I posted this rant in a discussion at a small-group forum, then decided it was long enough to belong here. The context is the too-common plea for social web sites to "keep us safe" from oh-dear-that's-so-huuurtful comments. A specific type of comments mentioned are the ones posted to celebrities, on social and blog sites, like "Eww, what UGLY pictures, your music STINKS, maybe because your LIVER LIPS are too FAT to pronounce the words..." (Actually that's more literate and relevant than a lot of the stuff Michelle Malkin has shared with her e-friends as "Hate Tweet of the Day" examples.) I don't like that kind of comments. I don't think anyone does. I do think they have their place, in a free and democratic society, and Malkin is one of my blog heroes because she's not only tolerated them but shared them. Go Girl! She rules!
What I really hate, and want my Constitution to protect me from, is any effort to "make the world safe" through CENSORSHIP. Censorship is a subtler, classier form of hate than idiotic posts of nasty words, and therefore much more dangerous, more likely to lead to prison camps and mass murders.
Someone else had just said something like, "You can't shout 'fire' in a crowded theatre, for one example, but others might be hard to define." So I added a few:
Some examples I support, by way of guidelines:
You can't (legally) make a threat of violence that any reasonable person could take seriously.
You can't (legally or ethically) publish private information that could be used to harm a person, which would include the real name of any private citizen of the United States.
You *can* legally publish hatespews like "I hate this post, this idea is idiotic, this person is a jerk"--if you *want* people to think of *you* as a mean-spirited, bad-tempered grouch, and want your business to suffer accordingly.
You have a moral right, and you should have a specifically protected legal right, to out yourself as a hater. Go ahead and talk like Archie Bunker if you feel that way! See what it does for your business and social life! In real life, when people heard the real-life models for the character of Archie Bunker calling their in-laws "(blasphemous word) (ethnic hate word)" all the time, they shamed those people out of talking that way.
You have a moral right, and you should have a specifically protected legal right, to be wrong. If you want to join the Flat Earth Society and post claims that Earth is flat, that should be your privilege. And social web sites I respect will protect your privilege...while, at the same time, offering other people the opportunity to post evidence that Earth is round.
You have a moral obligation to correct errors you've made when you recognize them as such. One of the best things I remember about the Washington Post, when I read the printed paper every day, was the "Corrections" column. Of course most of the corrections were typographical and were useless to most readers, but it's good for anybody who talks/writes a lot to publish those self-corrections regularly.
You have no right, and no *ability*, to "keep people safe" from things that might hurt their little feelings. Reasonable adults have lived through a few days when someone else's saying "I love my children/parents/brother/sister/dog" made us want to scream out loud with pain, and we've learned not to bore other people with our "hurt feelings." Same way with hate speech. Men don't have the right to threaten violence against women or against a woman, but they do have the right to make arrogant, hateful, sexist-jerk comments like "She is stupid" (where the "because she's female" is clearly "heard" even if some pretense of a logical refutation is offered). Let'em go ahead and out themselves. Reasonable women don't get angry about things like that...we get even.
As regular readers know, this web site has some additional policies that are part of our contract. In exchange for Google doing a lot of the boring maintenance work for us, we promise no hatespews, no explicit sex or violence, no nude pictures, none of the traditionally unprintable words, and--as a general rule, although we've broken it in a few discussions of medical news--no mentions of body parts. (As a general rule, if we say "hand" we need to add a word like "woven" or "writing" or "shake," fast.) But that's a private editorial policy, suitable for a personal blog for middle-aged Christians, not suitable for a web site that reports world news to, from, and for everybody. The position of this web site is that the world needs for quite a lot of things to be published elsewhere that couldn't be published here...and every few weeks we even endorse some of them.
To those who want to be "kept safe" from other people's hostile moods, we recommend a nice, safe padded cell, which youall can easily construct in your own basements. Just stay there until you feel able to venture out into the real world. And to those who worry about the people who need to stay in their own private safe spaces...September is here, the first few red buckeye leaves and purple asters were out on the road to prove it, but Hell, Michigan, has not yet frozen over. You can still get there.
(Update: Yes, this post needed an Amazon book link. Buy it new to show respect if you can afford to--say, if buying it new merely means taking the bus or walking instead of driving to work for a week.)