I wish more people were provocative. I wouldn't ever say there's censorship in this country. But there's a lot of peer pressure. Because when anybody says anything that's the least bit feather ruffling, everybody just goes nuts. If anybody in this country is forced to undergo a single moment of discomfort, the person who caused it just must go away.
I've always been a bit of a feather ruffler so I suppose I'm more keenly aware of this than others may be. In recent years I've been observing the peer pressure phenomenon in the "liberal" blogosphere. I admit it surprised me at first. It made no sense to me that sites that were springing up in cyber space largely as a reaction to the repressive tactics of the Bush regime were, themselves, so repressive. In time I came to see it for what it is: human nature. Without carefully instituted policies in place to protect free speech and provide for the unfettered freedom to state minority viewpoints, human beings just run roughshod over each other.
Web sites are private property not "free speech zones." Site owners do not have to respect First Amendment protections. That much is a fact. But you'd think that some of these site owners would display enough self-awareness not be total hypocrites; criticizing Bush for silencing dissent one minute, silencing their own dissenters the next. Unfortunately each site develops its own culture and its own taboos, which are enforced not only by the management but by self-appointed enforcers of societal norms. The result is that most of these sites ultimately become stifling environments and self-reinforcing echo-chambers of group-think.
Beyond banning and the much abused "troll rating" systems, there are a number of increasingly predictable shaming tactics designed to quell dissent in web communities. Here's a rundown of common devices used to silence any view that runs counter to the status quo and causes what Maher calls "discomfort."
- If you hate this site so much, why are you here? Don't let the door hit you in the ass.
- [Insert the name of site owner here] can ban anyone he/she wants. Nothing is stopping you from starting your own blog if you want to talk about [insert issue/viewpoint here].
- Aren't there more important issues you could be devoting your energy towards? Why are you wasting time discussing this when [insert daily headline issue here] is going on?
- Why are you attacking other liberals?! We should be working together! Save your criticisms for the Republicans who are ruining this country.
- [Insert name of site owner here] is very tolerant of alternative viewpoints. Just last week so-and-so wrote something really outrageous (that wasn't outrageous at all) and he/she wasn't banned. It's just that [insert name of recently banned person here] went too far.
- This site is very tolerant. I am very outre and I've never been silenced. (Generally stated by very boring people who think they're terribly shocking.)
- I've always known [insert name of site owner here] to be very fair. I'm sure he/she has his/her reasons and it's not my place to question them.
- We're guests here. Management is gracious enough to let us use this space to post and comment. (More like guest workers; providing the content and page views that sell the ads that pay for costs and profits.)
- Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. (Translation: We only deal in conventional wisdom here, even though we love to think of ourselves as terribly groundbreaking.)
- We don't discuss that type of thing here. This is just not that kind of site. So-and-so was banned for that. That's not a threat. I'm just sayin' is all.
- To make a tasty [insert recipe for some bizarre food item here]. (I will never understand this device as long I breath Terran air.)