Here’s a post from @Chemical_MarkXX on Twitter. Feel free to direct your criticisms and comments towards him! I always said I wanted to help further the conversation and I think this is a good way to help. If you’d like to guest post, please hit me up on Twitter, my DMs are always open!
In an world were a lot of communication is based online, you will inevitably run into someone saying something derogatory. These hateful, mean spirited and inflammatory comments are known as trolling. These people are trying to get a reaction out of you. The problem arises online much more frequently on websites where you can post anonymously according to numerous studies. The question is how to deal with these trolls, and I believe a free speech approach is necessary.
Engadget is a multilingual technology blog network with daily coverage of gadgets and consumer electronics. Engadget currently operates a total of ten blogs four written in English and six international versions with independent editorial staff (Engadget.com). They ran an article on the new iPad and after receiving a barrage of trolls, they shut down their comment section on the article completely. There are two problems with this, one being that this shut down positive comments, and two is that genuine criticism was silenced as well. Using this method, a sanctuary of curated silence, is counter to the spirit of free speech. By shutting down all comments, you effectively place yourself above any attempt to honestly engage.
Gizmodo is a design, technology, science and science fiction website that writes articles on politics. It was originally launched as part of the Gawker Media network run by Nick Denton. (Gizmodo.com) Gizmodo has proposed to use an audition method for comments. This means that only comments they approve of will get published. They are trying this method to curtail trolls and weed out “poor quality posts” but what makes a post poor quality? As the late great Christopher Hitchens once said “To whom do you award the right to decide which speech is harmful or who is the harmful speaker? Or determine in advance what are the harmful consequences going to be, that we know enough about in advance to prevent? To whom would you give this job? To whom are you going to award the job of being the censor? Isn’t it a famous old story that the man who has to read all the pornography, in order to decide what’s fit to be passed and what’s fit not to be, is the man most likely to be debauched?” Relying on people to censor things is a slippery slope, as has been documented on with a popular internet site known as Facebook.
Facebook in Germany has recently hired Annetta Kahane, who between 1974 and 1982 worked for the STASI, otherwise known as the secret police of East Germany (Wikipedia). As the official state security service of the German Democratic Republic it was described as the most effective and repressive agencies to ever have existed. In Germany, it is a crime to deny the Holocaust, to say anything anti-semitic and many other so called hate speech laws exist. Annetta has been given the job to go through the Facebook of German citizens and find hate speech which violates German laws. This has led to a number of arrests. I do not believe that this type of censorship should be encouraged in America, because with few exceptions, I believe people should be arrested for actions and not for words.The first amendment guarantees everyone the freedom of speech and congress is supposed to uphold this principle by not creating laws that would abridge the right to speak freely.
The few exceptions that exist are mired in context, meaning that if you say something that falls into the exceptions of free speech the context would still matter, so you could tell a joke about killing someone and not get in trouble but if you threaten to kill someone in anger you could be charged with a crime. Online is different because the platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are private companies and under no obligation to host your speech. I would argue that this goes against the spirit of free speech. With more and more of the world communicating online, the ability to reach friends and family thousands of miles away in an instant, and the ruling by the United Nations that free speech is a universal human right, I believe these companies have an obligation to protect free speech as well.
Twitter and Facebook have a block option for a reason, if you get a troll, block the individual, do not create policy that will hinder others. Creating a policy that caters to the people who want to be protected from trolls is restrictive to the speech of everyone because not everyone is offended. Offence can only be taken, not given, being offended is a choice. If you find yourself offended over something a troll said, block them and step away from the computer for a while. Popular speech needs no protection, it is precisely unpopular speech that needs to be protected, protecting the speech of the anonymous troll is the first line of defense of everyone’s right to speak, or in the spirit of things Voltaire said. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.”