Friday, December 10, 2010

Real-life trolls

Westboro Baptist Church to Protest at Elizabeth Edwards' Funeral

As Elizabeth Edwards' family makes the final preparations for her funeral, members of a controversial church known for picketing at the memorials of fallen soldiers, says they will protest outside her funeral.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church are planning to disrupt Edwards' funeral Saturday, saying the wife of former Senator John Edwards is "going to hell" because she admitted to doubting her faith when her oldest son died in 1996.

Edwards, a political spouse who became a staunch advocate for affordable healthcare, died of complications from breast cancer Tuesday. She was 61.
The funeral is planned for Saturday at Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, N.C. She is then expected to be buried at Oakwood Cemetery alongside her son Wade, who died in a car accident when he was 16.

"God heard self-absorbed Elizabeth as she rode the talk show circuit spewing blasphemy," Westboro said in a statement.
I just...these people are a joke. It's hard to believe that they actually believe what they're saying, the reasons they say they're protesting, and if they do, they're insane. Normal Christians do not protest the funerals of people they believe are going to hell, and not just because they don't have the spare time and money for transportation.

A troll, in online parlance, is a person who says things to get a reaction.  They may be sincere or they may have adopted a false persona, but their intent is to stir people up, usually in anger.  The general understanding is that you should not feed the trolls-- you shouldn't give them what they want, because that will just encourage them.  I think that this is half true, to the same extent both online and in real life.  Ignore them if you're inclined to take them seriously-- if you are the type of person or in a frame of mind that will cause you to get stirred up by what they say and do, then pay them no mind at all.  If you are capable of mocking them, however, and desire to do so, well....go ahead.  Ridiculous ideas should be ridiculed.  That's what the marketplace of ideas is all about-- freedom of speech entails and requires the freedom of criticism, lest anyone reach the conclusion that absurd, insane beliefs should be treated as credible. 

A lurker is a person who observes an online conversation without commenting.  Sometimes people engage trolls in those conversations "for the sake of the lurkers"-- not because they personally feel the need to engage the arguments of the troll, but to demonstrate for those observing why what the troll is saying is at best not worth taking seriously, and at worst actively harmful.  When people say that the proper response to hateful speech is more speech, they're talking about speaking for the sake of the lurkers-- allowing those who harbor hateful or ridiculous thoughts to voice them out loud, and then publically repudiating them for the benefit of those who might otherwise not understand why they ought to be repudiated.  I think that's a good thing.  That's why I am what some would call a free speech extremist, though I'm not a free speech absolutist.  There are some areas that should clearly be out-of-bounds-- copyright infringement, libel, incitement to violence-- but those are tightly circumscribed, pertaining to speech which causes direct harm to people, not just speech which offends, regardless of how much it does so and for what reason.  I want the people to always be the ones deciding which speech is objectionable, and voicing their objections to it loudly and clearly-- not the government trying to silence it.

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