Our country is unique in practicing the most liberal form of free speech among Western democracies. Yet even in America, the right to free speech is by no means absolute. All rights have limitations; freedom imposes requisite responsibilities; civil and criminal laws govern our conduct. The right to free speech does not include:
Defamation, fraud, imminent incitement of lawless actions, perjury, pornography, sedition, theft of intellectual property, or violations of national security, as examples.
Free access to information does not abrogate a personal right to privacy. Hate speech, the propagation of hate groups, the denigration of any nation or any race or any ethnic group, any attempt to infringe upon the civil rights of any group, any promoter of genocide or any denial of a history of genocide … these are examples of prohibited speech punishable by law.Our country does not impose such restrictions. In America, hate speech – no matter how abhorrent - is legal. Hate groups are free to associate, assemble and demonstrate in the streets. A rabid rabble may denigrate any nation or any race or any ethnic group at will. Holocaust denial - no matter how repugnant - is legal. There is no statutory right to privacy in our Constitution.
Political speech removes many restraints normally imposed under civil law. Defamation is legal. Deception, fraudulent attack ads, demagoguery, fear mongering, opponents demonizing opponents with half-truths and outright lies … these have become standard operating procedure. Money has become the currency of political speech; wealthy donors now wield more power and influence than voters; and ‘pay for play’ – formerly known as ‘graft’ – masquerades under cover of Super PACS. Yet, even political speech has limits: An informal code of community standards – and public disapproval - serves as a check on intemperate political speech.
As a medium of free speech, the Internet is the most uninhibited and unregulated of all - where anything goes. Trolls hiding beneath anonymous monikers will hijack and commandeer your discussion threads. Scammers will spam your email box with cons and malware; hackers will compromise your privacy; and cyber criminals will steal your identity. Schoolyard bullies have tormented vulnerable teenagers – driving some to suicide. Everywhere in Cyberspace, there are predators and stalkers, sadists and sociopaths. Without doubt, the Internet has devolved into a lawless and savage place. Which brings me to the subject of this post …
Sexual harassment and threats of sexual violence prompted Shaw Kenawe, author of Progressive Eruptions and long time member of this community, to suspend her web log.This is not the first time sexual harassment has driven a woman off the Internet. Years ago, there was a well-publicized account of Kathy Sierra, a highly successful author of books on computer programming. The "Mean Kids" - men in the computer industry who were jealous of her success - threatened her with gang rape, gang violence, even death threats. Intimidated and terrorized, Kathy Sierra canceled all public appearances and removed her web log from the Internet.
Sadly, the same kind of criminal behavior that terrorized Kathy Sierra prompted Shaw’s decision. Her perpetrators originate from the far rightwing fringes of Cyberspace and use the pseudonymous monikers of Radical Redneck and Texas Stomp, among others. These email assaults on Shaw are NOT FIT FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION. Having seen them myself, I shall describe them only in brief: Hate messages, threats of sexual violence, allusions to smearing victims in excrement – illustrated with vile pornography.
Almost immediately, the far rightwing fringe noticed the absence of Progressive Eruptions from Cyberspace:
FreeThinke: “Chalk up another victory for censorious, cowardly, smug, closed, self-congratulatory minds … It's like MASTURBATION … How pathetically paranoid could you get?” (Deleted by blog administrator)There is nothing paranoid about Cyber-Bullying and threats of sexual violence. Incendiary partisan hate speech is just as contemptible as other forms of hate speech – especially when coercion and intimidation deprive victims of their safety and human dignity. Another rightwing fringe blogger issued a blanket denial:
Lisa: “Nobody here has ever made any direct threats” (Deleted by blog administrator).Here is my reply of Friday, September 26, 2014 (edited for brevity):
Octopus: “Denial, denial, denial will score NO points under God or under Law. Since my last comment, I have received [Shaw’s] file of hate messages … Lisa, that makes not ONE or TWO but THREE followers of your blog who have menaced Shaw” (Deleted by blog administrator).As you can surmise from the deletions noted in parenthesis, Lisa unceremoniously removed the entire post along with all 79 comments from the Internet. I will never know her thoughts or reasons; yet I wonder: Has Lisa ever experienced bullying or gender bias or sexual harassment in her lifetime? Fortunately, I was able to rescue one comment before it disappeared from Cyberspace:
FreeThinke: “The ever-present assumption of moral superiority on the part of leftists -- or any other identifiable faction like Jews and Fundamentalist Christians -- is not only DEPRESSING, it's NAUSEATING and INFURIATING ... If you can't take it, DON'T DISH IT OUT” (Deleted by blog administrator).What is missing here? No word of empathy or support for the victim! No appeals to common decency! A dismissive attitude devoid of conscience! Please note the reference to ‘leftists … Jews, and Fundamentalist Christians.’ How odd, yet revealing.
Anyone who visits the far rightwing blogosphere enters an Anti-Universe where the conventions of civil discourse and logic no longer apply:
Never concede an argument (no matter how specious); always debunk opposing viewpoints (even when factual); always keep a strawman by your side (to paint your opponent in preposterously extreme terms verging on caricature); turn up the volume of tone-deafness; deny; play the victim card; attack, attack; and repeat often.In far rightwing Cyberspace, let Projection be your ally:
Distort, misquote, harp, carp, nitpick, accuse, slander, insult, heckle, taunt, and get angry – all while accusing your opponent of behaving in precisely the same manner.Hence, the impression of a friend who visits these faraway reaches of Space-Time:
Dave Miller: “I personally am sick and tired of being referred to by conservatives as a libturd, a socialist, a commie and whatever assorted names people can dream up to annoy” (September 17, 2013 at 11:43 PM).
