A billion ghosts immanentized


You should go read this excellent post on Technosociology, which makes two points, one that I’ve written about before and one that I’ve been meaning to write. The first is a rebuke to the free speech fetishists of the internet who regard their ability to shout at someone as an absolute right rather than a responsibility.

…the common equation between not wanting governments to regulate offensive speech on the Internet and the position “therefore everyone should be allowed to post whatever they want” is not just wrong, it is likely going to be the end of the kind of free speech we want to protect because sooner or later, most governments who do want to ban speech on the Internet for political reasons are going to be able to legitimately point at these sites and most parents and other sane people will come down for strong regulations on the Internet. Yes, I believe that these regulations will then be used to crack down on “unwanted” political speech but be assured that most people in the world, including the United States, will choose “less speech” criticizing the powerful if they are convinced that without such restrictions, there is no way to stop predation of children and violating women’s dignity and privacy from proliferating on mainstream sites. (There is high-quality poll data from the General Social Survey which confirms this–free speech as an absolute value is a minority position in the United States). It is up to the Internet community to make this a false equivalence and this requires that “but it’s free speech” is not the first, intermediate and last and only phrase we utter when faced with offensive or intimidating content.

The internet has an abundance of freedoms and a dearth of accountability and responsibility. Somehow we’ve acquired the notion that because it’s possible to create throw-away accounts and use pseudonyms, it is therefore good to create them at will and discard any sense of identity while still pretending to be a good faith contributor to online discussions. And then we get people who are outraged that you won’t listen to them when they rant under an obscene pseudonym that they will change again when you ignore them; and in fact, they get particularly outraged when you do ignore them, because they think they have the right to speak while everyone else has the obligation to listen. The petty obsessives of internet free speech all have a bit of Dennis Markuze in them.

And further, the Violentacrez case has highlighted another mistaken idea: their privilege to abrogate all other rights held by others in the name of their right to free speech. Suddenly, anonymity also becomes their right and no one else’s — they can splatter the faces of teenagers in their underwear on the web to serve their right to masturbation material, but if you dare to reveal that they are human beings with identities in the “real” world, you’re violating their rights.

That’s the second thing I appreciate in this essay. It’s time to stop thinking of stuff we say on the internet as somehow not part of the real world. For many of us, the bulk of our communication with others is through this medium; we have more friends who we know well and talk to regularly here on our screens than we meet face-to-face.

Another variant of the argument has been that “it’s just the Internet.” Chill. This, of course, rests of on something I’ve long been railing against, the notion that the Internet is somehow not real, that it’s virtual or that it is “trivial.” (My friend Nathan Jurgenson coined the phrase “digital dualism” to refer to this tendency). In fact, a reddit contributor makes the argument that Gawker, by publishing the real name and location of the person behind “creepshot” did real harm they have “purposefully taken this off the internet and into real life” and this affects “violantacrez’s future employment and immediate safety.”

“JoelDavis” on Reddit: The reason that axiom [It’s Just the Internet] has taken hold is because the idea is that even if a website gets bogged down in even the worst trolling imaginable, all you have to is realize the website’s no longer worth going to anymore and stop going. Problem solved. With this, a formerly anonymous reddit user has to worry about physical attacks in real life by someone who would view a person like that as a target. In other words, Adrian Chen has purposefully taken this off the internet and into real life so it’s no longer “just the internet.” This affects violentacrez’s future employment and immediate safety. All so Chen could make some money, and no other reason.

This snippet is very revelatory in how it reveals how the construction of what is real, trivial or virtual is indeed an assertion of power & privilege. “JoelDavis” considers predatory photos of children to be “just the Internet” but a person’s name –just their name linked to real acts they committed—to be “real life.” (I again refer to Lili’s great post about what this reveals).

It’s an odd phenomenon, too. When the printing press allowed newspapers to appear, when people sent correspondence around the world through the mail, did anyone suggest that this process was insignificant and that the discussion was less “real” than talking? I don’t think so. I have the opposite impression, that people felt that writing made the ephemera of conversation have more substance and permanence — the act of weighing words carefully and making the effort to lay them down in print made them more powerful, and publication was a conjuration of great power.

The internet made publication trivial. It apparently diminished the substance of communication — no more crackling bits of paper that pile up on your desk. Media like twitter and facebook encourage you to blurt casually, with little attention to the words you write. It leads to the illusion that communication online is as insubstantial as the conversation you had with your cat.

But it isn’t. In the vast howling noise of the internet, what you say has become more important — voices that babble and shriek don’t rise to prominence and become regular draws (they can be brief freak show sensations, though, and we do see a tendency for voices of minimal talent or intelligence striving to become louder through more extreme viciousness or stupidity). Because something is written in the intangible pattern of electrons doesn’t make it less substantial, but instead makes it easier to distribute, copy, and archive — you could burn an incriminating letter, but once it is on the internet, it is spread far and wide and, while not completely unerasable, is harder to remove…and actively trying to remove something tends to make it more noticeable and more widely disseminated. Meanwhile, I’m finding hardcopy to be less useful — I get dunned with so much junk mail, all those crackling bits of paper that offer me new credit cards at low low rates and advertisements for big screen TVs on sale and sweepstakes I must enter to win millions of dollars, that I increasingly devalue stuff that is written down. I used to photocopy journal articles every week and file them away in a cabinet — I’ve still got a huge pile of these things from 20-30 years ago — but now I rarely print anything, it’s far more useful to have a searchable, indexable, archived PDF that I can also instantly email to students and colleagues.

