Yesterday Tim Farley wrote a piece about the block bot and some objections he has to it. One objection he has is that it blocks some people whom he considers…I’m not sure what, exactly – too good to merit blocking, I guess is the clearest way to put it. He considers them people who shouldn’t be blocked, because they don’t deserve to be blocked. But he makes this case in a very odd way.
The community needs of this very specific group (“Atheism+”), combined with the lack of auditing and transparency of control, has resulted in some (in my opinion) very strange choices. I am familiar with many of the people in these communities. I know many of them in real life as well as online. Scanning the list of Level 2 and 3 blocks makes me repeatedly scratch my head in puzzlement.
I’m not going to get into exact names here, as I do not want to discuss the pros and cons of blocking particular people. That is not a productive line of discussion. The bottom line is that if the users of this bot (or any Twitter user) want to block these people, that is their right.
And I will agree with that piece of text quoted above that implies that most would agree that the people blocked in Level 1 deserve that status. I scanned some of these accounts, and some I have seen before, and they are pretty heinous offenders. No argument there.
However, just a casual scan down the list of Level 2 and Level 3 blocks reveals people, many of whom I know personally, who are deeply involved in the atheism, skepticism, secularism and humanism movements all around the world.
Yes…So what? Is the idea that people who are deeply involved in the atheism, skepticism, secularism and humanism movements all around the world cannot also be shits who harass women and/or feminists? Apparently that’s exactly the idea.
- A Research Fellow for a U.S. think-tank who is also deputy editor of a national magazine, and author of numerous books
- A Consultant for Educational Programs for a U.S. national non-profit
- A long-time volunteer for the same national non-profit
- An organizer for a state-level skeptic group in the US
- A past president of a state-level humanist group in the US
- A former director of a state-level atheist group in the US
- An Emmy and Golden Globe award winning comedian
- A TED Fellow
- Co-founder of a well known magazine of philosophy and author of several books
- A philosopher, writer and critic who has authored several books
These are not anonymous trolls. They are not likely to be arrested anytime soon. Most of these people regularly speak at national conferences to audiences from several hundred to over a thousand people.
Again: so what? That doesn’t stop them being shits. I would love it if it did, but it doesn’t. The bit about the award-winning comedian, for instance – what, because comedians are never ever sexist? Ever? No comedian has ever relied on familiar old contempt for women to get laughs?
And all the rest of them too. None of those credentials are incompatible with being a shit. They certainly don’t confer some kind of fame-based immunity or extra leeway…or rather, they do, but they shouldn’t.
Starting from the publicly available block list you can click the names to go directly to their Twitter feeds, I see little evidence that these people are attacking, threatening or spamming anyone.
Attacking, threatening and spamming are not the only ways there are to be unpleasant and harassy. Not even close.
Now I’m not dumb, I know that many of these people have had very public disagreements with people allied with “Atheism+” who use this bot. And let me reiterate: if people want to block others that they disagree with, that is their right.
But these well-respected people are being listed right alongside some vicious troll accounts, and not being clearly distinguished from them.
That “disagreements” thing pisses me off. It’s right up there with “FTBullies” for repetitive fakery. It’s not about disagreements. It’s about picking fights, stalking, sneering, pestering, monitoring. Even people who direct state-level atheist groups, even TED fellows, can do stuff like that, and it’s not any kind of misbehavior or attack on free speech to block them on Twitter.
And by the way credentials don’t equate to well-respected. I don’t respect everyone who has a credential of that kind – why would I? You can have a credential and be an asshole. You might even have a credential because you’re an asshole.
The credentials are, on the contrary, often a source of wonder and disgust. “This is the guy who does such good work? Jeez. Who’d have thought it?” Maybe Farley is thinking that once people have credentials they’ll be inhibited from acting like assholes because they have more to lose. I’ve often wondered about that. Why isn’t ___ more worried about tarnishing the credentials? It can be puzzling, but that’s not at all the same thing as a slam-dunk reason to think assholitude is out of the question.
So, no. Credentials are only credentials. They’re not a free pass for being a creep on Twitter.
[I should add that Tim Farley did me a favor last year by talking to the guy who sent me the strange emails about how in danger I would be at TAM. I remain grateful for that. But I think this suggestion that important people can't be nasty people is very mistaken.]