Thursday, December 27, 2012

Trolls and Censorship

            Anyone who spends time on the internet is familiar with trolls.  They pop up again and again, and anytime one gets taken down two more show up in its place, like a hydra with a third grade reading level and no social skills.  We have collectively accepted their incessant pestering as an inevitable part of internet culture.  But Cracked columnist John Cheese made a very good point in his article Four Easy Solutions to Problems We All Complain About: Most sites have a way to report trolls.

            Unsurprisingly, many of the comments were shouts against censorship on the internet.  There’s a difference between censoring the internet and reporting people for violating the rules of a site.  For example, I think the KKK is an odious, evil organization, but I respect its right to have a website.  I respect the right of its members to have their disgusting blogs to spew their vitriol.  But when they do that on someone else’s site, they have to follow other rules.  How about an analogy: A klan member holds a barbecue for some of his buddies, at which they shout racial slurs and generally act like complete assholes.  I don’t agree with it, but by all means that’s within their rights.  If that same klan member were to go to a crowded shopping mall and shout the same awful things, he’d get kicked out of the mall.  Replace the barbecue with the KKK's website and the mall with Youtube; it's the same premise.

            When people talk about the internet, they act like it’s one homogenous glob instead of a vast system of overlapping communities, each with its own rules.  There’s a difference between saying that members of a community should enforce the rules of that community and supporting censorship.  In regards to racism, censorship would be saying that no one could post anything racist anywhere on the internet.  John Cheese is talking about individual communities making sure users follow the community’s rules.  Censorship would be demanding that the KKK get off the internet altogether, what I’m talking about is getting people who follow their philosophy to stop spamming other sites.  They can have their barbecue, but once they start ranting in the shopping mall, they get kicked out.

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