Just because some old fogies don’t comprehend or appreciate the volume and content of all the communication that goes on by this medium doesn’t make it less real. The internet is not the place where a billion ghosts chatter over matters of no consequence — it’s the new reality, the tool that many of us use to make connections that matter. It’s the greatest agent of information and communication humanity has yet invented, and it deserves a little more respect than dismissal as something “unreal” where trolls can roam unchecked.

(via Stephanie Zvan)

Comments

  1. shala says

    With great power comes great responsibility.

    Most internet users just ignore the latter bit though.

  2. jojo says

    I don’t know what the free speech crowd is so upset about. I read about the creep shots dude being outed on the internet, so it’s no more real life than the pictures of girls that he posted.

    Honestly, I cannot figure out how they cannot see that stealing pictures of young girls to post on the internet isn’t just as real as outing the creep that did it.

  3. says

    I think the term “free speech fetishist” misses the point. The people to whom you’re referring don’t have a mentality of “anything goes”, but the mentality of a toddler who believes that not getting the last cookie is tragically unfair. Generally, if you dare to insult them back, they start sobbing about how you’re bullying them. This leads to phenomena such as the crowd of creepy obsessives who inhabit the #FTBullies Twitter hashtag.

  4. Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Part of the problem is that we who agree with you about those shouting, “Free Speech”, often concede that free speech is a right. Even you did here.

    Free speech is not a right. It’s a freedom. There’s a reason it’s called “freedom of speech”.

    A right always comes paired with a duty. If I have a right to an abortion, then when I have no money, it is relevant to ask, “So will [the government/my insurer] step up and cover the cost?” It is relevant to ask, “Are there any abortion providers in my state, in my county, reachable by bus?”

    But freedoms are not rights. They do not come with duties. And when we speak of them as rights, the ViolentAcrez among us demand, “What happens when I don’t have the resources to speak as I wish?” and “What happens when I do not have access to the venue that I believe is necessary to speak as I wish?”

    These are equivalent questions, and every time we speak of free speech as a right, we make them seem justified in asking those questions. The douche-gabbers of the internet do not deserve such support and we should cease providing it.

    One can be – and I am – someone identified as absolutist on the first amendment and still respond, when someone shouts, “Free speech is a right,” not with, “yeah, but… .”

    I respond with, “Hell, no. You do not have a right to speak, and before you saddle up Roscinante to shove your pointy thing into those dangerously giant threats to your all-access coneption, you might just stop to consider whether or not all this circular flailing should indicate to you that you are a little less than competent at discernment. Then go shove your pointy thing up inside the real problem: you.”

  5. hillaryrettig says

    I agree completely. I also wish anonymity and pseudonyms were less respected on the Internet. Althoguh I realize many good people have good reasons for using one (like job security if they post something unpopular), I’d like us to get to the point where pseudonyms are less “fun aspects” of the net and more “necessary evils,” and where people who behave badly behind the cover of one are not lionized but condemned twice – once for the behavior itself, and two for their cowardice in doing it behind a pseudonym.

    Because pseudonyms necessarily dilute responsibility for how they behave on the Web I think they are responsible for a lot of the childish, irresponsible, and criminal behavior we see. Look how immediately that supposedly tough thug “Violentcruz” folded once his cover was blown.

  6. says

    The internet is not the place where a billion ghosts chatter over matters of no consequence — it’s the new reality, the tool that many of us use to make connections that matter.

    Word. Almost all of my socializing takes place on the net. I’ve made many friends over the years and I don’t much care for people who handwave all that away because…internet. It’s every bit as real as any other form of communication.

  7. says

    Well okay, but what do you propose to do about it? Before Your Intertubes, cranks could stand on the street corner handing out flyers, but newspaper and magazine editors screened the content that was available to vast numbers of people. You could seek out racist, pornographic or otherwise offensive publications but the only people who were likely to come across them were the people who wanted to.

    The difference now is that it’s easier for obnoxious people to get in the middle of the enlightened conversations the rest of us want to have. Just exhorting them to knock it off certainly isn’t going to do any good. Allowing anonymity in many circumstances is beneficial — I might have something important to say that would get me into trouble with my boss or my government, after all. At the same time I can’t really imagine any efficient technical means to prevent people from creating pseudonymous accounts anyway.

    Obnoxious, bigoted, repulsive people have always existed, maybe there is some virtue in their visibility.

  8. =8)-DX says

    [..] most people in the world, including the United States, will choose “less speech” criticizing the powerful if they are convinced that without such restrictions, there is no way to stop predation of children and violating women’s dignity and privacy from proliferating on mainstream sites.

    I’d dispute the relevance of this. It’s not really any longer physically possible to monitor and track the entire content of the internet and there will always be ways to post things anonymously. This will just lead to a spew of new sites and technologies design to ensure anonymity.

  9. says

    I don’t mind pseudonyms, as long as they’re consistently held. A name you give yourself and that represents your sense of identity is just as real as the arbitrary name your mother and father gave you.

    I can say that because I’ve always felt a little bit alienated from “Paul” — I wasn’t called that as a young child, and it’s always felt like a pseudonym I was assigned when I was sent off to school. I stick to it and recognize it as a valid signifier for who I am, but names really are more fluid than some people recognize…adopt the one you like and live by it.

  10. says

    What am I going to do about it? What I do here. I reject sock puppets and require that you put a little effort into creating an authorized username. I ask that you use a valid email address that I could use to contact you (currently not strictly enforced, but I can foresee a day when I do enforce that) if necessary.

