Sunday, October 6, 2013

How I know this isn't about freedom of speech

So, you want me to explain how I can tell that your Facebook page entitled "Should Miri Mogilevsky be murdered?" is not "an exercise in Free Speech"?

Okay, I can do that.

1. First of all, Facebook is a privately owned space on the internet, a web site. It's not a public space, like a city park or sidewalk, where First Amendment protection of freedom of speech applies. Arguably there is no public space on the internet-- only a very large collection of private spaces-- but freedom of speech would also protect your right to express controversial beliefs on a web site, if that web site is your own. Is Facebook your web site? No.

It's more like the internet equivalent of a meeting hall. The fact that you're invited to camp out in the meeting hall and talk about interesting things with your friends, family, and total strangers does not mean you can do or say anything you want there-- the owners still control the property since they, you know, own it, and can shut you down at any time, for any reason. They get to decide what kind of conversations you're allowed to have, what kind of things you're allowed to do in there. And they're pretty lax about such things on purpose so that lots of different kinds of people feel welcome. That doesn't mean they must put up with anything.  Right? Okay.

2. Secondly, it's the responsibility of the organizers of any social gathering to put rules in place, if necessary-- and when everybody is invited, it's certainly necessary-- which make it possible for people to meet and exchange ideas in an environment where they feel safe to do so. Right? Not only can you not yell "Fire" in a crowded theater; you can't yell anything in most theaters, crowded or not, because it interrupts the show and makes it hard for people to participate in the thing they're there to participate in. As do, amazingly, web pages asking whether a specific individual should be murdered.  So not only does Facebook have the perfect right to shut down such a page; as a site explicitly dedicated to social interaction it has a moral responsibility to do so.

3. Exercises in free speech are protests in speech form which entail speech a person has the right to make, but which is being threatened by an outside party, usually but not always the government. Generally, this speech entails sentiments which are critical of that outside party which said outside party does not want to be heard. This is why the first kind of free speech typically acknowledged to be protected by the First Amendment is speech critical of the government, political speech. However after that, the most obvious kind of speech that needs to be protected is speech critical of entities the government might want to squelch speech to protect, such as religious groups. As Voltaire reportedly said, "To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize."

Are you allowed, legally and socially, to criticize Miri Mogilevsky? Yep.

You may criticize her in a box. You may criticize her with a fox. You may criticize her with a dog. You may even criticize her on her blog, assuming you aren't an asshole about it.

Death threats, on the other hand? Even death threats disingenuously phrased as a question?

You may not do those on her blog.
You may not do so on Facebook...anymore, though a lot of us were confronted with this before that came true:
Possibly because of how Facebook outsources its moderation duties?
And it has fuck all to do with free speech.

I know this because this is a threat against Miri, and not a response to any threats by her.

I know this because if you actually, for some weird reason, want to make a point that asking whether someone should be murdered is free speech, choosing a specific, real, private individual about whom to make that point on someone else's private web site makes no sense at all, and simply obscures that goal beyond all recognition.

I know this because neither the form of speech nor the target of it make any sense at all, in terms of being an "exercise in free speech."  All they accomplish is showing that the person who made this page (who is currently unknown, and who has made attempts via random IPs to avoid being known) doesn't understand freedom of speech, or how it works, in the slightest.

In addition to being an asshole and a coward.

I really resent it when people hide behind ideals which I hold sacred and are genuinely threatened, in order to try and justify making others fear for their very safety. People like Miri, who, herself, actually does stand up for the freedom to espouse controversial ideas.

But not, unsurprisingly, for the freedom to threaten people's lives on Facebook. Her own or otherwise.

Because that ain't free speech.

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