A Still Tongue Makes a Happy Life

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak
is to narrow the range of thought?

In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible,
because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept
that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word,
with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings
rubbed out and forgotten.

-- George Orwell's "1984"


What if we could make hate disappear by eliminating offensive words and limiting discourse? Would that be possible? Would it be ethical?

Such questions arise when looking at a national trend in legislation to ban a racial slur.

PATERSON, New Jersey (1010 WINS) -- Paterson has joined a nationwide effort to get people to stop using the n-word by passing a resolution to abolish the racial slur.

The resolution is symbolic, though, carrying no penalties. Council Anthony Davis, the sponsor of the bill, says the word is negative and young people need to stop using it. Councilman-at-large Jeffrey Jones voted for the resolution, but says that it has no legs because there is no one to police it.

Paterson is following in the footsteps of Irvington, which passed a similar resolution earlier this month. Other places are also considering a ban. But some people don't think it will change anything.

Paterson resident Lamont Adams says using the word is part of how he associates with his friends.


And it arises again in the blogosphere, where a battle is raging over free speech. As I wrote some time ago:

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.




Exhibit A: The Daily Kos. A few days ago, Hunter put out the latest encyclical on conduct and penalties for kossacks. It's a humdinger. Here are some of my favorite bits.

Autobanning

Through the ratings system, the community has been given the tools to, in most cases, police itself. Users who consistently bring good arguments, well thought out discussions, or simply happy doses of humor will be rewarded with "recommendations" from other site users: those that engage in offensive, disruptive, or forbidden behavior will find themselves "troll rated".

If a user constantly engages in disruptive behavior over a certain period of time, such that the community repeatedly trollrates the comments of that user, it may trigger an automatic banning of the user known as autobanning. This is the tool given to the community to police itself, and should be taken very seriously.

Autobanning is an entirely automated process -- there is no human intervention. The exact number of trollratings needed in a certain period of time to trigger autoban has not been publicly stated, but the algorithm, generally speaking, is calibrated to be very, very lenient -- you have to be very much an ass, for a prolonged period of time, before it will kick in. A mere bad mood in a comment thread or two won't do it, except in extraordinary cases. A prolonged history of trollrated comments will.

For that reason, you don't really have to worry that trollrating a single offensive post by an otherwise productive community member will get them banned: that doesn't happen. Five or ten such comments from that user, though, and they begin to be on thin ice indeed. If you are having a bad night, as a commenter, and find yourself being repeatedly troll-rated, stop what you are doing. This is considered a social IQ test: if you fail, and get autobanned, don't expect much sympathy.





One of the things the founding fathers understood was that mob rule poses as much of a threat to the free flow of ideas as oppressive government. The autobanning policy is like handing kossacks cyber torches and pitchforks. Many have been slammed with troll ratings and even banned, not for aggressive or "trollish" behavior, but for stating divergent views. As Booman observes in Hunter's thread:

Hunter

the problem I see can be clearly seen in this thread.

There is a kind of mob mentality that has taken over. Someone writes something controversial, like saying soldiers should refuse to serve in Iraq, and they don't get respect, they don't get rebuttals...

They just get blasted with meanness, and snark, and troll-ratings, and recipes.

It's out of control, IMO.


More banning offenses from Hunter:

Misrepresenting your identity. It is perfectly acceptable to remain pseudonymous on the site, meaning that you wish to provide no personally identifying information about yourself. This is fine and accepted practice: many users may have reasons why they do not want their political opinions widely known in their workplace, for example. What is not acceptable, however, is lying about your identity. You may not pretend to be someone else, claim to be a race or gender or class or nationality you are not, lie about your military service, or background, or otherwise misrepresent yourself. You may refrain from talking about those aspects of your life, but you may not misrepresent them in an attempt to bolster your pseudonymous credibility or otherwise mislead other community members.

"Outing" other site users. If a user wishes to protect their pseudonymity, and has not freely provided information which would unmask or otherwise undermine that pseudonymity, then you may not reveal private, personal information about that user that might allow others to subsequently identify them. Period. For that matter, you may not do it on another site either, if you wish to participate here: we take pseudonymity concerns very seriously.


So you can't misrepresent yourself, buuuuut... no one can point out that you are misrepresenting yourself. So you're pretty safe to flout that rule. Full disclosure: I was banned ostensibly for outing someone who was misrepresenting himself. Of course the punch-line is that I didn't out him. I simply pointed out that he had outed and exposed himself as a fraud repeatedly in his own writing. I suppose it's a fine point.

Now this is a fun one:

Consistently rating up the posts of users who are themselves engaging in inappropriate behaviors, thus thwarting the moderation efforts of more responsible community members. More on this below.