    It’s not hard, it’s not onerous, it’s not a big demand to make on people. I just don’t let you create a bogus identity on the fly and change it every time you feel like it.

  11. says

    A name you give yourself and that represents your sense of identity is just as real as the arbitrary name your mother and father gave you.

    I haven’t used the name I was given for most of my life. It is my legal name, and that’s about it. I don’t like it at all. As far as my internet nym, I’ve been using Caine for…gee, around 20 years now. It’s as much my name as any.

  12. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    A name you give yourself and that represents your sense of identity

    /looks around nervously

  13. jhendrix says

    The article did a good bit to helping change my position. Dichotomies presented by technology shouldn’t bind us completely.

    The article is completely right to point out the hypocrisy of Reddit where they hold the “outing” of Violentacrez as some terrible violation, but what he did being somehow less OK.

    Freedom of speech cuts both ways, and it’s pretty awesome that the creeper got outed.

    What I do fear is the authoritarian streak of censorship that is lurking behind this. The notion that since we’re not talking about the government here, that this has nothing to do with “Free Speech” is ludicrous IMO. We should value any company or venue that gives people the right to “free speech”.

    This isn’t “absolute free speech”, since harmful things are limited (child porn being the biggest).

    I think the solution needs to be making certain things illegal, like taking upskirt/downshirt photos. There are good arguments to be made that such things violate an expectation of privacy, even in the public space where situations can make glimpses of such things possible.

    I actually understand women not wanting to have pictures of themselves in tight/revealing clothing in public being put online as some kind of erotic material. It’s pretty fucking creepy. It’s a type of trolling, an abuse of the fact that when someone is in public they have no right to an expectation of privacy.

    What I am afraid of coming out as a result of this restrictions on photography.

    It’s like the above is a necessary evil. I don’t like that, but I’m afraid of putting limits on that kind of speech. How can we ensure that any rights we give to block sharing of certain photos isn’t abused to restrict important speech?

    At some point I find it necessary that internet platform providers like Reddit, Facebook, and Google need to stay neutral with respect to content. At some point I think the ethos of “if this is legal speech, you can put it here” should be adopted by these places.

    But this is problematic with things like /r/jailbait. I think the solution is to expand child porn laws so that showcasing minors (even clothed ones) in a sexual context should be made illegal. This way the above ethos of “legal speech allowed” can be respected while at the same time policing shit like jailbait.

    Yes the creepers can still dive through Flickr/FB accounts for pics, but at least it can’t be aggregated, easily accessed, and normalized as the article states.

    The internet will always provide methods to truly anonymize oneself and hence protect oneself from the consequences of your speech. And there will be ways to trade in this illicit material, but if we can prevent mainstream aggregation and distribution, then I think that’s a huge step. Policing the dark side is another step, but I don’t think that was ever an issue.

  14. says

    ” I ask that you use a valid email address that I could use to contact you (currently not strictly enforced, but I can foresee a day when I do enforce that) if necessary.”

    I can create 100 valid e-mail addresses, under 100 different names. What good does that do?

  15. says

    jhendrix:

    I think the solution needs to be making certain things illegal, like taking upskirt/downshirt photos.

    It’s already illegal.

    What I am afraid of coming out as a result of this restrictions on photography.

    Oh please. There are already restrictions on photography – any actual photographer knows this. I’m a photographer and I’m not one that takes photos of people. If you do take photos of people and plan to publish them, you are required, by law, to obtain their consent. No one is wandering around forcing you to comply with the law, however, you can easily open yourself up to be sued if you ignore the law.

    There are private property restrictions, too. All manner of them. Photographers rights and restrictions are widely available, even on the big, bad internetz.

  16. DLC says

    I keep saying it: Freedom of Speech does not mean freedom to say whatever you want whenever you want without repercussions.
    Speech has consequences. Marching through Skokie in a nazi uniform heiling hitler gets you reviled by everyone who has any sensibilities. Publishing pervy upskirts photos on the Internet gets your name published on Gawker.

  17. Kalliope says

    I actually understand women not wanting to have pictures of themselves in tight/revealing clothing in public being put online as some kind of erotic material. It’s pretty fucking creepy. It’s a type of trolling, an abuse of the fact that when someone is in public they have no right to an expectation of privacy.

    Those things ARE illegal in many, if not most, states. That is, taking photos of people without their permission for the express purpose of sexual gratification.

    It’s a misnomer that anyone is allowed to take these photos in public, and one we should get busy debunking.

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/10/amanda-todd-michael-brutsch-and-free-speech-online.html

  18. Kalliope says

    Also

    At some point I find it necessary that internet platform providers like Reddit, Facebook, and Google need to stay neutral with respect to content.

    That’s like saying the New York Times and Fox News has an obligation to stay neutral with respect to content.

    Reddit is a publisher. That’s it. They offer a platform for self-publishing, which a less charitable person might call “a great way to get content for free.” They HAVE decided to restrict as little of it as possible, but ultimately, that magnanimity or violation (depending on your point of you), was the choice of one guy: the CEO. That one man can choose whether to open or close a publishing platform bears no resemblance to Freedom of Speech, as we understand it.

  19. jhendrix says

    Wait a sec, if the downshirt/upskirt photos are already illegal, how the fuck were they posted there? My understanding was that in some circumstances, it’s legal if it happens “accidentally” and a creeper snaps the shot.

    Still, if it’s illegal (and I’m glad to hear it likely is), I thought illegal content was being removed from the site? How is this even an issue?

