The Bastard Lounge

Misinformed, angry, coffee-addled ranting.

Twitter Proves We Don’t Deserve Free Speech.

Recently, English novelist Jane Austen was named as the new face of the Bank of England £10 note, following a campaign led by feminist campaigner and journalist Caroline Criado-Perez to ensure that female representation remained on the currency following the departure of £5 stalwart Elizabeth Fry.

A reasonable campaign, one might think. It pissed off the Daily Mail, and that can only be a good thing. Others however, decided that Criado-Perez’s crime was so heinous that she received constant death and rape threats on Twitter for several days following the announcement. Indeed, the abuse reached such a level that a man was arrested for harassment, with dozens more who arguably could or should be arrested for the same offence.

However Criado-Perez is hardly the only person to receive such threats. Labour MP Stella Creasy also was subjected to torrents of abuse, much of which focused around threats of sexual violence. They are amongst hundreds of women (and men) who are victims of online harassment on a daily basis.

The whole issue has kickstarted debates about online policing, about censorship, about socio-cultural causes and about just why some people are such massive dicks.

Before we go any further, it’s important to address the fact that whether these threats were intended to be carried out or not is irrelevant. Let’s be honest they probably weren’t. They were simply designed to be as hurtful as possible as quickly as possible; and sexual violence is without doubt one of the worst issues of modern society. It’s the Internet Troll’s weapon of choice, the Trump Card of the online arsehole. Nothing cuts to the bone quicker than talk of rape, and as such, for people who genuinely wish to cause upset and misery to someone, it’s the ultimate weapon.

Quite rightly, the police are finally starting to take such matters seriously, finally realising that, in fact, harassment was against the law in the first place. Oops. Must not have noticed. The problem is, the harassment is being done online, in a virtual lawless landscape. It’s the international waters of the online era, a place where seemingly the only regulations have been put in place by Tyler Durden, except they’ve skipped the first six rules and just been left with

7th RULE: Fights will go on as long as they have to.
8th RULE: If this is your first night on the internet, you HAVE to fight.

My point is, people are arseholes. They’re arseholes at work. They’re arseholes at home. They’re arseholes to strangers and loved-ones alike. But when given access to a keyboard and a perception of anonymity they become, to borrow a phrase from Mark Millar, Toxic Mega-Cunts.

So the police have been loath to do anything about it. They’ve instead relied on sites to police themselves; something Twitter managed to make a spectacular shit show of by blocking Criado-Perez when she complained about the abuse she was receiving. There’s a campaign to set up a ‘Report Abuse’ button to Tweets, something which is slowly starting to take shape. Whether it’s effective or not is anyone’s guess.

Some, such as Technology Journalist Quinn Norton, have suggested that it would be far too easy for the banned Trolls to just start another account, and that a better solution is to simply use Twitter’s existing block features to render their Tweets invisible. However, in the same interview with Newsnight, she said that the reason for this abuse was because

“Men are raised to hate women”.

Ouch. Now, as any reasonable man would be, I’m pretty damn offended by this accusation. I was not raised to hate women. I developed that all by myself (HUR HUR HUR SATIRE!!! LOL!!). But it is sad that there are people that have this pessimistic view of society, who think that all men think this way. I’m not saying that we don’t live in an incredibly, misogynistic society. We do.

But I would like to think that the vast majority of men are mature, intelligent and downright human enough to rise above notions of women as objects or second class citizens. What happens is that the people who shout the loudest end up ruining peoples’ perceptions of everyone else. It’s like the kid at school who broke the window and ended up getting the football confiscated. Thanks a lot James. Dick.

But this brings me to my main point. A lot has been made of the issue of censorship here. In fact, it’s been quite a hot topic recently. After Lord Cameron’s Porn embargo managed to outrage humble masturbators everywhere, people pointed out that the system will inevitably end up banning innocuous and perfectly legal sites. Although the campaign started with a reasonable enough premise of preventing children accessing hardcore pornography, it was quickly realised that technically this is state censorship, raising all sorts of questions such as “Who watches The Watchmen?” and “How long will my porn be gone for?” and “Is it too early to opt-in to the porn yet?”.

Freedom of speech and expression is vital. However, the right to free speech does not include the right to harass, to threaten or to generally be a complete dick. I think now we’ve finally reached a point where we can safely say that we have too much free speech. We’ve said it all. There’s nothing more of any value to add. People spend their whole existences Tweeting and Facebooking and Blogging utter shit that no one cares about. We’ve got to the stage where people genuinely Tweet complaining that they don’t know what to Tweet about. It’s too much.

As a species, we really do spout some bollocks. Thusly, I’m decreeing that from now on, all Tweeting should be done by democratically elected “Spokes-Tweeters”. Once a week, fully licensed “Twitterers” who have to take an extensive course will meet and vote on prospective Tweets for their Spokes-Tweeters to send off into Cyberspace. People will still have full and free speech, but only if they’ve proven themselves capable of being trusted with it.

I jest of course. The beauty of the internet is its inclusiveness. Anyone can contribute to the discussion, regardless of how mind-numbingly thick and ill-informed they are. And at least some good has come of this whole issue – according to Newsnight Twitter are changing their Terms & Conditions to make it easier to ban people for violating them with harassment.

However, they really need only one sentence in their Policy. In fact, in any policy. In any law, or rule, or moral standard. Consider this The One Commandment:

Just don’t be a dick, alright?



2 comments on “Twitter Proves We Don’t Deserve Free Speech.

  1. Malodious
    July 31, 2013

    au contraire – free speech is exactly the right ‘to generally be a complete dick’ –
    because there is always someone ready to be offended, regardless of merit.

    • Dan Johnson
      July 31, 2013

      Speaking as a complete dick, I fully agree with you. I’m loath to support any form of censorship, and hate the fact that “This offends me” have now become magic words to prevent anything people don’t like. However I think you lose your right to free expression when that expression consists of blatant threats and harassment. This isn’t an issue of someone taking offence to an innocent comment, but comments deliberately designed to cause misery to others.

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