Hey, Social Media, It’s Still Unacceptable to Censor Speech

Technology has made communication fast, and sometimes, exceptionally furious. Even the slightest endeavor into the world of social media leaves you vulnerable to comments from any person, in any mood, of any mental stability, with any intention, and from practically any geographical location. Our participation in this exposure is strictly voluntary, and the responsibility for being engaged, is on us. The almost 3.5 billion people with internet access in the world are under no obligation to be kind, show respect, give support, or agree with anything we submit. To expect any uniform behavior from that many people is delusional. That won’t stop some people.

Malicious words can be delivered instantly with no thought or reflection and desensitized through a lack of personal interaction. Body language, tone of voice, facial expressions,  and proximity are all lost when communicating rapidly through text. As a result, the severity of an attack is often disproportionate to the subject matter. We all got that right? Now, can we please receive these comments with the same perspective?  If all those facets of personal interaction desensitizes the delivery, they also desensitize the impact.

If you offer something on the internet, you must be prepared to receive the most detestable and offensive thing you can imagine in response.  Aside from a threat of physical violence, there is no line for the commenters to cross where you become a victim.  If antagonization is the goal, then any reaction of discontent, is a cue to raise the bar of atrociousness. When a poke or prod is identified, there is a choice to be made, respond, or ignore. One of those choices empowers the troll.

Thomas Paine said, “The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall.” Take a second to soak up the profundity and beauty of those words. Now, apply them to the racist tweets Leslie Jones, the actress who recently stared in “Ghostbusters 2016”, received. The chore can be done, the errors can be easily eliminated with reason, but it is an exercise in futility. The instant you engage, you establish their vile comments as something worthy of debate and make the mistake of confusing a taunt with a position. That is bait they are casting, not a reasoned argument, if nobody bites, they will find themselves casting aimlessly into a lake with no fish.

Censoring offensive content in social media does a disservice to its participants. The comment can be deleted, but the thought cannot. Manufacturing fake interactions conditions people to to construct a schema of reality that does not match the input that society will offer.  The intent to protect people from any discomfort robs them from opportunities to develop any ability to cope with them. It creates a social dissonance that will cause people to react more irrationally than they already are.

40% of American Millennials are OK with limiting speech offensive to minorities, and  7 in 10 college students support the restriction of intentionally offensive speech. Nothing could be more destructive to social progress and civility. Gagging the idea does not extinguish the idea. Penalizing does not change minds. Restricting speech protects the racist and bigot from the social consequences of dissent and frees them from the responsibility of justifying their abhorrent views.  There is a cost in character from having to justify bigoted views, by silencing them, the well-intentioned social justice warrior has freed them from this consequence. Thanks?

Consider the extreme case of a social media post by a Jihadist. In the measure of inhumanity and violence, the needle is pinned. If censorship were ever the answer, this would be the obvious test. An argument can be made for limiting communication between like minded individuals and removing a platform to proselytize. But by silencing the recruitment propaganda, there is no starting point for a reasoned position against it. The communication between the peaceful practitioners and extremists will have been broken, eliminating the single most effective tool in the battle of radicalization.

You cannot regulate the expression of human emotion.  Suggesting that someone cannot speak with hate when they are filled with disgust is akin to saying one cannot speak with pessimism when feeling sad. Restricting expressions of sadness won’t dry the tears of depression, nor will restricting spiteful sentiment extinguish the fires of hate, the restrictions are fuel for both. People need a reason to let go of negative emotions, if their emotional expressions are suppressed, so is the reason against them. Intellectual progress moves at a rate proportional to the freedom of our speech, keep it moving.





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