  20. says

    Many subreddits are enforcing a ban on mentions of Gawker media. I think that means the point about neutrality on content is effectively moot — they aren’t.

  21. jhendrix says

    That’s like saying the New York Times and Fox News has an obligation to stay neutral with respect to content.

    Reddit is a publisher. That’s it. They offer a platform for self-publishing, which a less charitable person might call “a great way to get content for free.” They HAVE decided to restrict as little of it as possible, but ultimately, that magnanimity or violation (depending on your point of you), was the choice of one guy: the CEO. That one man can choose whether to open or close a publishing platform bears no resemblance to Freedom of Speech, as we understand it.

    NYT and Fox News don’t provide platforms for the public.

    What I don’t want is to see things like Google taking platforms away from people whose speech they don’t like.

    If what you said about the upskirt/downshirt stuff being illegal, then creepshots should have been removed immediately. The jailbait issue is tougher, since my understanding of that was that they were aggregating largely self-posted pictures from public accounts.

    That aggregation is something we can legislate against I think.

  22. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Obnoxious, bigoted, repulsive people have always existed, maybe there is some virtue in their visibility. – cervantes

    Or more plausibly, maybe their visibility serves to normalise their obnoxious, repulsive bigotry.

  23. jhendrix says

    @PZ – The Gawker ban issue isn’t something that reflects on “Reddit” but on subreddits.

    Reddit lets anyone make any subreddit and moderate it. There’s even an Atheism+ subreddit.

    The Gawker link ban was done on some of the larger/popular subreddits, but the ban was instituted by the moderators of those subreddits. Reddit as an org came out against the ban of those links.

  24. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Freedom of Speech does not mean freedom to say whatever you want whenever you want without repercussions.
    Speech has consequences. – DLC

    Indeed. Unfortunately, those consequences are often suffered by people who have done nothing to deserve them – the victims of creepshots in the reddit case, the victims of violent mobs in the case of The Innocence of Muslims.

  25. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    @PZ – The Gawker ban issue isn’t something that reflects on “Reddit” but on subreddits. – jhendrix

    Initially, the ban was Reddit-wide. I guess that people pointing out the blatant hypocrisy led to this being reversed.

  26. says

    – If this is OT, I apologize: I don’t want to derail the conversation or anything.

    I would very much like to know how Americans commenting here view some of the restraints we have on free speech here in Europe. Well, the restraints vary from country to country I believe but for example here in France, you are not allowed to deny a genocide happened with the caveat that this genocide has to be recognized by law.

    There’s of course of lot of problems with that and we saw some of them recently when then president Sarkozy tried to (did?) recognize the Armenian genocide by the failing Ottoman Empire (some Turks were very angry).

    The origin of the law is of course about denying the Holocaust. So if you want to ridicule yourself and out yourself as a horrible little ignorant creature by denying the Holocaust in a book (or elsewhere for that matter), you will be prosecuted.

    Until recently (months/years) it didn’t bother me at all. And even now, I understand that our continent’s history is not the same as the US’ (for example) and the horrors of WW2 and our different states’ collaboration with the nazis are a huge weight in the balance of limiting free-speech in this area. But now I also see the problems that come with it, especially in light of the recent and not quite recent stories of cartoons and movies mocking Islam or its prophet. The Danish cartoons were re-published here as a defense of free-speech and obviously some people started arguing “see, you talk about free-speech now but if I deny what happened to the Jews, I’ll end up in court, not fair” and as hard is it for me to say, it doesn’t seem fair indeed.

    I think I’m now much more in favor of American style free-speech ; you obviously have some limits but other than that, you can pretty much say whatever BS comes out of your ass without fearing prosecution by the state.

    Regarding DLC’s #19

    Marching through Skokie in a nazi uniform heiling hitler gets you reviled by everyone who has any sensibilities

    In France you can get a lot more as nazi symbols and related things are strictly forbidden. This is also the case for marijuana symbols on t-shirts and stuff but for other reasons, obviously.

    Anyway, what do you people think because as you can see I’m very ambivalent about all of this.

  27. Kalliope says

    jhendrix —

    The only difference between reddit, Google, and traditional publishers, is that they don’t produce their own content. They pull content from the general public because it is cheap and profitable (notwithstanding Google’s various ventures, youtube and all of the search engine results are examples of this).

    youtube does limit what gets posted on their site, if only because copyright holders are aggressive about getting stuff removed. They threaten lawsuits.

    Brutsch and reddit are not afraid of laws ever being enforced. Brutsch probably didn’t know these laws were on the books, but I’m sure reddit has a crack legal team which knows exactly what their liability is. It’s entirely possible that they’re taking the “bean counter” approach: it’s cheaper to pay off any potential lawsuits than it is to lose the audience for this stuff. And realistically, a handful of women, if they can find each other, won’t have the financial means for the kind of very complicated lawsuit this would entail. And forget about trying to bring up a criminal complaint. The jurisdictional issues alone would probably render that unworkable.

    In other words, any kind of legal action against reddit would be HUGE. It’s possible that Brutsch will get charged with something locally.

  28. jehk says

    Good read. I strongly agree with your second point and think I feel the same way about the first one. However, one thing bothers me.

    “with offensive or intimidating content.”

    How do we determine what’s offensive or intimidating? The response shouldn’t be “lolz internets” as a way dismissal.

    Easy example is Westboro. I dunno. Need to do more research.

  29. jhendrix says

    @Kalliope

    My understanding was that reddit was having the “illegal” material removed, so the other pictures could stay up without attracting legal authorities. That points me to the idea that somehow the pics there weren’t technically illegal.

