Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Censorship And Public Opinion: When The Twain Don't Meet

I got into two fights on Google Plus recently. Nothing new there, but one was an example of those rare occasions when I get bullied by Liberals. It's mostly right-wingers who gang up on me but this was just outrageous and demonstrates how bullying and censorship are not just a matter of opinion: it's what freedom is about.


I've got three points to make about how the way people perceive some kinds of speech affects the way they address controversies:


  • Bullying and trolling are a form of censorship

  • Offensiveness is offensive, whether the subject is popular or not

  • We need a plan to address these without stifling freedom of speech

Bullying and trolling are a form of censorship


The subject of bullying on the internet is often cited as an area of digital rights. Protect the trolls' rights to trash-talk and victimise, we're told, in order to protect everyone's rights to freedom of speech. What the advocates are less vocal about is how permitting trolls to proliferate stifles and chills speech by creating a free-for-all in which only other trolls are welcome. The answer is proper moderation where the owner or administrator keeps a tight grip on the comments threads in order to maintain quality interactions. I'm a bit too lenient sometimes and end up paying for it later. The point is, if you ignore the sauce-for-the-gander point I'm making here, you might as well stop reading now.

Think about it: when people are so abusive that people end up leaving or muting the thread because of the toxic atmosphere, what good are you achieving? Telling people to grow a thicker skin is not the answer. Market economics apply here: the demand dries up when the only supply is of vitriol. This is a memo to me: I'm not always as quick with the ban hammer as I ought to be because I'm too willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. The hammer needs to fall at the first sign of histrionics. Muting the thread (if it's someone else's) gets you out of a situation where some rude creature is giving you hell then calling you names for bailing out instead of taking it on the chin. See for yourself who has a thin skin or not.


Cindy Brown
just subbing Wendy Cockcroft since i think this is of interest
Wendy CockcroftYesterday 01:49Edit+1

I'm sorry to say that in the interests of free speech, foul git or not I can't support an organised boycott of the man like that. What happens if someone like Maddow gets boycotted for not being conservative? Where do you draw the line?
You can call Rush out for being a pig, but personally, I'd leave it there.


Alice SummersYesterday 01:51


Who are you to tell an organized group of people not to boycott a show that misinforms its viewers and demonizes women, gays, and ethnic minorities?

Wendy CockcroftYesterday 01:55Edit


I was invited to give my opinion and I've given it. I'm sorry that you disagree but since I usually get bashed by the right for not being a loon in denial can you give me a break, please?
This is the exact kind of thing I agitate against, and the kind of thing I don't usually see from Liberals, who are mostly reasonable and let me be me, whether they agree with me or not. That's the beauty of living in a free country, so I'm told. You're allowed to have an opinion whether it is popular or not and are not expected to walk in lockstep with prevailing opinion.

The trouble with polarizing against Rush is that you get the bugger sympathy he doesn't deserve. It's better to ignore him.This is the exact kind of thing I agitate against, and the kind of thing I don't usually see from Liberals, who are mostly reasonable and let me be me, whether they agree with me or not. That's the beauty of living in a free country, so I'm told. You're allowed to have an opinion whether it is popular or not and are not expected to walk in lockstep with prevailing opinion.

The trouble with polarizing against Rush is that you get the bugger sympathy he doesn't deserve. It's better to ignore him.


Alice SummersYesterday 01:56
Don't give me that freedom shit. Give me a reason.



Cindy BrownYesterday 01:56+1
Yep.  A boycott is itself protected speech.  Now, if I tried to enforce it by any other way than appealing to others, that'd be totally different.
I wouldn't patronize a shop that discriminated against blacks, either. Same principle.


Wendy CockcroftYesterday 01:57
+Alice Summers that is the reason. Freedom stops when I can't post an opinion on a thread I was invited to without being bullied for it. At this point, I'm muting the thread because I can't see the difference between your bullying and the bullying I get from right-wingers.



Alice SummersYesterday 02:04
You were asked to give a reason for your opinion. You didn't, and got mad and lashed out instead. Have fun doing nothing and knowing nothing.



Cindy BrownYesterday 02:05
Ah well.  I was thinking the point about the conservatives in the media would be of interest. Did not expect it to flame out like that.



Alice SummersYesterday 02:11 (edited)t is interesting. Some people however are too deficient to be able to contribute to a discussion. In this person's case, they're too sensitive and imagine the burden of proof to be equivalent to a sentence to Siberia. Seriously, how obnoxious is this: "I want to limit others freedom to boycott, but I don't want my opinion questioned, because that infringes upon my freedom." Ridiculous. In another thread I am in right now, someone appears to have Asperger Syndrome. There are people who are not emotionally capable of dealing with the fact that some answers are better than others. Usually nature takes its course and they go away and remain ignorant, but those who are left learn in their absence.



Cindy BrownYesterday 02:33
I have not normally experienced anything like that with her.  I subbed her into the thread in good faith.  She's generally very curious about what is seen as conservative vs liberal (being from the U.K.) which is what prompted me to point her toward it.



