Infamous activists Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn recently presented at the United Nations on the dangers of cyber harrassment – but is their cure more dangerous than the disease?
The other day, Doug posted a great article about the new Ghostbusters movie, which I think pretty much outlined Echoba.se’s zero-tolerance attitude towards online harassment, misogyny and name-calling. I don’t think you need to label yourself #gamergate or anti-#gamergate to agree that death threats, and threats of sexual violence, are absolutely fucking unacceptable and not part of any culture we geeks want to endorse or be part of.
But it did make me start thinking about what a dangerous atmosphere we’ve fostered in online communications; and how many of the people championing the ‘solution’ to online harassment are proposing some truly Orwellian shit that could literally destroy the Internet as we know it.
For example, noted anti-#gamergater Arthur Chu recently wrote an article for Techcrunch in which he demanded an end to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which basically gave birth to the social internet as we know it. It’s the law that defends online publishing forums (like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit) from liability for what’s posted on them.
It basically means that if a Facebook user or Redditer posts something libelous or illegal on the site, only they can be held accountable for it. You can’t sue Twitter, or Facebook, or whatever, for giving them the forum to post it in the first place.
Section 230 is basically the only reason social media exists. If it wasn’t for that part of law, no company in the world would accept liability to what anonymous dickheads on the Internet post on their service; and it would basically wipe out EVERYTHING awesome that’s happened online in the last ten years or so.
But, according to voices like Arthur Chu, that’s exactly what needs to be done. According to him: “Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are excellent tools for stalking, harassment, defamation and all manner of harm. Lives have been lost, careers destroyed, money thrown down the drain because of unaccountable users using unaccountable platforms.”
He argues that Section 230 should be repealed, because it’s nothing but an “artificial and stupid shield between the Internet and the “real world” that enables the Internet to be a lawyer-free zone and thus a massive unaccountable sewer of abuse to be torn down.”
And as to concerns that repealing Section 230 would basically end social media as we know it? He argues:
Now, Arthur Chu is entitled to his opinion that social media is ‘garbage’ – but I disagree. As do millions of other Internet users. Section 230 specifically allows sites like Facebook and Twitter to exist. Shit, I am an online author and if it wasn’t for Section 230, Amazon wouldn’t allow people to self-publish their eBooks.
Arthur Chu is basically arguing for a change in the law that would wipe out my means of supporting my family.
But while I might vehemently disagree with his solution – online harassment is a real issue. I mean, people on both sides of the #gamergate and anti-#gamergate circlejerk on Twitter have been targeted for death threats, doxxing and even had the police called to their homes as part of something called ‘Swatting.’ I mean, that’s totally fucking unacceptable behavior whichever way you look at it.
But what’s the solution?
Well, I think first off you actually have to establish what is and isn’t real ‘online harassment’. When Anita Sarkeesian spoke to the UN, she complained about the “day-to-day grind” of people telling her “‘You’re a liar,'” and “‘You suck'”.
Is that online harassment? Well, it’s certainly not pleasant, but I feel that’s more in the realm of criticism than ‘harassment.’
From a personal perspective (this is my opinion, definitely not that of Echoba.se as a site) I think accusing Anita Sarkeesian of dishonesty and just general suck-age is entirely legitimate (I mean, she raised $440,000 dollars for her hatchet-job of a web-series, Tropes vs Women in Video Games, and managed to produce just two episodes with it – which means they actually had a budget on-par with the third Atlas Shrugged movie I wrote about yesterday!)
But Anita Sarkeesian has also been the target of rape threats, death threats and had to cancel an appearance after a bomb threat was called in – and whichever way you look at it, that is absolutely fucking unacceptable. You can complain about Anita Sarkeesian all you want, but you could never condone that type of behavior.
I mean, I too have been the victim of online harassment. I actually went anonymous on the Internet years ago, when I posted a picture of my first child on my blog and somebody left a comment: “Another fucking ginger. You should euthanize it.” That fucking hurt (and, what’s worse, I traced the IP of that comment to a web forum I frequented with a lot of people I’d assumed were my online ‘friends’.)
The fact is, rape threats, death threats, doxing and Swat raids are all horrible, disgusting, ugly and unacceptable things. But I honestly don’t believe that any of the solutions come up with by the likes of Arthur Chu and Anita Sarkeesian are acceptable ways to tackle the problem.
I understand, as a white dude, that I will never experience the same level of harassment that they do online. But I’d still rather the Internet exists in that format, than it gets gutted, regulated and controlled by legislation. A lot of the ‘harassment’ that people complain about is legitimate criticism – so a small, unaccountable group of people having the power to decide what is and isn’t ‘acceptable’ online opens up the floodgates for thought policing, censorship and totalitarianism.
The unregulated nature of communication online delivers the very worst and the very best of human nature. But I’m still in a position where I believe the benefits of freedom of speech absolutely unequivocally outweigh the consequences.