    After going through a lot of thought on the issue, I think the solution is to make certain kinds of things illegal via child porn or privacy laws.

    I get what you’re saying about threat of legal action being hard to get from the victims, but that’s not necessarily required to policing it: All Reddit needs is the threat of authorities getting involved to quickly police that stuff, if it is indeed illegal.

  30. Kalliope says

    There is no ambiguity whatsoever about the illegality of creating, possessing, distributing, or consuming erotic images of children. It is cut and dry with a long history of local, federal and international prosecution of Internet users for those crimes. Every law enforcement agency in the Western World has experience in prosecuting child pornography users, makers, and distributors via the Internet. Reddit does not want to get raided by the FBI for promoting child prostitution, which is a criminal act.

    The other stuff is more blurry. It’s easier to argue that they’re not really sexualized photos. The subject of those photos would a) have to discover that they’re the subject of the photos, and b) press charges (which teenagers in particular are unlikely to do). The same is not true of child pornography. If you see an image, you are legally required to report it. The subject of the photo is not required to complain.

    Also, it’s worth noting that reddit didn’t do a lot to police illegal images of children until there was some attention brought to it. They don’t scour their own site.

  31. says

    @tomfrog

    I don’t think your question was OT at all. First let me point out American is very large and diverse so hard to pin down what Americans view is. Americans on the whole are also woofully uneducated, so most do not know the legal situation in any given non-US country, heck as evidenced by this post they don’t understand their own laws often!

    That said for me
    A) it is a reminder that we are very ethnocentric and not everyone shares out libertine veiw of FOS. Americans tend to assume the more freedom=better but I think dialogue with other cultures with a different veiw on speech would probably be useful. However I am mixed on FOS limits, while hate speech limits could be defended or argued (its slander against an individual but ok against a group?) It is a slippery slope. Blasphemy laws, censorship on behalf of tyrants (Putin) abuse of protestors etc we see in Europe where it looks like speech limits are used as a nother way for the powerful to assert force on the lesser classes. Then again we see the same things in America so our codified FOS may not be protecting us due to selective enforcement.

    Tldr version: I think Americazns tend to see speech as an issue that has been settled and set in stone unaware of other culture’s veiws on it and not an open question

  32. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    tomfrog,

    The Danish cartoons were re-published here as a defense of free-speech and obviously some people started arguing “see, you talk about free-speech now but if I deny what happened to the Jews, I’ll end up in court, not fair” and as hard is it for me to say, it doesn’t seem fair indeed.

    As I commented on the article PZ links to:

    I am undecided whether hate speech laws are beneficial, but Americans should be aware that almost all other democratic states have had them in some form for decades, and the feared progress down the slippery slope has not happened – in many other respects, speech is freer than a few decades ago. …
    I used to know very well a daughter of parents who escaped the Nazis. She found Holocaust denial intensely frightening, interpreting it – I am sure rightly – as an implicit threat to repeat the genocide. There should be, as is often said, no right not to be offended; but there surely should be a right not to be terrorised, and this right conflicts with that of free speech in the case of Holocaust denial.

  33. says

    Great post, PZ.

    I’ve got a mental image from that ThunderLOLCats cartoon on MAD TV, where Lion-O is insisting to his father that the internet is real. Yes, the internet is real, and it has an impact on our lives. We’ve gone far beyond the time when the internet was just a thing for computer nerds, and it baffles me that anyone would seriously consider the internet trivial. It’s not all WoW, LOLCats, and Rick Rolls, despite what the old media will tell you.

    I value my online pseudonym and what it allows me to do, which is why I don’t abuse it. “Bronze Dog” is who I am, not just as a blogger, but who I am to my friends, so I’m motivated to maintain my integrity as Bronze Dog. It’s because the internet is real that I protect my real name from people who would abuse the power of the internet to harm me in various ways. My interactions with my atheist friends shouldn’t have an impact on my job prospects, but I live in Texas, so it’s expected that potential employers would look for things that they shouldn’t be looking up, like my lack of religion. Imagine if everyone had all their meatspace interactions archived and searchable.

    I don’t intend to do anything truly shameful under the cloak of my pseudonym, and if I did something blatantly unethical, I’d expect to be outed for it. I accept the responsibility for my actions and for using my pseudonym appropriately. I’d be miffed if I was outed, but I wouldn’t scream that I have an absolute right to stay hidden or try to argue for digital dualism with regard for genuinely harmful actions.

    About the only time to complain about real life intruding on virtual worlds is when someone brings real life consequences to an online game, just like meatspace D&D players are often discouraged from bringing real life baggage to the game table. It’s just a game, and people are there to enjoy themselves.

  34. says

    @ Ing, #36

    Thanks for your answer.

    First let me point out American is very large and diverse so hard to pin down what Americans view is

    Obviously, and you’re right to remind this.

    @ Nick Gotts, #37
    I completely see your point about the terror inflicted on some people when they see Holocaust denial.
    On the opposite side, I also see paranoid people saying things like “SEE!!! The state forbids us to talk about it, it’s a conspiracy to cover up blarrrrrrggg [sound of trowing up]”. So by limiting them you tend to give them some credence in a twisted-new-world-order kind of way.

    And also it can sometimes be helpful to let them out of their hiding: let them spew their nonsense: at least we know who they are.

  35. notsont says

    I cant see a clear solution to any of this. One is tempted to come up with a simple law banning things, but I cant even fathom how to word a law that would not be horribly abused.(I’m sure someone could, but current lawmakers have failed to impress.). Some things simply can not be legislated away and must be dealt with through the use of community pressure.

