is nominal in comparison to the harm which is visited on me and my life through an inability to seek work in a community dedicated to predominantly progressive job seeking young urbanites.

Revoking my right to seek employment on a Bunz platform because of a comment I made on an entirely different Bunz social media platform is petty, punitive and coming from a corporation whose motivation is profit — constitutes a form of structural violence.

It’s my considered opinion that banning me from an unrelated page for nuanced disagreement is damning. Ongoing silence from their moderators despite repeated polite entreaties is also damning. A moderator trying to cyberbully me for disagreeing with her and then publishing private communications publicly, is likewise damning. Having me banned from Facebook after publishing a fairly succinct complaint about the situation is thoroughly damning and abhorrent for anyone who believes in or values democracy, free expression or public participation in either.

Please make no mistake, I’ll be escalating this in the coming weeks. I, as an individual, am calling on Bunz to work with me constructively to avoid a public relations problem.

If, based on the evidence in front of you, you support my right to access employment opportunities, oppose my removal from Facebook and Medium for dissent against the Bunz corporation’s moderation practices, or believe that this issue at the very least requires more discussion — please contact moderator Briony Smith for comment (you can e-mail her at brionycwsmith@gmail.com)* or contact Bunz directly via their corporate email at hello@bunz.com and ask them to rescind the ban and to apologize. I suppose you can direct media inquiries to media@bunz.com.

*This email was obtained through a public post on the Bunz Corporation’s Facebook page. As such, it is ‘listed’. Providing a point of contact for a company’s representative does not constitute doxxing.

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