Dave Miller: “I know it's off point, but seeing so many of the typical right-wing talking points, without any evidence to support their claims, pushed me to the edge …” (September 19, 2014 at 1:47 PM).Which brings me to an obvious question: Why go there? Why subject yourself to bad faith arguments, sleazy ad hominem personal attacks, falsehoods, and never-ending verbal abuse! Why give them the satisfaction of skinning your goat! Sometimes I wonder …
FreeThinke (August 3, 2014 at 9:36 AM):
Waylon: “I don't accept at face value the official version of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks … “Veterans Today” enumerates several points of the story which contradict the official version, including the mysterious "Dancing Israelis" …” (September 11, 2014 at 4:03 PM).
FreeThinke: “This country was conceived, designed and developed by WHITE, PROTESTANT CHRISTIAN MEN (…) As long as we stuck to THEIR concepts and abided by THER ideals, we did very well. Once the "Progressives" won a large share of public confidence, we've been plunged into incessant turmoil […] Coincidentally, the national IQ has been dropping like a stone ever since” (October 15, 2013 at 8:39:00 AM EDT).Bizarre conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism, virulent racism: Do you read the same words on screen that I read? There are times when my conservative and libertarian friends – unburdened by a bleeding heart and starry-eyed naiveté - rise to the occasion with a keener sense of moral clarity than fellow liberals:
DMarks: “Your attempt to blame Jews is an echo of the old Nazi-touted "Protocols of the Elders of Zion” …" (September 12, 2014 at 7:54 AM).
Waylon: "… it's funny how "the chosen tribe" react when the topic is raised ...” (September 12, 2014 at 8:21 AM).
DMarks: “Waylon proved my point of his Nazi sympathies when he discussed the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (September 13, 2014 at 10:55 AM).Dmarks, a conservative friend of this forum, deserves kudos for confronting anti-Semitism. Rational Nation USA, a libertarian friend of this forum, challenged the hypocritical projections of a writer whose nom de plume trades on the very idea of free thought - but turns all mirrors to the wall. The notorious FreeThinke bullies all comers alike:
“GET OUT and STAY OUT. I DON'T WANT YOU HERE. GOT THAT? NOW MOVE ALONG” (September 10, 2014 at 5:31 PM).
Dmarks: “FreeThinke: Reading your comment to RN, I can see that free thinking is not so welcome here” (September 12, 2014 at 8:05 AM).Free speech and freedom to associate are fundamental human rights ensconced in our Constitution. Yet, four years ago, a far rightwing rabble assailed a conservative writer for committing the unpardonable sin of befriending liberals. In defense of a friend, your intrepid cephalopod wrote:
“Rightwing critics disparage the term political correctness as a Marxist plot whose aim is to undermine conservative values and impose social conformity … Yet, the same rightwing critics employ a far more sinister version of political correctness. They make use of litmus tests to enforce ideological orthodoxy in thought, speech, and personal associations. They will not hesitate to browbeat fellow conservatives into submission with condemnation and excommunication. How ironic! The rightwing accuses the left of using political correctness to impose social conformity; yet, the same rightwingers use coercive means to enforce groupthink within their ranks” (A Blessed Kristallnacht to All - January 6, 2010).The Cringe Fringe. In my opinion, far rightwing radicals are not truly representative of a political movement. More reminiscent of a cult, they are a collective of Angry Birds, malcontents, misfits and soulless people in search of ritual scapegoats to blame for their misery. Their word salad of epithets – “libtard” and “libturd” for liberals and “”traitor” and “turncoat” for conservatives – is merely another form of projection. They shun any democratic exchange of ideas through the use of suppression, condemnation, ostracism, and elimination. Sometimes a Godwin Fallacy is not a fallacy. The Cringe Fringe is the Internet analogue of henchmen and street thugs - the adulators and adherents of demagogues and lunatic ideologues - that marked the final days of the Weimar Republic. What is their appeal? For an adrenaline rush, at least Hannibal Lector was a fictional character.
In yet another account of bullying, blackmail, and misogyny in Cyberspace, Katie McDonough reports:
“[Anyone] familiar with abuser dynamics will recognize those threats for what they were: Manipulation. Domination. More abuse [my bold] ... But then I have this other question, a question about the abuser. How do we get him help, or whatever the word is here since “help” doesn’t seem quite right” (Monday, Sep 29, 2014 02:59 PM).”No doubt, we encounter predators and stalkers, narcissists and sociopaths everywhere in Cyberspace, and they are VERY DISTURBED PERSONS! Yet, we must tread carefully. The nexus between behavioral science and partisan politics is dangerous because psychobabble is yet another overly-used and often-abused form of ad hominem abuse. Please recall the former Soviet Union and the use of ‘psychiatry’ as an instrument of oppression.
The Internet is NOT an appropriate medium for psychotherapy; yet we are well within our rights to demand accountability. To borrow a quote from Rational Nation USA: “Shine a bright spotlight into a dirty corner and it will get cleaned up.” Here is what ALL OF US can do:
I ask all men on behalf of the women in their lives - mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, family and friends inclusive – to condemn these acts of misogyny and sexism in Cyberspace. Although we play a very small part in this global Internet community, we have a mutually shared responsibility to raise the standard of discourse and keep it clean.
Incidentally, we can also choose better friends.