Enraged stock image model reading the New York Times on Monday
Enraged stock image model reading the New York Times on Monday AntonioGuillem/Getty Images

Bari Weiss and Eve Peyser had good reason to be wary of each other.

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Weiss, an opinion writer at the New York Times, is a moderate liberal with a number of opinions that might seem anodyne in Des Moines but are radical compared to much of the left-leaning media. Perhaps her first major splash at the Times, for instance, was to declare that Aziz Ansari was guilty… of not being a mind-reader. That piece, about the now infamous accusations made against Ansari on Babe.net, turned Weiss into somewhat of a household name—at least in households with subscriptions to the New York Times and frequent dinner conversations about dating in the #MeToo era.

Some people love Weiss’s work, more seem to hate it, and today, every piece she writes or tweet she sends out is met with a flurry of anger. More often than not, the criticism comes from other people working in media who are utterly convinced, generally without having met her, that Bari Weiss is Literally Hitler. (Full disclosure: Weiss and I have met, and if she had a Hitler mustache, I didn’t notice.)

Eve Peyser was one of Bari Weiss’s critics. A former writer for Gawker and current writer for Vice, Peyser was, until not that long ago, the kind of Twitter bully who treated dragging people like a fun little blood sport. Gradually, she came to see how destructive this hobby can be. “The vicious are rewarded with likes and retweets,” she wrote earlier this year in an essay about her own toxic use of Twitter, “and those who are deemed problematic or otherwise unfit become the victims of the volatile and ruthless mob.” Peyser was part of the mob and Weiss was the mob’s favorite target.

Still, the two have much in common. They are both Jewish women and writers living in New York. They are roughly the same age, and they even sort of look alike. And while there are some deviations in their politics, they are hardly on opposite sides of the political chasm. Weiss was a Clinton supporter, Peyser preferred Sanders. Weiss is a supporter of Israel, while Peyser is more into #FreePalestine. But still, despite the fact that they generally agree on the big picture (no one here is voting for Trump or thinks climate change is a hoax), thanks to the distorting effects of both politics and social media, both of which encourage us to group others into either Good or Evil, the two saw each other as something like enemies.

And then they actually met. They detailed how they went from enemies to friends Monday in a joint piece published in the New York Times, and, according to their origin story, they met at a conference the day after Weiss was confronted in a bar by two people whose intent was to publicly humiliate her. When Peyser, after hearing about this confrontation, approached Weiss and suggested that they hang out, Weiss, not totally sure she wasn’t being set up, suggested they go swimming. It’s “quite hard to wear a wire in a bathing suit,” Weiss recalls thinking.

After spending time with each other face-to-face rather than through tweets and avatars, the two started to see that they’d both been wrong about the other: Weiss, despite what Peyser had read on Twitter, was not actually a 20th-century dictator who killed millions of people. And Peyser, Weiss realized, was not actually the caricature of a Gawker bully and a Bernie bro put together. Their story of coming together is a nice, uplifting piece about how social media platforms make enemies out of people who should be friends and how we could all stand to be just a little more tolerant. As Peyser wrote, if we dismiss everyone we disagree with, where does that leave us?

And then Twitter got a hold of the article and twisted a story about finding common ground into something terrible and devious. That two people can disagree on some things and yet manage to be friends was treated as further evidence that both Weiss and Peyser deserve to be shipped off to the closest re-education center. Why? Because the fact that they aren’t diametrically opposed—the fact that they refused to continue to hate each other—was seen as just two privileged white ladies uniting over the one thing they really had in common: white privilege. As Paste Magazine’s Jason Rhode declared, “Bari Weiss and Eve Peyser Cannot See Past Their Own Privilege.”

Rhode’s reading is ungenerous, to say the least. He calls Weiss “a drywall-dull reactionary and writer of stupefyingly bad takes.” He also accuses her, falsely, of being a conservative, and neglects that the women address the issue of privilege in their piece. Peyser says, “Of course, we have to acknowledge that we are privileged enough to be able to have this sort of discourse, to be friends despite our differing beliefs. Not everyone has that option.” And Weiss responds: “That’s right. I’m certainly not going to invite the conspiracy theorist who called my rabbi asking about me out for coffee. Likewise, a black student at the University of North Carolina probably wouldn’t feel safe meeting with a Richard Spencer foot soldier. And so on.”

This was not enough, however, to placate the haters and critics. Search Twitter for either Peyser’s or Weiss’s name, and you’ll get plenty of this:


And this…


And this...


And this…


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There’s more, each tweet proving the point of the article. “When we became friends, I worried I’d get ‘canceled’ if Twitter found out,” Peyser says in the piece. She was certainly right about that.

Now, it’s possible that all the people dragging Weiss and now Peyser really do think that they are terrible people and shit-talking them on a social media platform is some kind of good samaritan duty. But I suspect there’s something else going on. I think the response to this piece isn’t about Weiss or Peyser at all; it’s about the people doing the responding. They are signaling to their own friends and followers that they are a part of the in-group. They are bonding over a shared hatred of two people that few of them have ever actually met. As journalist Mark Heid wrote recently on Medium, a handful of studies now show that “sharing negative attitudes with someone — and, in particular, sharing negative opinions about other people — seems to be among the quickest and most effective ways for two strangers to form a bond. If you want to cozy up to someone, there may be no better way to do it than to gossip about the people you both hate.”

This glitch of human psychology is, for Eve Peyser, Bari Weiss, and everyone who finds themselves being pummeled by the mob, truly unfortunate. The mob might be virtual, but the weight of it is still heavy. So perhaps the new friends can take solace in this: Not only did they breach their own political divide, in the process, they gave everyone else something to bond over.