Think about that for a moment. Even supporting unpopular ideas, without writing a word, is a potentially bannable offense. As 5hearts of My Left Wing learned when she chose to support the "wrong" side in a disagreement.

I would love to know by what algorithm this happy message gets vomited out:

You've Been Warned...
2007-02-12 20:00:55
Please stop rating up other users' fights in the comment threads. MLW and Booman fights should be left on MLW and Booman, not encouraged.
I understand the above warning (posting is no longer allowed until this is acknowledged).

I clicked on pyhrro's username (a link under a comment of his) at dKos and up it popped....




Which brings me to Exhibit B: My Left Wing. Proprietor Maryscott O'Connor astonished and impressed me the other day when she threw down the gauntlet on this issue, and came down hard on the side of free speech and thought. It was a brave move and she has opened herself up to widespread criticism from the enforcers of social norms. More astonishing still, she opened the floor for debate on that third rail issue, verboten on most liberal websites; the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Her diary on this and the heated debate it engendered can be found here.

Maryscott has ripped the scab off a festering wound in the blogosphere, and exposed a level of denial and hypocrisy that has astonished even me. The passion amongst a surprising number of site members for the suppression of ideas and the banning of dissenters, I find chilling. The idea that evil ideas, thoughtcrimes if you will, can somehow be stemmed by limiting discourse has found many takers. Dhonig for, instance, has written one of the most wrong-headed diaries I've ever read... and that's saying something.

Okay, so now on to the subject itself, why it is not just a matter of free speech, and why hate should be banned.

First, it is a mere aphorism that ugliness is cleansed by the light of day. And really, this is the theme for the rest of the diary. Some have argued that we should not shun the haters, but hear them, for by putting out their opinions they expose those opinions to "the light of day," where some magical process will cleanse them, or at least we will know them by the nature of their words. Unfortunately, this involves a utopian view of human nature, rather than a realistic observation.

Hate is ugly. Even the haters, if alone, know deep in their soulless little lizard brains that there might be something shameful about their point of view. They mostly keep it to themselves, huddling in the subterranean hovel of hatred. They suspect, perhaps even fear, that (a) they might not be right, and (b) their point of view might not be acceptable. But what happens when they come out, and their hate receives anything less than complete rejection, including rejection of the person and their presence forever? They get the message that somehow what they said was okay.


Their "soulless little lizard brains"... Now, where have I heard that kind of dehumanizing rhetoric used to describe a group of people before... Oh right!

In dhonig's cartoon world, only evil ideas can be viral. Rebuttals to them cannot. Discourse has no real capacity to enlighten, so certain ideas must be denied a forum. This is, of course, demonstrably false. Even in my own lifetime I have watched public opinion morph on race and civil rights, gay rights, and, yes, Jews. Racism, homophobia, and antisemitism are decidedly out of vogue; out of the mainstream, if you will. And much of what has changed these views is that we have seen the ugliness of hate with our own eyes, giving full form to social undercurrents, and rejected it. Full-blown "haters" are in the minority. As I pointed out to dhonig, David Duke, who he himself invokes in his diary as an example of hate run amok, has been rejected by voters repeatedly. Why? Because his odious views are a matter of public record. Something that would not be the case were it not for a First Amendment that protects his right to spew racial hatred.

From Nonpartisan we learn that Jews are a special group, deserving of total protection from offensive ideas. Blacks are not because not enough of them have been killed.

Have six million of them been murdered in a single generation? (0.00 / 0)
No. So...no.

Vague terms? How about this: If you think what you're about to say could in any way be offensive to a Jewish person, or could even be CONSTRUED as being offensive to a Jewish person, DON'T SAY IT.

Similar to the grounds of civil discourse in society, huh? If you persist in violating these norms in civil society, then you get shunned and maybe fired. If you do so in blogtopia*, then you should be banned.

*coined by Skippy.

Well. I'm speechless.




Note: Both The Prisoner and Orwell's 1984 are availaible in the bookstore.

16 comments:

DavidByron said...

I'm banned from MLW (for saying the wrong things about Israel and feminism) or I'd say this there....

The prior diary entry that you link to asks how the recipie posting spam got started. I am not sure of course but I think it was first started to try and get rid of me from the then public (since then put behind a members only wall) board at NOW.org

The local self-appointed enforcers tried a number of different types of spam which had the intention of making pages load slowly or generally make it hard or impossible to read anything anyone said.

They would post porn and other disgusting photographs to prevent people looking at the thread (I mean _really_ disgusting). They found that made people angry at the enforcers so they tried pictures of nicer things (cats usually), The aim at that point was cripling the server and making the page refresh slow as christmas. (internet was slower in those days)

They would also just post long sections of text on a random topic and copy and paste it dozens of times and post it dozens of times.
I guess this is where the recipie stuff came from because recipies were often used at that point.

