5
   

Banish the Cyber-Bigots?

 
 
Reply Fri 25 Sep, 2009 12:20 am
Quote:
By Michael Gerson
Friday, September 25, 2009

The transformation of Germany in the 1920s and '30s from the nation of Goethe to the nation of Goebbels is a specter that haunts, or should haunt, every nation.

The triumph of Nazi propaganda in this period is the subject of a remarkable exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (where I serve on the governing board). Germany in the 1920s was a land of broad literacy and diverse politics, boasting 146 daily newspapers in Berlin alone. Yet in the course of a few years, a fringe party was able to define a national community by scapegoating internal enemies; elevate a single, messianic leader; and keep the public docile with hatred while the state committed unprecedented crimes.

The adaptive use of new technology was central to this achievement. The Nazis pioneered voice amplification at rallies, the distribution of recorded speeches and the sophisticated targeting of poster art toward groups and regions.

But it was radio that proved the most powerful tool. The Nazis worked with radio manufacturers to provide Germans with free or low-cost "people's receivers." This new technology was disorienting, taking the public sphere, for the first time, into private places -- homes, schools and factories. "If you tuned in," says Steve Luckert, curator of the exhibit, "you heard strangers' voices all the time. The style had a heavy emphasis on emotion, tapping into a mass psychology. You were bombarded by information that you were unable to verify or critically evaluate. It was the Internet of its time."


This comparison to the Internet is apt. The Nazis would have found much to admire in the adaptation of their message on neo-Nazi, white supremacist and Holocaust-denial Web sites.

But the challenge of this technology is not merely an isolated subculture of hatred. It is a disorienting atmosphere in which information is difficult to verify or critically evaluate, the rules of discourse are unclear, and emotion -- often expressed in CAPITAL LETTERS -- is primary. User-driven content on the Internet often consists of bullying, conspiracy theories and racial prejudice. The absolute freedom of the medium paradoxically encourages authoritarian impulses to intimidate and silence others. The least responsible contributors see their darkest tendencies legitimated and reinforced, while serious voices are driven away by the general ugliness.

Ethicist Clive Hamilton calls this a "belligerent brutopia." "The Internet should represent a great flourishing of democratic participation," he argues. "But it doesn't. . . . The brutality of public debate on the Internet is due to one fact above all -- the option of anonymity. The belligerence would not be tolerated if the perpetrators' identities were known because they would be rebuffed and criticized by those who know them. Free speech without accountability breeds dogmatism and confrontation."

This destructive disinhibition is disturbing in itself. It also allows hatred to invade respected institutional spaces on the Internet, gaining for these ideas a legitimacy denied to fringe Web sites. After the Bernard Madoff scandal broke, for example, major newspaper sites included user-generated content such as "Find a Jew who isn't Crooked" and "Just another jew money changer thief" -- sentiments that newspapers would not have printed as letters to the editor. Postings of this kind regularly attack immigrants and African Americans, recycle centuries of anti-Semitism and deny the events of the Holocaust as a massive Jewish lie.

Legally restricting such content -- apart from prosecuting direct harassment and threats against individuals or incitement to violence -- is impossible. In America, the First Amendment protects blanket statements of bigotry. But this does not mean that popular news sites, along with settings such as Facebook and YouTube, are constitutionally required to provide forums for bullies and bigots. As private institutions, they are perfectly free to set rules against racism and hatred. This is not censorship; it is the definition of standards.

Some online institutions, such as The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, screen user comments before posting them. Others, such as The Post and The Wall Street Journal, rely on readers to identify objectionable content -- a questionable strategy because numbness to abusiveness and hatred on the Internet is part of the challenge.

Whatever the method, no reputable institution should allow its publishing capacity, in print or online, to be used as the equivalent of the wall of a public bathroom stall.

The exploitation of technology by hatred will never be eliminated. But hatred must be confined to the fringes of our culture -- as the hatred of other times should have been.


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/24/AR2009092403932.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

My main problem with this is that in my opinion that the social limiting of debate is actually a bad thing in a democracy, so spreading it to the internet is the spreading of an ill. My second problem is the social pressure in real life debate is developed and implemented by all of the people, and can change at the drop of a hat, where as Internet standards are developed and implemented by the owners, and are highly unlikely to be flexible. When the collective shuts down debate that they don't want to hear the collective is foolish, and the collective harms itself. But far worse is to hand over control of the parameters of debate to the owners of spaces, a relatively few people. If the collective is to be harmed, the collective must do it to themselves, otherwise it is called oppression

It would be ironic if the internet, which conventional wisdom has as a great benefactor of democracy, was in fact the killer of democracy.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 5 • Views: 3,948 • Replies: 55

 
Finn dAbuzz
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Sep, 2009 11:39 am
@hawkeye10,
Clearly new technology doesn't only benefit the miscreants and twisted among us, although there is evidence that new communication technology is often initially and most effectively exploited by the members of society who dwell in the shadows and darkness.