Alice SummersYesterday 02:35
I understand. I'm not mad at you, I don't hold you responsible, or anything of that nature. I was excited to see someone else included, specifically from the UK. That it turns out she has thinner skin than a tickle-me Elmo is odd; I thought British people were supposed to have rhino hide.



Cindy BrownYesterday 02:37
I'm surprised as well.  That said, she kinda got swarmed by US style conservatives in a different thread earlier today and may just be I dunno, jittery right now. Oh I know you don't blame me.  I'm just saying I'm surprised.


I'm amazed that anyone could possibly consider Alice's responses to me as courteous, or mine as surprising. She's arrogant, strident, and damn well rude. I answered her question: it's the Streisand Effect. The harder you work to ban something, the more popular it becomes, ergo, it's a waste of time to boycott someone when the net effect is likely to be that you end up making a martyr of him. Given what happened with Chick-Fil-A, I believe I have a valid point. This got steamrolled over and I was supposed to do what, argue my point? If I can't make a statement and have it examined on its own merit, I'm out of there because I've got better things to do than be insulted for not toeing the party line. But say anything that contradicts the policy of "an organized group of people" whether they are standing up for a victimized minority or not, and getting hammered for it till you mute the thread is censorship. And it's the same kind of censorship I encountered in the thread in which I was told:


Paul LannuierOct 15, 2012 (edited) Forgive me, but I find your reasoning and focus to be child-like (if not outright childish). You've gone from Koch Brothers, to racism, to banking regulations, to economics, and back and forth for hours. It's been fun, but I'm leaving now, my work day is over and I now must pick up my lovely wife so that we may enjoy a nice dinner at a corporate establishment which oils the gears of capitalism with the blood of the workers (in America, we call them restaurants), so I will bid thee farewell and hope you get better soon.

The idea, if you read through the comments, is to force me into compliance with their party line, to accept their way of seeing things. I'm not going to. I won't be bullied into advocating censorship to shut up a rude pig by a rude pig, and I won't be bullied into cognitive dissonance in the hope that people like Paul will not think of me as a socialist intending to turn America into Siberia. Which leads me to my next point:

Offensiveness is offensive, whether the subject is popular or not


Remember the furore over The Innocence of Muslims? I wrote some blog posts about it, and on G+ I made some comments favouring the censorship of Google removing the video from YouTube, pointing out that it was a waste of time to do so, since five seconds later the Streisand Effect kicked in and we ended up with thousands of copies of it, proliferating with every attempt to expunge it from the internet. Which was why I agreed with it; to point out the sheer stupidity of underestimating the internet.

Look back at the comments I quoted from Alice, focusing on this:

Alice SummersYesterday 01:51

Who are you to tell an organized group of people not to boycott a show that misinforms its viewers and demonizes women, gays, and ethnic minorities?

Would anyone be surprised if she'd come out in favour of that video and advocated against censoring it as a freedom of speech/First Amendment issue? Not me. You see, The Innocence of Muslims is permitted speech because it doesn't offend any group that people like Alice deem worthy of protection. They're the bad guys, as far as these people are concerned, and organized or not, they're the wrong kind of group so demonizing them is okay. The number of posts I've had in my stream advocating for doing more to insult Muslims is ridiculous, but insult Sandra Fluke? They'll never let you get away with it. No offence to Sandra, the point is that if you're going to have freedom of speech for the idiots who brought us The Innocence of Muslims, you have to have it for racist misogynists, too, otherwise you have a "permitted speech" situation where your comments must be orthodox and acceptable to prevailing opinion in order to be tolerated. Not a world I want to live in.

We need a plan to address these without stifling freedom of speech


One story making the rounds is about a teen who committed suicide because she was stalked and bullied. I'm sad to say she's not the first and won't be the last. I had a confusing exchange in a thread of mine about it till I realised what the poster wants: a lasting solution that truly addresses the problem instead of trying to put a plaster over it and forget it happened. We came up with a plan to discuss it further but so far we've agreed that we need to educate people on being aware of bullying and that they need to be willing to limit their exposure to bullies by muting and blocking where possible. Net awareness training to warn against posting or sending compromising images should be made available to kids, especially girls, whose insecurity might drive them to putting themselves in situations they end up regretting later on. We need to have a conversation about how to empower potential victims to take control of the situation and not be afraid of walking away. It's not cowardly, it's often necessary. There's no need to submit oneself to abusive behaviour. I won't.

Strong moderation and an abuse policy to deal firmly with trolls by site operators is essential. What we don't want is a series of knee-jerk reactionary laws being passed "for the children" with no thought for the unintended consequences and possibility of abuse with the aim of stifling speech or limiting opinions to those considered acceptable. I got into a heated discussion over a hot button issue on one of Rick Falkvinge's threads and he ended up praising me because when I argue I use facts to back up my opinions. I'm STILL amazed at how civil we were there. There's nothing wrong with a bit of heat, we just need to be civil about how we express ourselves, that's all — and it can be done. And when it can't, sort it out yourself and don't go snivelling to a politician to make a law to crush dissent because you're upset. If you can't sort it out, walk away. You're not obliged to look at things on the internet that offend you, after all.

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