Another trick was to post

l
i
k
e

t
h
i
s

m
a
k
i
n
g

e
v
e
r
y

comment a mile long so it was very hard to scroll through a page to find a real post. There's be several hundred times more space given over to spam than to content.

This stuff developed over a period of time as they tried to find the most annoying / destructive tactics which at the same time wouldn't make them look too abusive.

Anyway I hope you mean what you say about free speech because there are far too many authoritarians at MLW and they are a cancer on that site. Good luck.

Curmudgette said...

I'm banned from MLW (for saying the wrong things about Israel and feminism) or I'd say this there....

Yes, Mr. Byron. I'm familiar with your work.

DavidByron said...

Do you mean from MLW? But all those files were deleted and I thought that was before your time....?

Curmudgette said...

Before my time? How old do you think I am?

It sounds like you think MLW did you a favor by chucking your electronic paper trail down the memory hole. But some of us do have memories. What people don't seem to grok when they are engaging in their reindeer games on these "community" blogs is that many people just read and lurk. It's not a private party with your friends. It's a public discussion with an audience.

So, yes. I remember you. Your misogyny was extra special and made an impression.

Not to worry. I don't ban or delete comments, unless they are spam or outright trolling. You are welcome to your offensive ideas. If you leave your comments here, I may rebut them, but if memory serves, you are fairly impervious to new information, so I may just ignore them and trust that my readers can parse for themselves.

DavidByron said...

My own paper trail is purposefully extensive if you want to go looking. I just didn't remember you. So you were a long time lurker? Ok then. But now you blog? I wonder how often that happens....

At any rate your memory is not so good here. I was banned because MLW was impervious to facts. Specifically "sassy texan" posted a diary which eugene front-paged. This diary was an attack on me by means of supposedly refuting a fact I had posted, that the Violence Againt Women Act was not gender neutral (with the text current at the time - text has been changed since the event).

A simple enough question of fact. I proved I was correct and for that supreme sin eugene banned me. the last straw at any rate. No doubt they both wanted me gone long before then.

You are also wrong about me being a misogynist. I assume from that free and easy insult that you are a man hating feminist? No? Really? Do you feel my calling you a man-hater is unfair? Join the club.

All of which I suppose (and to return to the topic at hand) only goes to show your own integrity on the banning issue, since for good reasons or not, you obviously have a very negative view of me, yet you stand on principle about my being here. This is very much to your credit.

However it poses a question of some interest - if I may play the devil's advocate here - what would you have done about me at MLW?

Curmudgette said...

However it poses a question of some interest - if I may play the devil's advocate here - what would you have done about me at MLW?

My "memory" doesn't enter into it. I was not around at the time of your banning. I know nothing of the particulars that led to that action, so I cannot speak to it at all. And please do not bother to attempt to further enlighten me, because (a) it's just your side of the story and (b) I don't really care.

As for my memory of you as a misogynist, it stems largely from comments so typical of you like this one:

You are also wrong about me being a misogynist. I assume from that free and easy insult that you are a man hating feminist? No? Really? Do you feel my calling you a man-hater is unfair? Join the club.

My exegesis is unnecessary. You prove my point every time you open your mouth.

DavidByron said...

Being unhappy that someone calls you a misogynist proves you must be a misogynist eh?

Are you ducking my question? You suggested that you were reading the stuff that went on back then ("some of us do have memories"). Now you say you can't comment because you don't know the particulars. Well that doesn't matter. I didn't ask if you approved of the action.

I'm not trying to catch you out here. You are taking a stand for free speech (or whatever you want to call it) and such a philosophy naturally demands that you have some sort of idea what you'd do under similar circumstances to those that led to my banning at MLW. Right?

It's clear have a very negative and dogmatic opinion of me so I assume you agree (whereas I wouldn't) that my presence at MLW was a "problem" that needed to be "solved". So what would you have done? Is this not a fair question?

Curmudgette said...

Are you ducking my question? You suggested that you were reading the stuff that went on back then ("some of us do have memories"). Now you say you can't comment because you don't know the particulars.

I said I was familiar with your work, not the issues that led to your banning.

You are taking a stand for free speech (or whatever you want to call it) and such a philosophy naturally demands that you have some sort of idea what you'd do under similar circumstances to those that led to my banning at MLW. Right?

I wasn't there. I can't weigh the merits of either your behavior or the decision to ban you. Nor do I have any desire to revisit it.

It's clear have a very negative and dogmatic opinion of me so I assume you agree (whereas I wouldn't) that my presence at MLW was a "problem" that needed to be "solved".