The Nazis made very effective use of the communication technologies of their day not because it better suited them or their message than it did proponents of democracy and tolerance, but because they were more driven and better organized to take advantage of it.

These same communication technologies could have been put to good use by those who ultimately opposed the Nazis, if they had recognized the threat early enough and organized around its opposition. By the time they did, the Nazis controlled the major means of mass communication within Germany.

Many of us, me included, don't believe the various hate sites on the Web represent a significant threat to our society or the world, but then I'm sure the same can be said of many who, early on, dismissed Adolph Hitler and his brownshirts.

The answer then, however, should not have been any different than it is today: Don't prohibit the twisted from using communication technology, use it to quickly and effectively to denounce their message and educate society.

The answer is not for one totalitarian body to stop a nascent one in its early tracks, or for one group of propagandists to better manipulate the truth than another, but for free people to be less complacent and more protective of their freedom by bringing attention to and countering with rational argument the message of the twisted.

Private websites that invite commentary from their users are free to exclude whatever comments they do not wish to publish, but this will not counter twisted messages, simply send them somewhere else. Better, I think, to allow such opinions to be expressed and then address them invidually or collectively with editorial opinion.






hawkeye10
 
  0  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 11:44 am
@Finn dAbuzz,
you are correct that limiting debate will not eliminate the unwanted ideas, that instead it will drive them underground. You are wrong about the wisdom of judging speech and ideas based upon the emotion that they stir in you, or your guess of the motivation of the speaker. We made a wrong turn when we made hate law, and the self censorship of hate speech is a compounding of the error. The yard stick for an idea is how well does it correspond with reality, and how helpful is it towards solving a problem. Those who police speech are usually either trying it ignore reality, or change it. Neither will work, and both harm language. Attempts to police language also diminish the collective, as individuals will increasingly come to the conclusion that the collective does not "get it", that if one wants to be real one must find an underground subcommunity, which will certainly tend to turn subversive.

The result of continuing to be unwilling to face reality, and talk honestly about reality, will be revolution.

High Seas
 
  2  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 12:06 pm
@hawkeye10,
Quote:
By Michael Gerson
Friday, September 25, 2009

..........
Ethicist Clive Hamilton calls this a "belligerent brutopia." "The Internet should represent a great flourishing of democratic participation," he argues. "But it doesn't. . . . The brutality of public debate on the Internet is due to one fact above all -- the option of anonymity. The belligerence would not be tolerated if the perpetrators' identities were known because they would be rebuffed and criticized by those who know them. Free speech without accountability breeds dogmatism and confrontation."

This is an absurd proposition, Hawkeye - would this "ethicist" outlaw the secret ballot, as well? As to Mr Gerson, time to realize nazism went out of business many decades ago and find some new specter he can use to haunt his readers. Terminally boring.

High Seas
 
  1  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 12:31 pm
@High Seas,
PS If anybody should be banned it's the useless taggers like the "racism" taggers here: http://able2know.org/topic/136022-1
They know so little about public internet connections - airports etc - that they don't realize the threads can be blocked because the tags operate like banned keywords on some settings (a bit like parental controls), or that too many opinionated tags ultimately discourage site visitors.
hawkeye10
 
  1  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 12:42 pm
@High Seas,
What gets me is that we KNOW that the value of an idea is not connected to the individual who voices it, so the fact that ideas can be rendered not connected to a known individual on the internet has zero impact on the process of debate.

I can see having some internet places being designed as a public gathering places, and limiting debate at those places for the sake of decorum as we would for a party for instance. But the OP was talking about doing this in places which are set up for debate and the discovery of truth. If we are intending to debate then lets debate, and for sure don't put up censorship that interferes with the free flow of ideas. A lot of truths are not pleasant to hear, but we must before we can deal with them. I suppose that an virtual debate will be more animated than one done in person, for the reasons that the OP gives, but we are big boys and girls.....we can handle that. We don't need protecting, and we sure as **** don't need "protection" that destroys the purpose of the gathering, the debate.
0 Replies
 
kickycan
 
  3  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 12:53 pm
@High Seas,
Why would that be a bad thing? It isn't being banned completely by any government entity. If people decide they don't want to see or hear it, I don't see the problem. They aren't taking that person's right to free speech away. They still can say whatever they want. Free speech doesn't mean you have the right to force people to hear what you have to say, it just protects your right to say it. Or am I wrong on that?
hawkeye10
 
  1  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 01:06 pm
@kickycan,
Quote:
It isn't being banned completely by any government entity


Great, in the near future tobacco will be technically for sale, it will just be damn near impossible to get a cigarette. All is good in your opinion, right? What do we call it when we do something while we are denying that we are doing it?

Besides, the definition of censorship that demands government legal action is obsolete, no longer is the government the only force that can destroy democratic gathering places and debate.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  3  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 01:14 pm
@kickycan,
No, Kick, you are not wrong. The right to speak freely does not entail any right to be heard. And this is all a red herring--people have never been entitled to government guaranteed free speech in private venues. A site such as this, for example, is a private venue, at which you are required to register in order to participate, and from which you may be excluded.

