Pile-on personality and The Sydney Gays

Lying in bed last night, reading before sleep, I was interrupted by my partner asking if I knew anything about a gay podcast everyone on Twitter was apparently talking about. He asked, probably, because I have a gay podcast of my own, though I hadn’t seen any of the discussion. I haven’t been online much lately—my already low tolerance for Twitter was pushed to breaking point a few months back by when someone very close to me was “cancelled”, prompting a prolonged and traumatic pile-on.

I logged on reluctantly and saw my feed filled with tweets about a podcast called The Sydney Gays. If you’re reading this, you probably know more about it than I do. A couple of gay men living in Sydney started a podcast that, if my feed was to be believed, embodied everything the woke left despises about a group of people commonly characterised as “white, cisgendered, gay men” (a category which, by that definition, includes myself).

I haven’t listened to the podcast and I don’t plan to. There is every likelihood I would hate it. I don’t really care about interrogating its content. However, the endless tweets shitting on two guys no one has heard of with a podcast have made me think: who sees a bunch of people shitting on two guys no one has heard of with a podcast and thinks, I’d like to get in on that?

Social media pile-ons have been endlessly and effectively critiqued by people smarter than myself, so I won’t spend time reiterating arguments as to why this is or isn’t an effective political strategy for whatever outcome the people in my feed were trying to achieve. But given my extreme distaste for the behaviour of the pilers-on in this and countless other examples, I can’t help but wonder whether what separates me from the people jumping at the chance to attack The Sydney Gays isn’t politics, it’s personality. My reaction to these incidents is such intense, visceral disgust at the mob mentality that I find it almost impossible to put myself in the shoes of someone whose reaction is to pile on.

The thought that this gap in worldview might be something close to essential disturbs me a great deal. The politics I try to practice holds as integral the notion that we should be able to navigate differences of viewpoint, and I have dedicated much of my work to encouraging critical debate framed by empathy and self-critique. But if I am simply an outlier personality type, missing whatever bit of self makes so many others want to join in on whatever thing everyone else is shitting on, does that make my political project futile? Particularly given, as my partner pointed out last night, people have been forming mobs for a very, very long time.

I’m aware this is a solipsistic take, but it feels important to me, here and now, to interrogate the fundamentals of my worldview. As the weekend’s election result demonstrated, our politics show no sign of becoming less divided. I have been lucky to find people in my life who hold similar views, so while I find these incidents alienating, I know am not alone. But perhaps that’s the same problem: instead of belonging to a left or a right who cannot see the other side as people, I sit on one side of a different divide, just as arrogant, maybe just as unchanging.

I really hope we’re all not fucked.

2 thoughts on “Pile-on personality and The Sydney Gays

  1. Mark Powney says:

    I think your reaction was a lot like mine after seeing all the tweets. Though one of my first thoughts was also: these podcasters are gonna get a huge kick out of the 1,000s of listeners. I wonder if they’re supported by advertising? Success for them!

    But to your point about the pile-on mentality, I found it interesting seeing all the tweets about it, I couldn’t actually figure out what all the fuss was about. Twitter’s algorithm didn’t put in front of me any tweets that clearly, or even vaguely, articulated what the concern with these guys actually was. I had to go searching to find out. I didn’t want to have to listen to the damn thing myself.

    It sounds like I’m more active on twitter than you, but I do share the same scepticism towards the crowd mentality it creates. Social media is dangerous because it’s manufactured, and manipulated by capitalist mentality. There’s a single entity controlling what each and every one of its users sees and doesn’t see; its collection of algorithms. Those algorithms are evolving to make its users WANT to react, more activity means more eyeballs for them. They don’t care about the lessening humanity their push for reaction has.


    1. Benjamin Riley says:

      Hey Mark, lovely to hear from you! Yeah, I think the role that social media companies play in manufacturing outrage and pile-ons is key here—these platforms incentivise that sort of behaviour. Which to me makes the whole thing even more depressing… what people feel like is this sincere, deeply felt *politics* is hard for me not to read as, in part, the result of pure manipulation.


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