The slow coalescence of various species of online misogyny and trolling into the modern crypto-fascist ‘Alt-Right’ has been entangled with a more general appeal for ‘free speech’ in odd circumstances. These kinds of appeals were often directed at internet comments sections and forums as arguments against community guidelines or in defence of those arguing for active discrimination or even violence against various groups. As appeals went, their purpose was primarily aimed at trying to fool liberals and conservatives into not taking action against people who were actively trying to disrupt online communities, harass vulnerable people or shout down opposing views – indeed actions that themselves were inimical to free speech.
It is why I call this view of ‘not even simplistic’ – it had no real coherent argument behind it or any sustainable principles that could be rationally applied to online communities or even IRrationally applied to online communities. For those who watched the Sad Puppy kerfuffle from 2015 or prior, you may have noted that initially many Sad Puppy websites would even pride themselves on their ‘free speech’ credentials and proudly declare how they never ban comments except in dire circumstances. By 2016 such policies were pretty much dead and gone – once Sad Puppy websites found they had people commenting who had contrary arguments, their tolerance for dissenting views rapidly diminished.
Of course just because ‘freeze peach’ was not, in general, a genuine appeal to the principles of others does not mean that many in the wider cloud of those adjacent to the Alt Right didn’t attempt to implement some kind of internet corporate-space notion of ‘free speech’ no matter how incoherent the notion was. And this is where our story starts in truth with Gab.
For those of you who don’t know, Gab is a kind of alternate Twitter, established for the express purpose of providing an alternative service for those (such as Milo Yianopoulos) banned by Twitter for breach of community guidelines. Pretty much immediately Gab discovered that ‘free speech’ is an almost empty phrase and enacted guidelines that necessarily restrict what people can say:
“Gab’s mission is to put people and free speech first. We believe that the only valid form of censorship is an individual’s own choice to opt-out. Gab empowers users to filter and remove unwanted followers, words, phrases, and topics they do not want to see in their feeds. However, we do take steps to protect ourselves and our users from illegal activity, spam, and abuse.” https://gab.ai/about/guidelines
So, yes, Gab has rules (just like everybody else) that allows them to remove comments and ban users because of what they say. ‘Free speech’ here really means that they will tolerate *some* kinds of abusive comments or behaviour regardless of whether that impacts on how freely others feel they can speak.
It is an approach that can best be described as a bad idea. Communities of people naturally set up rules of behaviour and interaction – sometimes informal ones and sometimes formal ones. Gab is trying to keep those rules to a minimum and inevitable that means tears before bedtime because sooner or later…http://voxday.blogspot.com.au/2017/09/the-three-types-of-free-speech.html
Well, because sooner or later, letting people say what they like means that the big old mean bullies find themselves on the receiving end of nasty, defamatory, harassing comments that appear to be an attempt to silence them. In this case, our old ‘friend’ Vox Day is rightfully (if hypocritically) upset because of a trolling campaign against him by different factions of the alt-right calling him a ‘pedophile’.
Well, I doubt any of the readers of this blog feel much sympathy for Vox being hoist on his own petard but the enemy of your enemy is not actually your friend when it comes to inter-factional in-fighting. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t all enjoy moments like this when Vox Day himself ends up saying:
“As a Gab supporter, I certainly don’t wish to harm Gab in any way; this sort of situation is precisely why I previously advised Andrew to adopt a ban-on-sight policy towards known trolls and troublemakers.”
I can’t think of any more clear an unambiguous endorsement of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s decision to expel Vox Day from their membership. Ban-on-sight known trolls and troublemakers – I’m a bit (but not a lot) more tolerant of trolls than that but then that’s because I actually care about people’s freedom to be able to express their views.