INB4 “FREE SPEECH,” Shut Up

October 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

deal with it dog

A few days after Popular Science announced their decision to disable their comments section (nutshell version: too many trolls, not enough science), The Daily Dot asked me to share my thoughts on the thorny issue of comment moderation. YES WONDERFUL I said, and wrote this article, which just went live. In particular, I focus on the “free speech” question, which makes me want to eat my own face.

The kind of speech most likely to be defended by [“free speech” in the colloquial sense] is speech that is bigoted and antagonistic, largely toward women and other historically underrepresented groups (note the infrequency with which women and people of color use the “…but but FREE SPEECH” defense in a debate, whether online or off-). Free speech in the colloquial Internet sense, particularly as it’s used in the context of comment moderation, almost always justifies or outright apologizes for a typically male, typically white aggressor. It is a concept that frames freedom in terms of being free to harass others, not freedom from being harassed, or simply from being exposed to harassment (which often amounts to the same thing).

Unlike discussions of the ideal relationship between author and commenter, or the extent to which platforms are responsible for protecting their readers from harassment,  concerns over “free speech” are unlikely to precipitate thoughtful conversations about best moderation practices. In fact, by actively latching onto “free speech” as a behavioral ideal, platforms inadvertently privilege the aggressor and pathologize readers—readers who, for some strange reason, don’t like wading through a tsunami of antagonistic bullshit every time they scroll through a comments section.

For the conclusion, head on over to The Daily Dot. I even make a joke about poo-flinging, so it’s totally worth it.

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