Wednesday, August 08, 2012
The latest tiff (that I'm aware of) that flared up within the fantasy community was regarding a Q&A that Jim C. Hines had scheduled on Reddit that he cancelled due to some other content Reddit was hosting on their site. According to Jim's post on his Livejournal page he explains that a thread on Reddit, asking rapists to explain their motivations for their crimes, made him incredibly uncomfortable. He then details the various reasons why he didn't want to participate in a Q&A while that thread existed on Reddit.
A quick search of Jim's site is all one needs to realize that he has good reason for his feelings. He has a page dedicated to the subject of rape and how the personal experience of a friend led him to become a crisis councilor. The man has done his research and I think it's fair to say that he put some thought into his decision to pull the Q&A. But, oh my goodness, the outrage.
I don't know much about Reddit but a lot of people talk about the "Reddit Community" in almost reverential terms. I'm not kidding. As far as I can tell it's just a very large message board but you'd think it was the hub of all things awesome. The rub, it seems, in Jim's decision seems to be the fact that his email to the Reddit coordinator stated that he would not do the Q&A unless the thread was removed-- which resulted in accusations of censorship and sputtering outrage that Jim would deny anyone their rights to free speech.
But is that really the case?
Maybe it's me, but it seems like people are very quick to make accusations of censorship without really thinking things through. Years ago I got into a minor disagreement with another blogger over the links we had traded on our sites. He had emailed me and asked if I'd link to his review site and I agreed. But as we moved into the political season he mostly abandoned his review content and instead started writing some pretty vicious political commentary that seemed, to me, to consist mostly of rumor and innuendo. Not sure what to do, or if contacting him directly would be a good idea, I chose to take down the link to his site for the remainder of the electoral season, which would have been about two weeks at that time, with the intention of reinstating the link after that. Within 24 hours I got an email asking me why I took down the link. Figuring that honesty was the best policy I told him why the link was down and that I intended to put it back up after he moved back to his normal blog content. Boy, was he not happy with me. I got a furious email back saying that I was trying to censor him and that our online relationship was over. I may have sent a snotty reply back, something relating to toys and taking them home, and that was that. Needless to say I was relieved to sever a relationship with someone who stalked other blogs to make sure they had him linked to their sites (he let it slip that he had had the same argument with another blogger).
What got me about that whole exchange was the accusation of censorship. I wasn't trying to shut his blog down, I simply refused to promote it. As far as I was concerned he was the one that had broken our agreement, casual as it was, by deviating from the promised content of his blog. I wouldn't have linked in the first place if I had known it was going to end up being politically inflammatory. I didn't report his blog or bad mouth it in any way and it irked me that the cries of "censorship" came out so easily.
So when I see some people (mostly troll traffic if we're being honest) jump all over Jim with accusations of attempted censorship I think of that famous phrase from The Princess Bride: "I don't think that means what you think it means."
As far as I can tell Jim didn't try to force Reddit to take down that thread, he simply stated that as long as they didn't he would choose not to participate in the Q&A on their site. I don't believe he threatened legal action or intended to start a boycott or anything else that would put pressure on Reddit to censor themselves in any way, he simply stated that he, one person, did not want to be associated with a site that published something he found personally offensive. I can relate to that.
But, for argument's sake, if Jim had succeeded in persuading Reddit to take down the discussion, would the accusations of censorship then have merit?
This is where opinion comes into play and points could be made for both sides. If Reddit had taken the thread down I would say that they chose, as is their right as a private organization, to self-censor. Many of us do that. We're the lords of our own little fiefdoms as blog owners and it's not unheard of to delete objectionable comments as they pop up- I certainly don't worry about the free speech rights of people who spam my blog.
Because I choose to use Blogger to host my blog I am subject to their terms of agreement and can be reported for abuse. But if I felt stifled I could move my blog to my own domain and post anything I wanted to (within the law)-- as could anyone who posts on Reddit. Which is why I don't feel that the free speech argument applies to the whole Jim C. Hines kerfuffle. I don't believe Jim was trying to universally shut down a certain type of speech and he states in his post that he didn't expect Reddit would agree to pull the discussion. I also don't think that Jim was trying to assert that he had the kind of influence that would persuade Reddit to pull the discussion just for him. By all appearances he's just one guy taking a stand.
From my point of view accusations of censorship should be held in check. It's like accusing someone of racism or sexism every time you disagree with something they have to say-- it's basically crying wolf and pretty soon those arguments have no weight. I may be biased because I don't think Jim did anything wrong and I happen to agree with his conclusion that there is no real merit to the Reddit thread despite the article at Jezebel trying to convince me otherwise. I do appreciate that there are free speech laws in effect that give people the right to say things I find objectionable but I don't believe that private enterprise should be forced to give anyone a venue, especially when other venues are widely available.
In an interesting aside I have to note that the most hateful abusers of free speech ever, the Westboro Baptist Church, just prompted President Obama to sign a new law that will severely limit their ability to continue protesting at the funerals of American soldiers.
Maybe I should have some free-speech oriented outrage over that-- but I don't.