  36. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    And also it can sometimes be helpful to let them out of their hiding: let them spew their nonsense: at least we know who they are. – tomfrog

    Your other point has some validity, but this has none. It is quite easy to identify bigots even if they are not allowed to express their bigotry in specific ways – it’s a rare bigot who can avoid expressing their bigotry in coded ways, seeking affirmation from fellow-bigots. Conversely, what the widespread expression of explicit racism, misogyny etc. does is to normalise these views – as you can see in what’s happening in Greece and Italy right now, and for that matter, in Elevatorgate. Whether legal prohibitions are the best approach is certainly debatable, but there is no upside at all to bigots feeling that expressing their bigotry explicitly is socially acceptable.

  37. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    I also see paranoid people saying things like “SEE!!! The state forbids us to talk about it, it’s a conspiracy to cover up…” – tomfrog

    Come on, surely it’s obvious that anyone making such a claim is either a complete idiot or a Nazi.

  38. Matt Penfold says

    Come on, surely it’s obvious that anyone making such a claim is either a complete idiot or a Nazi.

    Most frequently they will be both.

  39. Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Ing @36

    woofully uneducated

    stolen.

    Tpyos always provides.

  40. says

    People haven’t yet realized that e-mail has revived the pen pal and blogs are the magazines of today. The original magazines were mainly produced by one person with a vision of what was interesting. They’re back!

  41. says

    @ Nick Gotts

    # 41

    Whether legal prohibitions are the best approach is certainly debatable, but there is no upside at all to bigots feeling that expressing their bigotry explicitly is socially acceptable.

    I definitely agree with that. And, for that matter, what you said about my point, I see now that he didn’t make sense.

    # 42

    Come on, surely it’s obvious that anyone making such a claim is either a complete idiot or a Nazi.

    Well, yes and no. For the specific turn of phrase I gave, yes, you’re absolutely correct so maybe I didn’t choose the right example. Some people might just argue some things along the line of “well, if you know you have the facts on your side, why forbid people from talking about it? Surely you have enough to win the argument without making *this* proposition illegal to maintain.”

    I don’t know if I make more sense or not.

  42. jimmyfromchicago says

    What I do fear is the authoritarian streak of censorship that is lurking behind this. The notion that since we’re not talking about the government here, that this has nothing to do with “Free Speech” is ludicrous IMO. We should value any company or venue that gives people the right to “free speech”.

    I think this attitude itself is ludicrous. The government may not be able to stop you from exercising your free speech rights to make a jerk out of yourself, but we’ve always had social sanctions for jerks. If you come to my cocktail party and start showing around pictures of young girls in bikinis and womens’ cleavage taken without their consent, you’re not going to be invited back. In fact, I’m sure I’ll ask you to leave. The same thing would happen to you if you started showing those pictures in a privately owned place open to the public, like a department store. In fact, if I were at a party/store where such pictures were being shown and the host/management did not do anything about it, I’d leave. It’s typically the community’s job to regulate mere jerks, not the government’s.

    This doesn’t necessarily work on the Internet. I’ve never been on Reddit, but I know it’s one of the most popular sites on the web. People who should know its wrong are willing to patronize a place that promotes “Creepshots” and “Jailbait.” I don’t think many of these people would have anything to do with a business that did this if it were located in their community and the shots were of local women and girls. The problem seems to be one of scale, anonymity, and an “it’s just the internet” attitude.

    How to solve this without governemnt intervention? I don’t know, but I’d really like to find a way, because I fear, like the OP, that the governemnt may eventually step in, which would be awful for obvious reasons.

    Oh, and a point specifically about this case: I don’t think Reddit can hide behind the “we’re just providing a platform and the internet is all about free speech” defense either. Speech is regulated on the internet all the time. Any forum is going to block people who troll or derail threads to keep its house in order. Reddit was willing to allow this stuff inside (and advertise it on the front porch) not because it was concerned about free speech, but because these subreddits were popular and they got a lot of clicks (i.e., money). So, it was about the money: it was willing to profit off providing stroke material to perverts and didn’t care who got hurt in the process.

  43. abb3w says

    Both “It’s just the Internet” here and PZ’s “Bad argument #2″ post shortly back appear to involve what PZ referred to in the latter as a “minimizing tactic”.

    Looking at my Cameron-and-Jechs (doi:10.1207/S15324834BASP2502_5) based taxonomy of persuasion resistance tactics, I’m not sure whether such minimizing tactics would be considered attitude bolstering, message distortion, selective exposure, or possibly a distinct category of its own. I’m most inclined this afternoon to consider such tactics a form of selective exposure, but I’m hardly sure. Anyone care enough to argue for one of the others?

    Subjectively, recent events including these leave me starting to suspect its use may be associated to high-SDO personality. (If you don’t recognize what “high-SDO” means, see Altemeyer for an intro.) The notion still lacks hard data, though. Maybe other amateur sociologists might see if they also informally notice an association.

  44. says

    JimmyfromChicago has a good point. Also, whether or not images stolen from Facebook or other public sites are illegal for their content, as noted here, copyright belongs to the photographer and re-posting them without permission is illegal. So there’s no excuse for whining “but it was on a public site!”

  45. says

    @Ing

    #48: good point.

    #52: I was talking about France.
    And the recognition of some things done to Jews and other deported by the state have just recently been acknowledged, some 60 years after the facts.

