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If You Have Nothing Nice To Say…

The spot light on the recent death and rape threats received by a number prominent females on twitter and the rest of the social media sphere, has thrown up for me some self-reflection on the issue of freedom of speech.

I’ve read a few messages on twitter to one of the women being harassed, saying that there has been nothing wrong with what people have said to her, because of ‘freedom of speech’. Apparently, in these people’s view’s, if we the public or firms like twitter start taking action against people who make malicious communication, then we are censoring people’s freedom of speech and we’ll all end up gagged.

Personally? I say bollocks. You were brought up to know the difference between right and wrong and if you weren’t, then suck it up. You’re an adult.

Hate speech, threats, bullying and malicious communication is absolutely against what I see as freedom of speech. You are trying to supress someone else’s human right to live in peace and without fear, for little more than self-gratification. Why, therefore, should you even dare for one second to think of yourself as being amongst those who ‘freedom of speech’ should apply to?

One person suggested to one of the victims on twitter that they should use some sort of ‘panic button’ on twitter, which would entail their own account to be locked down so only their followers can receive tweets and it sends a warning to twitter.

The victim replied ‘no’. She rightly pointed out that she should not ‘hide’ or not be as free as everyone else, because she is being targeted. She didn’t understand why her own freedom should be restricted because someone else wanted to impose their own twisted behaviour on her. I had to agree. Why should anyone be forced to hide when they are the victim?

Is that what the freedom of (hate) speech brigade are after? Telling me that freedom of speech applies even to those who make threats of violence and death to people (regardless of gender) is saying that only the aggressors deserve to remain in the open world of the word. It is saying to me that if you become a victim of online cruelty, you must back down, hide in a cupboard under the stairs and never utter another word in case you incense some sad little weirdo’s sense of perspective? Really? Because those trying to pick fights with the victims waving the freedom of speech banner at them are saying this loud and clear to me.

It is an absolute abuse of freedom of speech to target people with violence and bullying. Freedom as a concept is an absolute, however, when you are denying someone the basics of being free from fear, you are denying that freedom and therefore opposing the underpinning notion of freedom of anything, let alone speech.

I’ve had run ins with trolls in the past too. One a poetry writing website of all things, I received a threat to myself and my family. I deleted my account and never returned.

That was an example of me being a victim and running away. If I didn’t have kids, I think I’d have fought it out with the troll involved. I had mentioned that I did some professional writing and had been published once or twice in a chat room. They then became extremely aggressive, demanding links to things I had written and threatening me. I was gobsmacked. Something extremely irreverent was leaped upon and savaged like a wolf pouncing on a rabbit. People seem to be actively desperate to attack others online, from my own experience with it.

I wonder if they walk round in their everyday lives, riddled with anger and frustration and feel only capable of letting go of that online to complete innocent strangers. It’s really creepy. I also wonder if they realise that this is how other people perceive them. They think they are being terribly clever and perhaps even witty, however, to the rest of us, they just come across as clearly disturbed or extremely childish. The image they think they portray online is not the one everyone else sees.

When you are a victim, you just react by recoiling in horror and fear. At least I did. Whenever I have been bullied or harassed in the past, I would become horribly, horribly depressed by it. I’d sit there thinking I’d deserved it and it was all my fault – when in reality, I have just been unfortunate with who I had come into contact with.

As I’ve grown older and wiser, certainly over the past decade, I take less crap from others and will volley it right back at them. Either that, or ignore them and proceed to deal with the appropriate channels. I am no fish wife.

But if someone threatens my husband or children – that’s it. If it’s online, I run away because I can’t take the small risk that the prepubescent kid making the threats is deranged enough to carry them out. If it’s face to face, I’m one hell of a force to be reckoned with. It’s my natural instinct to protect my family, like any mother of any species.

Yet the faceless threats are more intimidating. Logically, you know it’s some sad act who has read some Wikipedia articles and therefore thinks they know about life and just wants to hurt you to make up for their pointless existence. So how can I not see that?

One route to reaffirming the facts is to underline the importance of freedom of speech. As a writer, I find that so bloody crucial. I want to tell a story that entertains or challenges or whatever. I don’t want to have the same process I use in expressing myself in a healthy, positive way to be abused by bigots and bullies.

Look at what freedom of speech actually means to people. People have fought oppression throughout time to be able to have their voice heard. Are the messages that these people died for been essentially evil? No. The suffragettes endured hate, ignorance and threats, simply because they wanted to be seen as people, not a specific gender and that just because they had ovaries, didn’t mean they were less worthy of equality . And then you want to stick some warped understanding of freedom of speech in with great people who have suffered and died so that they could be heard? Are you for real? Get over your own hang-ups; get that chip off your shoulder. Go get some real understanding of what it is to be truly suppressed and bullied and stop bothering the world with your backward thinking and hate.

Personally, I still find it all a tad intimidating and often feel like… hummmph… what is the point in communicating on twitter and things like that, when there is a web of loony’s out to get you for any reason. They could publish my address on the web. Things like that. Then there is the slight, credible threat that one of them is legitimately dangerous. Scares me really and I know it shouldn’t.

If you genuinely, hand on heart think that threats, bullying and cruelty, online and off, are akin to the principle of what freedom of speech stands for, then you are wrong. You are extremely, very very wrong and extremely badly deluded.

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