There’s a quote from Maya Angelou that I’m fond of: “When people show you who they are, believe them.” It’s a sentiment I think about quite a lot when I’m combing through harassment or threats online. Because you do want to believe that the person who calls you a “bitch” or who says you should be raped isn’t really like this – that they’re actually good people having a bad day, or a bad life. You want to see the best in other people.
But the truth is that who we are is very much about how we treat others – whether it’s on the street, in our homes or, yes, on the internet. That’s why I was so concerned to see the broad latitude given to online abusers in Facebook’s guidelines for dealing with harassment and hate speech. Their baseline approach appears to give harassers the benefit of the doubt at every turn.
Because people are indeed at liberty to be complete assholes.
For example, it’s perfectly allowable for someone on Facebook to write: “To snap a bitch’s neck, make sure to apply all your pressure to the middle of her throat,” because it’s not an example of “credible” violence that is a “call to action” – just a venting of frustration, they say.
Similarly, if someone were to send the message, “unless you stop bitching I’ll have to cut your tongue out,” it would be classified as an “aspirational” or “conditional” statement. So this direct threat would be permitted on the site.
Why would Facebook believe that this kind of abuse is not a real threat to people? Well, because it’s online.
Nope, those are pretty much the restrictions which apply to real world speech to. Incitement to immediate violence? Verboten. Near everything else? People are at liberty to be complete assholes.
That’s quite a dangerous leap: just because someone might not threaten a person to their face in the same way they would online, it doesn’t mean that threat or hate is any less real.
Err, yes, yes it does dearie.
And here we get to the heart of it:
People like this do not feel “indifferent” towards the targets of their ire simply because they’re on the internet. They feel hatred, they feel rage. We have no way of knowing – not really – who will end up being a real danger to people. But we don’t need to give them space and attention, and we certainly shouldn’t give them permission to spread their bile.
It’s not our permission to give luvvie. Free speech is a right.