Saturday, April 21, 2018

On trolls, free speech, and private censorship

I blocked someone on Facebook today, something I almost never do. I said in the comments at Useful data, but it begs a question:
Like many trolls, he thinks he has a right to say anything he wants anywhere he wants. I'm always a little surprised when believers in property act that way--it at least makes sense when anarchists do, even though they're being bad anarchists who fail to respect their peers.
In this case, the troll was being disrespectful to everyone he disagreed with. When he continued after I shared Respect everyone: the wisdom of St. Peter and Malcolm X, I felt I'd given him fair warning and sent him into the ether.

Free speech gives us the right to speak in public spaces, and in our own spaces, and in spaces where we've been invited to speak. Censors will happily try to limit our right in all three, but it's the third that most often causes problems--censors think invitations can be rescinded at whim. They fail to understand the obligations of a host. Good people do not lightly withdraw invitations. So long as speakers stick to the subjects they've been invited to speak on and behave in the ways speakers in those places are expected to behave, they should be free to speak. People who don't want to listen are free to go elsewhere. If they prefer to protest speakers, they should remember that free speech gives them the right to protest in ways that do not infringe on the speakers' right to speak.

But if invited speakers depart from the subject they were invited to speak on or behave in ways speakers in those places are not expected to behave, they are breaking the terms of their invitations and may be ejected from private spaces if their hosts choose.

Which is why I feel sad but not hypocritical when I block trolls.