    But as I said in #47, the “conspiracy” thing was not a good example at all on my part.

  46. abb3w says

    @16, jhendrix :

    What I do fear is the authoritarian streak of censorship that is lurking behind this.

    Actually, I conjecture there are two different types of authoritarianism involved here — one on each side. The censorship appears to be response to an increase in perceived threat in the environment, increasing expression of RWA tendencies that are otherwise generally low. However, the “dangerous” group that is the target looks like it might be a high-SDO contingent of the skeptic movement, which in turn may be a larger fraction among atheists than in the overall population, particularly among the skeptics/atheists who socially cluster (EG: in clubs, at cons, as regular commenters at blogs, or elsewhere).

    (Again, see my previous link to Altemeyer for high-school reading level background info.)

    More broadly, the Chaplinsky v. NH ruling indicates some of the practical philosophical principles underlying the current US law on the boundaries of Free Speech. However, those limits as enumerated are precarious for atheists, as blasphemy tends to fall too close to the limit of words that “tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace”. Still, it makes for interesting reading, even if to help clarify where you disagree on the lines, and thus with inferring why.

  47. says

    A few people have addressed this in brief upthread already, but I feel the point is worth hammering home a bit harder, because it appears that many people simply have not thought this through:
    jhendrix #25 said:

    NYT and Fox News don’t provide platforms for the public.

    What I don’t want is to see things like Google taking platforms away from people whose speech they don’t like.

    They can take their platforms away from anybody any time, they have taken their platforms away from people many times before, and they will take their platforms away from people many times again. Because they own those platforms and their users don’t.

    If you don’t want others to have power over your platform, then build your own platform – have a self-hosted blog/forum with regular back-ups and mirrors to ensure that you retain copies of everything you publish and can keep it online no matter what. Hell, if you really want to guarantee the permanent presence of your platform online, then make sure you own the server too, rather than renting server-space from a hosting company. Owning your own publishing platform costs money and takes time to maintain if you want to keep it reliably online.

    So sure, free access to publishing platforms is a wonderful thing, it saves self-publishers so much time and money and makes them so much more widely accessible: but those platforms aren’t given away by corporations such as Google or Facebook or Tumblr or Reddit out of the bottomless well of burning compassion in their softie bleeding hearts. They make money from the content that you provide for free, just as Kalliope noted above in #21.

    When you rely on platforms built by others to disseminate your speech, then you have ceded to those others the power to take those platforms away.

    The reality is already that if the platform corporations don’t like what you are saying, then they don’t have to let you continue to use their platforms. Every single free online platform out there has deleted pages/blogs/forums/statuses and terminated user accounts over the years, because they (a) have the right to exercise their freedom of association by declining to associate their corporation with content they find unacceptable; and (b) have access to the kill switch, and you don’t (they can resurrect anything you delete, too, if they want to).

    This has always been the reality – every free platform is crystal-clear about this in their Terms of Service docs that everybody has to explicitly confirm they have agreed to when they create their user accounts. TANSTAAFL.

  48. says

    There are some parallels with expressions of blasphemy intended to provoke negative reactions. Blasphemy is good for blasphemy’s sake, but I’m less convinced of the value of blasphemy for the purpose of persuading people of the value of free speech. I’m worried that sometimes people do it in a way that could backfire and turn people against free speech.

    If, for example, you draw a picture of Mohammed in such a context that you had no conceivable motivation other than to exercise free speech, what message does that send? “Free speech is great because it is the freedom to provoke people!” Except many people will react, “When you put it that way, free speech doesn’t sound so great after all.”

  49. Ichthyic says

    Hell, if you really want to guarantee the permanent presence of your platform online, then make sure you own the server too, rather than renting server-space from a hosting company.

    very soon, you will need to own your own ISP too, unfortunately :(

    soon after that, you will need to own your own country.

  50. says

    That too is true, Ichthyic #59 – none of these services we’re using to make these pixels display on other people’s screens are guaranteed, because it’s a series of privately-owned connections that make it work, and the owners can switch off those connections any time they want to (or any time state regulators order them to).

    It’s a very interesting education to go along to a Cryptoparty and see just what it takes to keep your content encrypted and anonymised if you are actually serious about the intersections and tensions between government transparency and personal privacy; just exactly what your vulnerabilities are, and how to routinely back up and re-route in order to ensure your continued access to your publishing outlet (or just general online communications).

    Tangent: So many glibertarians just don’t understand the fundamentals of exactly what underpins their ability to do the things they want to do. Just because something is widely available right now doesn’t mean that it will continue to be available at all without a society that regulates that availability.

  51. Ichthyic says

    and the owners can switch off those connections any time they want to (or any time state regulators order them to).

    or even just filter it without the need to shut it down.

    Cisco developed that tech for the Chinese to use on their routers over a decade ago.

    it’s much more refined now.

  52. Ichthyic says

    It’s a very interesting education to go along to a Cryptoparty

    oh you youngfolk and your fancy shindigs.

    and.. yes… I’ve become grudgingly convinced over the last 10 years of the value of encrypting communications.

    I’m still too lazy to do it most times, but really, I do understand I should.

  53. katansi says

    @jhendrix #16

    “expand child porn laws so that showcasing minors (even clothed ones) in a sexual context should be made illegal.”

