(Guest Post) Words of mass destruction: the weaponization of ‘free speech’

A guest post by Robert Fendt. Please address comments appropriately. :)

(Note: this text deals with harassment, sexism, misogyny, racism and transphobia. Readers’ discretion is advised.)

Dear reader: are you male? White? Heterosexual? Cisgender? Healthy? Congratulations: this text is for you. It also means you are among us lucky ones who get to play the game called ‘life’ on the easiest setting there is. Don’t believe it? Read on.

Disclaimer: I’m also a white male cisgender heterosexual person. And for a long time, I would have said about me having it particularly easy in life: don’t be ridiculous. But I do have friends and colleagues who are not male, who are not white, who are not heterosexual, who are not cisgender, some of whom have to deal with disability or illness, and listening to them has changed and reshaped my perspective. It’s time it changed the perspectives of us all.

In the ‘western’ countries, freedom of opinion and speech are fundamental rights, designed to protect minorities from persecution. So how ironic is it that nowadays ‘free speech’ also functions as a smoke screen for the harassment of women and minorities?

Imagine being a woman walking down the street. Now try to guess how common cat calls and whistles are, and how many unsolicited comments about your body and looks you get. Try to guess how common it is that strangers come uncomfortably close or even touch you without your consent. If you guessed “rarely”, then guess again. Being a woman in public means being scrutinised and ogled and commented upon, at the very least. And now do me a favor: honestly try to imagine being in that position. Imagine dealing with stuff like that. For every. Single. Fucking. Day.
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General Zoi: “So I tried to go to a brony meetup today”

Consciousness-raising is usually a pretty difficult thing, especially if you’re trying to become a presence in a community to which you’re only peripherally involved, and the event that inclines you toward trying to do so also gets you irritated or annoyed or angry. Given the circumstances, I think General Zoi probably did about as well as I might have managed myself.

Since it was just the three of us, we were kind of just sitting around having rather stilted conversation, waiting for other people to show up. The organizer started talking about other people who had RSVPed. I do not recall what exactly prompted him to say this, and I really wish I could, but he suddenly said, “One of the people coming is a trap. They used to be a guy.”

I looked at him. “Trap?”

“It’s from General Akbar. ‘It’s a trap!’”

“I don’t really care where it’s from. Why did you call her a trap?”

“That’s what the Internet calls them.”

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SOPA is dead, long live PIPA (or: Computer Armageddon, here we come!)

The SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is an empirically bad thing. Cory Doctorow has an hour-long talk explaining the road to this onerous set of laws, this spider-swallowing to catch a fly to borrow Doctorow’s analogy, but the route to this terrible toll bridge on the information superhighway is less interesting than the toll itself. It is a toll that seems easy enough to swallow, like the spider, where all you have to do is accept that companies have the right to assert their copyright and unilaterally have websites removed from the internet. The spider’s consequences on the body of the internet will however be destructive and ultimately deadly.
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FYI: This is what censorship looks like

Remember the charge that we bloggers who moderate our comments are actually engaging in censorship? This will surely come as a surprise to the howler monkeys making the claim that we’re censoring them: censorship actually exists, and is actually significantly more onerous than you folks thought! Via our blog-compatriot Aliasalpha, Ars Technica brings news of a list of 1600 words that are to be censored in text messages in Pakistan within seven days, with the penalty of legal action if telecom companies do not comply.

Phrases such as “beat your meat,” “fairy,” and “lovegun” are among the list of words banned in text messages by the Pakistani Telecommunication Authority.

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Girls online: damned if you do, don’t, or simply ARE.

That Weird Atheist Girl has an excellent post on her blog entitled She’s Just an Attention Whore examining the problem of simply being a woman in an online community traditionally dominated by men. If you’re a girl and like Star Wars or video games, you’re just “seeking attention” (a.k.a “attention whore”) — you don’t really like those things, you’re just faking it so boys will like you. But if you don’t like those things, you’re shallow and vapid.

Despite girls making up at least 40% of the gaming market presently, it’s far more likely than not that if you pick a female avatar or feminine-sounding username, you are presumed to be a GIRL — a “Guy In Real Life” — or you are accosted by the forever-lonely. And if you dare speak up on voice-enabled multiplayer games, especially on servers that aren’t explicitly for role-playing, accidentally exposing yourself to be a mere girl amongst manly-men, no matter how good you had been doing up until that point you’ll inevitably hear a chorus of “women can’t play this game!”
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Moderation, censorship, and The New Stasi at FtB

The latest imbroglio here at Freethought Blogs appears to be an ongoing systemic campaign of trolling and attempting to silence several voices via liberal application of a megaphone and a large and varied vocabulary of misogynist slurs and outright libel about certain individuals. One aspect of this campaign and one possible course of action that we’ve stumbled across, having had Franc Hoggle’s identity dropped into our laps by one of his real-life acquaintances, has repercussions that have drawn out a contingent of slimepit denizens to amp up the silencing campaign. I will refer herein to these crusaders collectively as “douchebags” or some variant thereupon.

So far, PZ Myers and Ophelia Benson have borne the brunt of the assault by the douchebags, though Stephanie Zvan is rapidly climbing the ranks of people being targeted. Greg Laden and I are thus far mere also-rans.

One of the things that I do around these parts is observe the larger knock-down drag-out fights, and pull out the side concerns — the little individual jabs and parries in conversations — and dissect them. During this ongoing fight, one of the largest bête noires raised by the douchetariat is the question of censorship. Specifically, that when one of them gets put into moderation for refusing to stay on topic or for outright flaming or spamming or otherwise disrupting conversation, they are being censored in violation of their freedom to douche publicly.
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