I was writing a response to the latest post about all the recent trouble on the MTStars board and I kept blathering on until it got so big I decided to turn it into a post. For the past several months, we’ve been waging a cold war (so cold that we usually forget about it for weeks at a time) for free speech in our tiny corner of the internet. Where to draw the line between saying what you feel and hurting the feelings of others. The difference between an unpopular opinion and trolling.
I’ve managed to get two of my posts kicked in the past. One was stupid and insulting, and the other was complimenting someone else for insulting another poster. I have to say the administrator was right to do it, though I disagree with their methodology. Oddly, the most insulting post I ever wrote didn’t get kicked or censored. I called a poster insane and recommended they take their meds. That really should have been banned and I regret writing it now. Though the OP was suggesting that Obama was raising an army of Puerto Ricans and food stamp recipients to throw everyone in gulags. Before I replied, they were the only ones who looked liked an idiot. But it looked so fun, I decided to throw myself into the fire. I try not to let them get under my skin, but it’s probably a good sign that every and now then someone can really outrage me. It’s a fine line between tolerance and apathy sometimes.
My main disagreement is with this arbitrary separation of individual and group insults. It would be wrong to call a poster an idiot, but it would be fine to say “I think all [insert race/occupation/political party/gender/ideology/nationality] are dirty thieves and murderers and are pure evil with no redeemable qualities whatsoever.” When I told that poster they were crazy, I was being unnecessarily insensitive, but why then are bigoted generalizations allowed? And if you insult any group, much less one with tens or hundreds of millions of members, why should you be immune to insult? People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
Still, it’s definitely no easy task to moderate, especially with a whole internet full of wannabe George Carlins like myself who think everything is a joke clashing with an army of bigots with fragile egos, and a sizable slice of innocent bystanders just trying to have a conversation in the middle of a war zone, probably hoping both groups of troublemakers will go away. The whole situation is played out in real life by the Westboro Baptists. I agree with John Kerry, Americans should have the right to be stupid. That’s free speech. Yet disrupting funerals for free speech? I think they should be banned from doing it. Basically, I believe you have the right to free speech and other people have the right not to hear what you have to say within reason (funerals, their own property, closed assembly areas, etc.)
But what about a message board? Does anyone who goes to a message board have the right to decide what another should be allowed to say so that they don’t have to hear it? You could argue that it’s like T.V. If you don’t want to see gender stereotypes don’t turn it to Lifetime or SpikeTV. Don’t want to learn about history… then go ahead and watch the History channel, they don’t have that anymore. If you don’t want to have a heated discussion (the only kind) about politics, don’t go to an internet politics board. Yet it’s not a perfect analogy by far. The TV could espouse views you disagree with, but it’s unlikely to directly insult you unless you’re famous. In which case, all your potential rights to respect and privacy are moot because you’re now a zoo animal on display. You’re the president of the United States, not some anonymous internet weirdo who deserves our protection from slander, bias and hate speech.
So, what do I really think about all this? How would I handle it if I was the moderator? I’d like to handle it in a way that everyone gets to voice their opinion, yet with no bullying, and everyone learns something about themselves and their fellow man. So, in other words, I’ve got no clue, but I’ve got good intentions. Those never led to anything bad.