Friday, 2 April 2010

My Playground, My Soap Box.

Ok, so here's a question I'd like to add my $0.02 worth to, apropos of very little at all.
Is moderation censorship, and at what point can we tell trolls and oiks to shut the hell up and go away without compromising freedom of speech?

It's something that happens to a lot of feminist bloggers - or at least any of them who write about anything as controversial as their feminism, and happen to be lucky enough to get read by a decent sized audience - there will be people coming along, and instead of participating in the debate at hand, start trolling, being abusive, trotting out tired old misogynies and mansplaining. I even warned a friend of mine off* writing a blog post where she planned to discuss something very personal and sensitive, in case she got this kind of jerk turning up and directing abuse at her in the comments. It sucks, and so some people decide to have agressive moderation policies, and just filter out the unproductive crap and ban persistent offenders. And that's fine... until someone shouts "censorship" at you**.

See, I don't think it is censorship at all if I delete your comments on my blog, in the same way that if you excreted in my sandpit I would be well within my rights to remove the mess so that I and my friends could play safely. You may disagree. You are perfectly allowed to do so, and if you like you can go away and write your own blog post detailing how I am wrong and you are right, and no-one is stopping you from doing so. But see, this is my soapbox. You don't like it? Get your own. Kate Harding says, pretty much, exactly the same on her blog, which has, supposedly, a very draconian comments policy***.

This gets a bit different when the blog you write is one for a bigger organisation than just you: for example The Sexist blog, over at the Washington City Paper, which has fairly recently been asking whether they ought to tighten up their comments policy. In situations like that, because you are writing for a public institution, the assumption is that you ought to provide a public platform (that is, if you provide a platform - comments section - at all). And while that is true to an extent, I will go back to the playground analogy just for a bit. In this case, there are loads of kids, playing in the playground, under the watchful eye of a responsible adult (the mod). As long as they can all play happily, anyone can come play in this playground - no one is excluded... except for the one kid who can't play nice, who keeps stealing people's toys, hogging the swings and beating the other kids around the head with a barbie-doll or tonka truck. That kid? The Troll who keeps being abusive? They are banned. Because whilst we all have the right to freedom of speech, the blog-owner also has a responsibility to their readers to create a safe environment for comments and discussion. The reader's right not to be attacked trumps the troll's right to say what they like. ****

And this is different again to when you are the editor of a paper or similar, and one of your columnists decides to write something... disagreeable. It worrys me, it really does, when the chief editor of any publication (even a student one) feels she cannot cut or (ffs) edit a column for fear of "censorship". That's not censorship. That's being discriminating - and I mean that in the sense of being able to distinguish good writing from drivel; in the sense that one can have a discriminating palate. For God's sake, that's the JOB of an editor, to decide what goes in the paper and what doesn't. What should be printed, (and thus given weight) and what you don't want to put your name to, and yes, by all means have a "letters" column, and print everyone's views. All the above comments apply. You have to balance columnist's rights with the paper's responsibility, and remember, at the end of the day, that it's your sandbox and anyone who is not prepared to follow your rules can get their own.

See, what this all comes down to is platform availabilty. It is sensible discrimination and moderation when you simply refuse to share a platform with someone (or, rather, refuse to let them share your platform) and it is censorship when you actively prevent them from ever having a platform of their own - and sorry, but this is something only governments, or anyone who has a monopoly on media outlets can do with any degree of efficiency. And when that happens, then I'll start complaining... if they'll let me...

*Didn't actually say that she shouldn't do it, just that she ought to be prepared for this kind of thing if she decided to go ahead with it.
**And if they're American, citing whichever ammendment to whichever historical document it is that protects their freedom of speech (I'm not American, it's late at night, someone please remind me what it is I'm thinking of?)
***And still some hateful shit occasionally filters through. However, what with Ms. Harding's regular readership not only allowed but encouraged to take pot shots at the Trolls, that can actually end up being amusing on occasion. I fully expect to see Troll-baiting become an internet blood-sport soon.
**** Oh, and just to clarify, this isn't people being offended by "edgy" humour or political viewpoints or the like, this is people being personally insulted, degraded and threatened. See also. Just so we're clear.

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