Free Speech: We’re Not Out Standing in the Field

Baby Groundhog
Pictured: This is Harry, the adorable channel mascot, on the lookout for trolls.

by Lenna

Note: This was originally published on my disqus channel, The Golden Rule. While it’s not a perfect fit for this blog, I’m using this space as a more searchable repository for all or more of the discussions I start on my channels, and to reach a wider audience. 

Before someone corrects me, know that I actually meant to write “out standing” (two words) and not “outstanding.” More on that further down in this post. 🙂

Yesterday someone added a discussion, which I deleted. Today that person posted another discussion, expressing outrage at yesterday’s decision. I deleted that post as well, and banned the person to prevent more of the same.

I wasn’t going to write a post about free speech today, but I did plan to write one at some point, so I’ve decided to go ahead and get this out of the way. It’s sort of long, so I’ve broken it into sections, to make it easy to digest…or to skim and skip around.

** Free Speech Obsession **

The West these days seems obsessed with free speech, and many people seem to believe that the concept is all encompassing. They expect to be able to say whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want. Carte blanche is their right, or so they think.

Well I disagree.

First of all, I’m not depriving anyone of free speech. I’m merely denying a few of them this particular venue, and by doing so, I’m exercising my freedom. Doesn’t anyone ever think about that? About the freedom NOT to host your comments?

You can’t spray paint, “I love ice cream” on the side of my house, and I don’t have to invite you in in so you can further express your dessert preferences. I have rights and freedoms too, and NOT hosting some guests–or their comments–is one of them.

If I start a blog, I don’t have to host comments AT ALL, never mind host any and all. Disqus is of course a discussion forum, but what’s the point of owning and moderating a channel if you are not permitted to set the tone and policies of your own venue?

I can’t really curtail free speech. The real enforcers are not channel owners on Disqus.

** Government **

A government can literally shut down free speech, using a wide range of tactics, up to and including the execution of dissidents. Unless you are the government, or a ruthless, violent vigilante, you are not in a position to deprive anyone of his or her right to free expression.

Disqus channels are not the government, and we are not armed vigilantes.

** Quasi-Government **

The major media are not officially part of the government, and in fact, in a free society, the media play the role of watchdog, exposing government corruption.

Sometimes.

Other times, we find our journalists playing the role of White House stenographers, as was arguably the case in the runup to the latest round of bombing Iraqis “back to the Stone Age.”

Because of their crucial role in informing the public (allegedly) and keeping government power in check (allegedly), the major media are sometimes referred to as the “Fourth Estate,” or the fourth branch of government, after the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches. That is the structure here in the United States.

In practice, quasi governmental institutions and major corporations can curtail (though not entirely shut down) free speech. Examples include not just media outlets, but other venues such as universities and major social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, among others.

The role of these groups is not so cut and dried, but because they do have some power, they have some responsibility. They must be truthful, at least, I would argue, and sometimes they are not.

I’ve personally witnessed how deceptive Fox News in particular can be. They say they are “fair and balanced” and state a comment policy they do not follow. My mild dissenting views have landed in eternal comment limbo on their venue, and the same has happened at Al Jazeera.

Why is this a problem? After all, Fox News is not the government, and they too are merely depriving me of a venue.

However, Fox News plays a quasi-governmental role as part of the Fourth Estate, and the worst part is that the common person has no real recourse. The power dynamic is such that Fox News can withhold my comments and pretend they are allowing unbridled free speech, and in practical terms, I have no effective measure against them.

I can write angry blog posts and comments about their practices all day long, but my complaints will be like a teardrop in the sea.

The way some folks carry on on Disqus, you might think the situation here is similar, but it isn’t. Not in the least, and I’ll explain why.

** Non-Governmental, Grassroots Venues **

For better for worse, widespread access to the Internet has democratized the delivery of news, information and ideas. Of course through this new conduit, the major media have also expanded their reach. They are still King of the Hill in terms of numbers, but their grip has been loosened, and with each passing year, many people vote with their feet, devoting less and less time to consuming their spin.

That means the common people have voices like never before.

I have a tiny niche blog which I don’t advertise and don’t post to regularly, and yet I’ve had visitors from every corner of the globe. If find that amazing, and it’s the same for thousands of other blogs as well.

But here on the channels? That’s where the action is.

No matter how many visitors actually come to my blog, the place looks rather sad. Not all that many shares or likes or comments, and the few times the crowd went wild? The shares were lost when I purchased my domain, as they’re stored with the URL.

Instead of waiting forever for comments to come to me, I’ve come to the comments, here on Disqus.

Which brings me to the matter of free speech in this particular context.

** Disqus **

This forum is both non-governmental, and grassroots. Yet in spite of this, people believe they have an inalienable right to come to my channels to post discussions and make comments, no matter how offensive or off-mission they may be.

Why is that?

I have no duty to “inform the public” of the news, and I can’t really curtail your right to free speech because you’re on equal footing! If I ban you from my channel, you can adopt your own. If I delete your comments, you can post them somewhere else!

The playing field is about as level as it gets, so all this howling about “free speech” impresses me not at all.

On niche blogs, channels, personal social media accounts, etc., it is part of my freedom to say what I want to say, and to control my own venue. You have an equal right to do the same. If you have a channel, you set the tone and policies, and manage your venue accordingly.

