What "free speech" doesn't mean, iteration #732 zillion
(...and how moderation works when it's done right)
This issue first came to my attention a couple of days ago on Mastodon: someone was recommending blocking an instance where there seemed to be a lot of transphobia and Trumpism (and yeah, in case you didn't know: Trumpism is deeply unkind and unneighborly, full-stop).
Among the example posts that were drawn to my attention were these:
- "Richard Levine misgendered himself. He's a dude, an ugly ass dude who became an ever uglier fake woman."
- "I'm glad we have free speech here. Rachel Levine ain't no woman. Period."
- "Ditto...Dick Levine ain't no woman. Period."
I couldn't figure out who Richard Levine was until the second comment, and I had to look up Rachel Levine: She's a four-star admiral in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and the US's current Assistant Secretary for Health.
So -- at that point I didn't know what inspired those comments, but right away we have the following bits of radical incivility:
- lookism (aesthetic/body shaming)
- transphobia, multiple counts
(...and for people who love to stand on dignity when it's one of *their* public officials being criticized, they seem to feel it's perfectly okay to insult a public official when she happens to be someone they consider Not Us. This is just one example of what I mean when I say conservoids don't have principles; all they understand is mindlessly rooting for "their side".)
But anyway, yeah, we blocked that instance (the posts have not been removed, 2 days later) -- so now posts from there won't show up for our users.
Then just today, Jane alerted me to this: https://www.thedailybeast.com/twitter-suspends-charlie-kirk-for-repeatedly-deadnaming-and-misgendering-rachel-levine
Now it becomes clear. The Mastodon posts were apparently from someone whose outrage had been successfully farmed by Mr. Kirk, and who therefore felt compelled to spread around the rage-fertilizer. (I've noticed this pattern in conservoids I deal with IRL: whenever they've found some political issue to be upset about, it can frequently be tracked back to some piece of disinfo being spread by some right-wing fecundicator.)
My larger point here is that "freedom of speech" does not mean:
- freedom from consequences
- freedom to say whatever you like wherever you like
"Freedom of speech" just means that the government can't arrest you for saying things it disagrees with (and even this has limits -- e.g. if what you're saying is urging other people to commit illegal violence, then yes, you can be arrested for that).
When people spread harmful disinfo within reach of my (1000+ users) platform, I remove their access -- as did many other instance admins.
...and even Twitter, which has generally been way too tolerant of radical unneighborliness, blocked them.
We've all been taught that "names can never hurt me" -- but all of my experience suggests that this simply is not true. Humans are social animals; we depend on the goodwill of those around us, and words are how that goodwill is communicated (or canceled).
These lies, spread by Charlie Kirk and then by his listeners, hurt people. They negatively impact trans people in everything from sports to housing to employment to personal life. They hurt women (cis or trans) by reinforcing sexist ideas about appearance. ("Where are the feminists???" he asks. The feminists are not on your side, Mr. Kirk.) They hurt anyone who doesn't fit conventional standards of beauty.
....and this is all just so a bunch of conservoid politicians and oligarchs can avoid talking about the real problems we have as a country, many of which *they cause* through this exact sort of self-aggrandizing behavior.
...but this probably isn't news to most of the active readership here.