The Right To Exist In An Echo Chamber

Of the many abused words in the current social media lexicon, few are as rife as “rights.”  What was once described as desires or wishes has morphed into a right, and gotten remarkable play from sympathetic ears, for whom the rhetoric drowned out the noise of the machinery necessary to make it happen.  The EU’s “right to be forgotten” has proven quite squeaky.

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick writes about how the ethereal “right to be forgotten” has gummed up the Google works:

Google notes that the process is entirely one-sided and they only get information from the person wishing to delete information from search engines:

We generally have to rely on the requester for information, without assurance beyond the requester’s own assertions as to its accuracy. Some requests turn out to have been made with false and inaccurate information. Even if requesters provide us with accurate information, they understandably may avoid presenting facts that are not in their favour. As such, we may not become aware of relevant context that would speak in favour of preserving the accessibility of a search result.

If you’re the one who wants to be forgotten, you don’t care what problems Google suffers.  If you’re trying to get accurate information, on the other hand, the wholesale revision of history presents a problem.  Since Google only knows what the “requester” says to be true, there is no one to speak out against the manufacture of an internet of self-serving lies designed to create a fictional world that pleases the requester’s wishes.  Oops, rights.

But that’s Google, and everybody hates Google because it’s too big and uncaring and feels like a public utility rather than a private company, so it deserves to be regulated to death.  And that goes for Youtube too, a Google company, which pulls down videos without recourse because it can and you can’t stop it.

Granted, some stuff on the internet, and indexed by Google, could be false or have no business existing in the first place, thus warranting its disappearance without harm to accuracy or history.  The problem is distinguishing between what might properly be disappeared and what people want to disappear to sanitize their existence and conceal their prior conduct. That’s a monumental chore, and the partisans couldn’t care less who has to do it or how it has to get done, as long as they got their desires rights, out of it.

The identifying feature of the “right to be forgotten” is that it serves as a stop-gap to the archiving of historical information.  What of the next frontier, the elimination of all speech that strikes an unpleasant sound in real time?  Slate’s Amanda Hess (as distinguishes Slate’s other Amanda) goes after the next aspiration right, this time on Twitter.

The company’s typical response to complaints about abusive and harassing behavior on Twitter is to advise users to fend for themselves. The network tells abused individuals to shut up (“abusive users often lose interest once they realize that you will not respond”), unfollow, block, and—in extreme cases—get off Twitter, pick up the phone, and call the police. Twitter opts to ban abusive users from its network only when they issue “direct, specific threats of violence against others.” That’s a criminal standard stricter than the code you’d encounter at any workplace, school campus, or neighborhood bar.

Twitter’s features, such as blocking anyone who twits something that a person finds “abusive and harassing” isn’t good enough to satisfy the wishes rights of victims. As with Google, the demand is that Twitter, another private company, serve as their personal police and ban whoever they hate.

Put aside, for the moment, what special snowflakes find abusive and harassing. This too is part of their special social media lexicon, where the manufacture of claims defies any cognizable definitions, and instead tends to toe the lines of their delicate feelings.  There are, no doubt, offensive twits, threatening harm or rape, even if there isn’t any possibility they are serious.  These sick twits shouldn’t happen, but there are sick people in the world and they, too, are allowed to buy keyboards.  Then again, when every twit that doesn’t conform to their political agenda produces shrieks of trauma, it’s extremely hard to take anything said at face value.

Because of Twitter’s outrageous failure to ban everyone Hess finds offensive, others are coming up with apps to save the victims.

So now, some Twitter users are stepping up to provide ad-hoc fixes where Twitter itself has declined to dabble. On Monday, Jacob Hoffman-Andrews, senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, unveiled Block Together, an app that is “intended to help cope with harassers and abusers on Twitter” that allows users to “share their list of blocked users with friends” and, if they like, “auto-block new users who at-reply them.” (Twitter itself doesn’t even allow users to see users they’ve blocked in the past, much less share the list with others.) Hoffman-Andrews hopes the software is simply “useful enough to be interesting,” and that it represents the start of Twitter community members banding together to take back the platform from the trolls.

So the victims want to exist in a social media echo chamber that only reflects the dulcet tones of others who stroke their fevered brow?  Well, okay then.  They’re allowed.  No one should force anyone to endure speech they prefer to avoid, if that’s their choice.   While thoughtful people seek out divergent views, there is no reason why fragile minds should be constrained to consider any idea that displeases them. App away.

If this was the end of the whining, there would be no issue.  But it’s not.

These apps won’t actually inspire Twitter to shut down the serial abusers who use their Twitter accounts to harass and threaten women. They won’t help attract serious legal attention to their crimes. And they won’t compel Twitter to instruct its brilliant developers to imagine new sitewide solutions for the problem, or else lend its considerable resources toward educating government officials and law enforcement officers about the abuses its users are suffering on its network.

As with the misbegotten revenge porn and cyberbullying laws, this is another step in the agenda to silence and criminalize speech that doesn’t meet the desires of those who believe that it’s their right to shut down any sound that hurts their feelings.  They want laws to criminalize it. They want private companies to institutionalize it. They want to eliminate any speech that doesn’t meet with their approval from the face of social media.

They have no qualms about manipulating the words used to convert their self-interest into immutable rights to be enforced by all means available.  The only right that never seems to be worthy of any concern whatsoever is the one set forth in the First Amendment, Free Speech.

Anyone with the gall to mention such a right in the face of their hurt feelings will be immediately placed on their list of abusers and harassers.  After all, that’s their right.

5 thoughts on “The Right To Exist In An Echo Chamber

  1. lawrence kaplan

    It’s the policeman’s defender Pat Lynch
    You can count on him in a pinch–
    So what if he kicked him
    It’s fault of the victim–
    No, he’ll never give in an inch.

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