Rapist Boy here is just whining because he's always attempting to protray himself as a great, selfless champion of freedom, fighting the good fight against the dark hordes of puritanism and censorship. He's a legend in his own mind.
hawkeye10
 
  -2  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 01:48 pm
@Setanta,
when we contract out community spaces to private concerns the rules need to change. Shopping malls destroyed downtowns and then replaced them, but we allow mall owners to carry on as if the community has no rights to determine what goes on in this space. Legally it all makes sense. However, the community and the nation are harmed in the process.

The law must be reformed, the law is in error.
hawkeye10
 
  -2  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 01:51 pm
@Setanta,
Quote:
The right to speak freely does not entail any right to be heard


the right to free speech is the right to attempt to be heard, if the vocal waves from your mouth were filtered out of the air before they could reach another persons ear you would be being denied free speech.
engineer
 
  5  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 02:43 pm
@hawkeye10,
This is not a good analogy. Shopping malls did not destroy downtowns, they competed with them. We chose to go to the malls rather than downtown because the mall better met our needs. We destroyed downtowns.

Easy communication does the same thing. It allows us to easily listen to that which we want to hear. Hate the President (Bush or Obama), tune in to talking heads who support your point of view and ignore the rest. It makes us all fuzzy inside because we find other narrow minded folks to support our views. Fox news isn't popular because of their high production values, it is because it caters to its audience. But I don't see how you can possibly legislate against political thought and certainly it could backfire. When your political opposition takes the reigns, they are going to legislate against you. The real answer is for all of us to speak up against hate speech. Keep shopping downtown.
ehBeth
 
  4  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 02:51 pm
@hawkeye10,
hawkeye10 wrote:
if the vocal waves from your mouth were filtered out of the air before they could reach another persons ear you would be being denied free speech.


that's a bit silly. If you find out I'm having a party and I'm not inviting you, your right to free speech is not denied as you have no right to free speech in my home.

People putting others on ignore, or knocking out the posts from their own view, is the same thing. You have no right to free speech in "my" space. I have no obligation to view your posts/listen to any of your comments.

If you're out shouting on a public street corner, sure, you've got the right to do that.

You're not on a public street corner when you're posting on an internet forum.
OCCOM BILL
 
  1  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 03:01 pm
@hawkeye10,
Your continued disgusting presence is a testament to how open the owner of this site is. If you're not satisfied, stop crying and start your own website. It will cost you nothing because the collective interest in your demented dribble will require practically no bandwidth at all.
hawkeye10
 
  -1  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 03:10 pm
@ehBeth,
Quote:
You're not on a public street corner when you're posting on an internet forum


the internet functions as a public space, so their must be provisions for surviving the public interests. Just as TV stations have voluntarily and nonvoluterily put their ownership rights aside for the common good their must be places on the interent were public interest comes before private. If we know which places these are we will know where to tune our browsers to.

The call in the original opinion piece is that all sites of any significance should refuse to allow bigoted speech, that such speech must be driven under the rocks where the person giving this opinion thinks that bigoted speech belongs. I am saying that we can have some places that are public meeting places that do limit speech, but that we must also have places for full debate. I am also saying that these locations for debate should be held in high regard, as they serve the best interests of the collective and of democracy.

The need for full and honest debate trumps the desire for ridding our space of speech that we do not like.
hawkeye10
 
  0  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 03:16 pm
@engineer,
Quote:
The real answer is for all of us to speak up against hate speech.


Bullshit, the answer is for all of us to make better arguments than those who peddle hate do. If you believe that the haters are wrong then you should be able to do this, if you can't then maybe it is you who is wrong. In any case you don't have the right to demand that all agree that you are right when you are unwilling to prove it....by entering the arena of ideas and testing what you have against those who don't agree with you.
0 Replies
 
hawkeye10
 
  -1  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 03:20 pm
@OCCOM BILL,
Quote:

Your continued disgusting presence is a testament to how open the owner of this site is


AM I to disagree with you?? I have said many times that a2k is a fabulous place, and that Robert deserves a lot of praise for owning it. My beef with him is that he at times seems intent to destroy a2k, which would be a pity.
0 Replies
 
ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 03:32 pm
@hawkeye10,
hawkeye10 wrote:
The need for full and honest debate trumps the desire for ridding our space of speech that we do not like.


That is fine in public - but your right to free speech ends at my doorstep, or in this case, my monitor.
hawkeye10
 
  1  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 03:51 pm
@ehBeth,
I dont think so, you have the right to go where you want, so you can by setting your browser choose to go to places that have unregulated speech as well as to places that do not. Nobody is trying to force you to do anything, only pointing out that we need to have places to conduct the public debate. You for instance don't have the right to demand that KKK meetings not be held in your city, your right is to denounce them and also to not take part in them.
dyslexia
 
  3  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 03:58 pm
@hawkeye10,
your illogical silliness is incomprehensible.
 

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