I will—I hope—make this one post and only this one post regarding Ruby Turok-Squire’s recent blog post about ObieTalk.
There’s absolutely an issue worth talking about here, and I’m pleased that there’s once again a discussion happening about this subject, but I think Ruby is fundamentally misguided, although her intentions are good. Starting a public conversation about ObieTalk is in no way a bad thing; shit-talking several of the people most interested in and capable of working on this issue, on the other hand, is.
If Ruby thinks Oberlin College has the right or ability to police postings on a website owned by someone affiliated with the College, she’s sadly mistaken. The idea that organizations should be able to police the personally-owned websites of employees, students, or other affiliates is a truly worrying one and should be treated with scorn by anyone who believes that the right to freedom of speech—anonymous or otherwise—exists.
Ruby also seems very confused about the technical aspects ObieTalk, and what options the College has in blocking it. CIT could certainly block access to the website (although it would probably be trivial for a knowledgeable person to work around), but ObieTalk would most likely be quickly mirrored at an unblocked domain. Failing that, some other enterprising student could simply start another such website—or another hundred.
The hateful, exclusionary garbage that gets posted on ObieTalk (and previously Oberlin Confessional) is obviously unacceptable. Some sort of volunteer flagging system would be great, and it might even be possible for some enterprising student to build a wrapper for ObieTalk that includes flagging functionality and place it at obietalkfiltered.com. The possibility obviously exists for the same trolls who post hateful things to abuse a flagging system, but there you are; that’s a fundamental tradeoff of message boards without a strong moderation hierarchy based on specific user accounts.
And it’s important that there be forums for anonymous discussion which lack that strong moderation. Such forums allow people with unpopular opinions to bring them into the light without threat to their physical well-being, and therein lies both the blessing and the curse: individuals can post hateful garbage, but equally they can bring up taboo topics that need to be discussed in some public forum. (With this in mind, I give Miss Turok-Squire credit for posting what she knew would be an unpopular opinion on a public blog under her own name; that takes courage, and I applaud her for it.)
I suppose it’s worth mentioning that there were several unpleasant threads about me on Oberlin Confessional during my tenure as a student. At least one of them was justified; at least one of them wasn’t. I’ll also admit to having anonymously posted something nasty about one of my fellow students (although I didn’t bother to alter my writing style, so she called me out on it shortly thereafter and I apologized). In the case of the things posted about me, I decided to stop caring when I realized that people were posting much nastier things about people much more awesome than myself. That helped me realize that if you’re well-known in a community, some of the people in that community will have more or less justified negative opinions about you, and want to share them with others.
My point is just this: there will always be anonymous discussion boards. The internet enables them, and people want them. Shutting them down is not a useful answer; a dozen can easily spring up in the place of each one you shut down, and the new ones will be born out of anger at whoever censored the old ones. It’s worth setting up some sort of system to make it easy to avoid the worst of the hateful comments that will inevitable be made, but it’s also worth remembering that people are people: whenever the opportunity exists for something hateful to be said, someone will likely say it—and that’s their right, however awful the result may be.
Learning this last lesson is an important part of becoming an adult in a free society. Free speech—one of the core values of most Oberlin students, in my experience—should not be sacrificed simply because some people are assholes. Hateful comments should be met with the withering contempt they deserve, and otherwise ignored.
Don’t feed the trolls.
Reblogged from myself because it’s still relevant (if overwritten), and I was just reminded that I had posted it.
I’d also like to add that anyone who gives Harris crap for having started OCon in the first place is suffering from misplaced anger and is misunderstanding who’s responsible for hateful speech: specifically, the person who utters it.
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- urocyon-littoralis said: Very well said.
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- nightsinwonderland said: Yes.
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