    The government already has a crappy and useless stance on this and fucks up often. Obscenity laws and the USC 2257 are ineffectual beyond basic common sense part like 18 is the age at which you can become a legal adult performer and you have to prove that with ID. On one side there’s an obsessive harassment approach to legal adult performers and on the other there’s things like cops telling a woman to delete technically legal but highly sexualized pictures of a child downloaded by her ex onto her computer (true story) and then to do nothing about the man who downloaded them OR investigate into who took them in the first place. Expanding child porn laws does more to fuck with consenting legal adult performers than it does to prevent child porn, child exploitation, child prostitution (underage prostitutes are still charged even though that is virtually a 100% guarantee they were forced into it), and other human trafficking and exploitation issues.

    I know this is a reach but I believe even Reddit has an obligation to uphold ethical behavior even if that doesn’t necessarily mean the behavior being punished is illegal. If we’re setting the bar at “legal” that’s a pretty low jumping off point.

  54. katansi says

    @Caine, Divisitrix du mal

    You do not automatically need their permission. People that do street photography and market it as their own “art” for instance are doing something legal, dependent upon how but even if they publish it. The upskirt fuckery is another territory because it covers certain body parts but just an image of a person is fair game in public in most of the US mostly as long as you don’t sell it for commercial use without their permission.

    http://lifehacker.com/5912250/know-your-rights-photography-in-public

    And that’s why I hate street photographers that just take surreptitious and identifiable candids of people with the claim that it’s “art.” It’s fucking creepy.

  55. says

    Katansi:

    You do not automatically need their permission.

    Yes, I’m aware of street photography and the rights/limits therein. Photographers who wish to publish or exhibit*, however, must make every effort to obtain releases or else they can be successfully sued. Of course, that depends on the people who were photographed finding out about it in the first place.

    *For money.

    I know my fair share of street photographers, and while I find a lot of their work interesting, it makes me personally uncomfortable, however, I’m private and antisocial.

  56. kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith says

    very soon, you will need to own your own ISP too, unfortunately :(

    Tier one.

    And to control your very own internet exchange points.

    The truth is, the internet depends on a series of trade agreements between ISPs big and small, content providers, and state owned packet switches and fiber optic networks.

    This works only while it’s profitable for the parties concerned.

    If not… the party is over.

  57. katansi says

    @Caine #65

    I am also private and antisocial (and a woman so there’s that). It’s that “try” part which is why I don’t ever ever ever do street photography that isn’t like a parade or a big event OR where I do official things with a visible press pass or something. It has to be something so obviously public and meant for show. And I still ask and show.

    Someone argued with me that the capturing of his candids was more important than how the subject felt about being photo’ed in the first place. This wasn’t a guy, as far as I know, that was taking photos for lewd purposes but still I WTF’ed at him. Because really, WTF? He didn’t care that just knowing of his existence, and the existence of people with his mindset, was actually frightening and anxiety-inducing for people. I don’t understand people who don’t care about how others feel with the incredibly poor excuse that boils down to “but boohoo my art will suffer.”

    Then again, the possession of empathy may make one the odd duck not the other way around.

  58. says

    Katansi:

    Someone argued with me that the capturing of his candids was more important than how the subject felt about being photo’ed in the first place.

    Mmmf. I once had a massive argument with a street photographer who pretty much felt the same way. Most of the street photographers I know tend to shoot people who are characters and they do talk to them and ask if it’s okay, so I don’t have a problem with that. For each one of the decent ones, I suppose there are two assholes.

    I loathe having my picture taken and wouldn’t be happy at all if someone thought they could take it and do whatever the hell they wanted with it. By the way, I’m a woman too.

  59. Pyra says

    The internet is far more real to me, after all these years, because it is on my computer I am able to reach out and meet people like me. In the “real world” the people around me are not like me and so often, just assholes with nothing better to say than what celebrity is banging what new celebrity. It used to be fairly good conversation, but there is a large faction of people who do think it’s unreal and hilarious to torture people who need the internet as I do.

  60. says

    Obscenity laws and the USC 2257 are ineffectual beyond basic common sense part like 18 is the age at which you can become a legal adult performer and you have to prove that with ID.

    Yeah, except that the definition of obscenity and “mature content” contain holes you can/should drive a truck through. 2257a has not been enforced because of a broad awareness that if its constitutionality is ever challenged, it won’t survive.

    BTW, my favorite part of 2256 is where it defines “sexually explicit conduct” as including (iv) “sadistic or masochistic abuse” which rather neatly regulates the display of crucifixes. Or it ought to, except for christian exceptionalism.

  61. katansi says

    @Marcus #70

    “Yeah, except that the definition of obscenity and “mature content” contain holes you can/should drive a truck through.”

    These laws were not actually made to ensure protection of children but are an extension of slut-shaming “Christian” values. Meese Report is a fine example of the kind of attention paid to legal adult performers and also a fine example of how to waste funding that could have been used to help actual victims of child exploitation. You could drive a planet through the holes in American policy on this subject.

    My favorite part about “sexually explicit conduct” is you’re not even supposed to IMPLY that a minor is on screen engaging in a sexual activity. Yeah Dakota Fanning in Hound Dog? There’s a reason that was filmed where it was filmed. Actual protection of children is not high on the list. It’s just so much garbage. I really hate that “because I can” mentality displayed by people like Brutsch.

  62. fuzzmellobrite says

    Great, here we go again. Why do you guys always pluck the worst asshole trolls and idiots on Reddit to make your case for you?

    Case in point: JoelDavis has just about the lowest mental capacity of any Redditor out there. A short cruise through his profile would tell anyone he’s out to provoke and nothing more.

    Why doesn’t someone take stroll through r/space, r/technology, r/Science, or r/FoodForThought and write a column on what they find there?