Now, it may be that you want your channel to be a “free speech zone,” where people just say whatever they like. But that doesn’t mean that everyone is obliged to do the same.

I have a lot of experience managing a blog where unchecked trolls flooded the place every chance they got, and spoiled the experience for other visitors.

I’ve also been to blogs that did not allow A SINGLE comment of mine to go through, and channels that deleted my FIRST comment on their venue, and even banned me for good measure. And that is OKAY! Because it’s their blog (or channel) and it’s their right to do so.

The only problem I have with a ban-happy site is when they pretend they are free and open. I think transparency is important, which is big part of why I’m bothering to write this post.

** The Policy is No Policy **

I don’t know if it’s just me, but this “hate free speech” complaint seems to be leveled disproportionately at Muslims. Two Christian sites kicked me off for a SINGLE comment and one banned me, yet I have not heard too many people arguing that Christians “hate free speech.”

There are also several sites I would describe as hate sites, devoted to spreading fear and hatred of Islam. Not content to comment on those sites, those who despise Islam also insist on their right to come to my channels and spew their hate as well.

I don’t think we should allow them to flood the place, though I do think we should make an effort to be reasonable. I’m not on either extreme, where a comments section has to be the wild west or an echo chamber. I want to try for somewhere in the middle, but in practical terms, what that really boils down to is this:

The policy is there is no policy except what the mods decide.

I have chosen mods I trust so that we can co-manage our channels, and that’s what we’re going to do, period. The matter is not up for debate.

If people want to criticize this policy, that’s fine. I have priorities that far outweigh trying to impress critics with an unbridled devotion to free speech. That goes double for “counter jihadists,” for reasons I’ll expand upon a bit.

** Out Standing in the Field **

I remember my mother being astonished by the news one evening. The US was complaining that the Iraqis they were trying to kill were hiding instead of standing out in an open field, where they could easily be targeted.

Really?

Who expects people to be obedient targets when they’re trying to kill them?

I can tell you without hesitation that I’m not an obedient target. I’m not going to make it easy for my enemies to target me, Islam, and the Muslim community as a whole. I think that is foolish.

Yet the “counter jihadists” think they can convince me that I should stand out in the middle of an open field so they can fire on me. If I refuse, then they pull out their “free speech” weapon, and attempt to strong arm me into allowing them to flood my channels with their sewage.

They will not succeed. I will delete their comments, and if they persist, I will ban them. In fact when I adopted my channel, I preemptively banned some of them, and stand by that decision.

** Trolling **

Given the obnoxious nature of the average counter jihadist, many of them spawn armies of sock puppets and attempt to insert themselves where they know full well they’re not welcome. By contrast, I’ve willingly left channels under similar circumstances, respecting the channel owner’s wishes, whether or not I thought they were being reasonable.

The obnoxiousness and persistence of these trolls just confirms for me that banning them sooner rather than later is the right decision.

** Wading in the Sewer **

Now I realize that some of the sites where the “counter jihadists” congregate do allow free speech to a far greater degree.

I have never had one of these channels ban me. Not even when I have banned their owners from my channels and blogs. If they would like to ban me, that is okay with me! Being banned from their channels would save me the temptation of visiting from time to time, getting sucked into pointless debates.

But the reality is that they don’t ban me (or at least haven’t so far), so we have a lopsided equation.

Why is that?

As I see it, counter jihadists can stand out in the middle of the field because they are the ones doing the shooting. I don’t have much interest in fighting in their war, where no one is ever going to achieve a decisive victory, not matter how long the war drags on.

Has no one learned a thing from the US experience in Afghanistan?

I’m not interested in feeding chaos, and I’m not interested in letting counter jihadists set the agenda and decide where I will invest my energy. Addressing their objections is the first step in validating their approach, and if you look at things strategically, there’s not a lot of point in that.

Even though I have spent a fair amount of time debating them over the years (do as I say, not as I do!), I think a better approach is to set our own agenda, and tell our story. That is what my channels are for.

Fex started The Far Reaching Argument (a sister channel) to teach Islam to people, on his own terms, not in response to every offensive gesture on the part of “counter jihadists.”

As a result, Political Islam has devoted a lot of discussions to merely copying content from The FRA, and allowing their rabid followers to have a field day in comments.

Fex led, and the counter jihadists followed, and that to me is how it should be.

Channels that will take the bottom feeders we ban are at best a rough neighborhood, and at worst, become the filthy, stinking sewers of Disqus.

Who gets kicked out of a sewer?

If you are the worst of the worst among the counter jihadists, you already have a home, and it’s called Political Islam. If you’re not quite that vile and obnoxious, you can find some other places which I’ve subtly referenced here, specially for those who enjoy hunting Easter eggs.

** A Few Good Visitors **

The bottom line is that those who are denied this venue need not bother shouting at deaf ears.

You will not find unbridled free speech here, and you won’t find any apologies for our policy either.

What you will find, by design, is discussions with visitors who respect honesty and fairness, and who express dissenting views within a context of mutual respect.

This is long and detailed post because I want it to be the last word on the matter of free speech here on this venue.

I have no need for “free speech” accolades and zero tolerance for trolls. A handful of decent visitors is more than sufficient for me, and that isn’t going to change.

If you’d like to comment, join the discussion where this was originally published on my disqus channel, The Golden Rule.

 

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