If you can't tweet 'em, try and get a book deal. At least that's the path that's been taken by Milo Yiannopoulos, the notorious tech editor at Breitbart.com, and figurehead of the alt-right movement. It was reported this week that Yiannopoulos, or "Nero," as he's known to his followers online, had landed a book deal with Simon & Schuster that is said to be worth $250,000.
Considering Nero's history of highly targeted online harassment, it should come as no surprise that this book deal is rubbing a lot of people the wrong way, especially those that have been the subject of Nero's bullying in the past, such as Saturday Night Live star Leslie Jones. By giving this man a major literary platform, is Simon & Schuster essentially sending the message that trolling can be a ticket to fame and fortune?
Having It Both Ways
Simon & Schuster would certainly disagree with that assessment. After the news of Nero's book deal broke, the publishing giant took to, where else, Twitter, to issue a statement that basically says that they do not condone the kind of discrimination or hate speech that Nero has used to make a name for himself:
Statement regarding recent acquisition by @threshold_books, another division of @simonschuster pic.twitter.com/HTEs1fnsjB— Simon & Schuster (@SimonBooks) December 30, 2016
She Ain't Afraid of No Troll
This generic, borderline robotic statement only added fuel to the fire. Especially incensed was Leslie Jones, who has had firsthand experience dealing with Nero and his crew. In the campaign of harassment against last year's all-female Ghostbusters remake, Jones was a favorite target of Nero, who often tweeted vile racist, misogynist, and transphobic insults against her (all in the name of "free speech," of course).
The campaign culminated with Nero calling on his followers to troll Jones into oblivion, which they of course did (again, in the name of "free speech"). Ultimately Jones's cell phone was hacked (causing private nude photos of the actress to be made public), and she was forced to quit Twitter for a period. As you can imagine, Jones was not going to take news of Nero's book deal lying down.
@SimonBooks @threshold_books @simonschuster yea but you still help them spread their hate to even more people.— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) January 2, 2017
When this tweet was predictably met with the same tired trolling as always (complete with cries of oversensitivity and "anti-free speech" when she blocks these goons), Jones felt the need to add in a later tweet, "I literally want to put hands to a jaw right now. So tired of stupid people!! And I can't say s--t cause if I do, I'm the "b---h"!!"
Ignorance Is Bliss
If nothing else, Jones managed to sum up how exhausting this whole situation feels. While there is no question that Simon & Schuster are allowed to publish whatever they want, they are setting a dangerous precedent here. The sort of hate speech practiced by the alt-right, Gamergate, Breitbart crowd has essentially become part of the mainstream conversation since Donald Trump, their preferred candidate, was elected president, and this book deal seems to have only emboldened them.
These folks, however, seem to think that the First Amendment somehow protects their invective from criticism. They are sorely mistaken. Simon & Schuster will publish Nero's book, as is their right. That being said, if you have a problem with the alt-right's ideals, speak up about it. Perhaps they should learn that "Freedom of speech" does not mean freedom from consequences.