I have negative opinions of many people, but do not consider them "problems" or "ban worthy." I have no opinion on your banning. Period. I don't have the data to form an opinion. I have only enough data to form an opinion of you. I don't care for you. I find you obtuse, repetitive, and misogynistic. I think you display an unhealthy need for negative attention. Based only on the comments you have placed on my blog, going back only this far I could form that opinion. But I do remember similar comments from you going back quite some time on MLW, or perhaps it was even other blogs. It's no matter. You don't seem to change much.

DavidByron said...

Do you think my question is unfair somehow? I didn't think you'd be this tongue-tied. Oh well I guess you just don't want to discuss it.

Curmudgette said...

Do you think my question is unfair somehow?

Unfair? I think it's idiotic. Because I have addressed it, repeatedly, and explained ad nauseam why I am in no position to answer.

Now why don't you scurry along and find a dominatrix to give you the beating you so clearly desire. Blogging doesn't pay me enough to slap you in a dog collar and call you names, but I'm sure you can find a professional.

Anonymous said...

Hm, it's quite clear that the Curmudgette has FINALLY divined precisely what it is that Mr. Byron desires in his heart of hearts.

This exchange was the funniest thing I've read in a LONG time. I did a quick Google search for DavidByron and found that he is all across the Internets, spewing "facts" about the "oppression" of men by feminists...of course he never, ever provides any link nor external documentation for his "facts"; his readers must trust that whatever he says is true.

What's even more amusing is that even the most cursory Google search reveals that his cries for attention go back YEARS.

Here's a comment he made on 30 August 2005. I have provided a link, since DavidByron hates them.

Robin's attempt to say women's lives are in danger from a ban on abortion is silly. They are only in danger if women choose to break the law and attempt to kill a human (from the perspective of the pro-lifers). You should be only as sympathetic to such a woman as to a man in the present day who takes a baseball bat to his unborn child's mother's stomach in an attempt to induce an illegal abortion.

And although I am sympathetic to such a man -- since he lacks any power over his own life and his only possible way to prevent becoming a parent is assault -- I doubt many feminists would have sympathy for the "backstreet abortions" that their own policies have forced into existence.

Posted by: DavidByron | August 30, 2005 at 08:49 PM


From here: Hitting Pregnant Women with Baseball Bats

DavidByron said...

Good god how desperate do you have to be? Too afraid of me to put a name to it and spreading lies that anyone within two minutes could prove wrong.

Excuse me Curmudgette. My fan base leaves quite a bit to be desired these days.

Rob said...

They're plenty of people at MLW I find utterly vile like Stu Piddy who has disrupted my threads in the past. But banning is just outright wrong. I am Jewish and banning scares me more than some moron posting anti-Semitic comments. The ACLU was right to defend Nazis for marching in Skokie, IL in 1977. And it was a Jewish lawyer that defended them.

No banning over speech. Best to just ignore morons instead. It's tough when the comments cut on a topic personal to you and someone is just being a stubborn douche bag about it. We've all experienced that. That's what free speech is. And I have the freedom to respond and point out why someone is being a bigot or anti-Semite. Or just ignore them instead.

DavidByron said...

Hang on a sec --- you actually buy into this "anti-Semite" crap? What is up with that? I've never seen anything remotely racist coming from the regulars at MLW.

In fact the most racist person posting there regularly would be dhonig himself by a mile the way he consistently uses this excuse of "anti-Semite" to shut down conversations about Human Rights abuses in Palestine.

By accusing others of racism falsely you are supporting the authoritarian regime there. Show me one place where Stu --- or anyone -- has posted something racist at MLW. About *any* race. I'd be very surprised indeed to see it. Even dhonig avoids making explicit attacks against Palestinians.

As far as I've been able to see the use of "anti-Semite" in the US is entirely used as a means of surpressing Human Rights advocacy for the Palestinians -- who ironically are the real Semites of course.

The whole eugene / dhonig cabal have everyone tip-toeing around over there.

PA progressive said...

I got banned from Kos twice. First for criticizing a front pager for violating corporate in kind contributions and then for outing Jiacinto as a right wing mole misrepresenting himself at the blog. Jiacinto was pretending to be a progressive Democrat while actually a right wing Republican working for a wing nut think tank.

Why is Markos protecting his real identity? He uses his real name, not a pseudonym.

Curmudgette said...

Well PA Progressive, banned kossacks sit at the cool kids table, in my world.

I think the number of banned Daily Kos members surpassed the number of active users some time ago. That's an educated guess. I have no way of proving my hypothesis because there is no indication on any user profile of whether or not they're banned. Only those of us who have tried to leave footprints and found that we could not, know for sure.

Markos is on record as saying that anonymity is for cowards. Unless they're Armando, the Wal-Mart attorney, or Jiacinto the right wing mole (thanks for that bit of gouge), or soj the she-male, terrorist-catching, police-stenographer... They remain under official cover and receive full diplomatic immunity.