The cost of “free” speech

Um… a thinking aloud waffle, because the ongoing implosion of Twitter has called me to reconsider my views on how I feel about free speech. It’s ok, I haven’t changed; I simply find I’m reassessing how I describe myself in that regard.

I’ve always labelled myself as an advocate of free speech and an opponent of consorship, but that’s always had some subtext about my shock, abhorrence or otherwise reluctance to notice some of the things that accompany such an open minded and polarised viewpoint.

There have always been things that are “beyond the pale”, or too awful to countenance. The term ‘beyond the pale’ would itself appear to come from the ancient form of banishment, whereby those who were found guilty of the most heinous deeds were exiled from the town or village and forced to live in the wilderness on the other side of the paling fence that delineated civilisation. Allowing those acts to continue unsanctioned would be akin to removing the division between the cooperative and the antagonistic, which would shortly thereafter become chaos.

The original internet was often described as the “wild west”; everything was there from poetry to porn and it was all generally in the same place and accessible to the limits of your connection (remembering we were on 1200 b/s (baud) dial-up modems in the early days – you could send a picture but you might also make a cup of tea waiting for it). When the World Wide Web became the dominant mode of accessing the Internet – helped largely by technological improvements to the connection that allowed faster bit rates – everything started getting more graphic, including the porn, and the money men joined in.

Social media was always there, whether it was internet relay chat (IRC), enthusiast based messaging systems such as CiX, ICQ, Friends Reunited and the like, or one of many evolving ‘consumer-as-product’ portals such as Facebook and Twitter – where the access to social interaction was funded through the ever more pervasive advertising that was eventually so well tailored to the users’ taste that they began to overlook its presence.

The recent upheaval and the causes behind it will be discussed for ages yet, but it would appear someone bought something they didn’t want and didn’t have a real grip on what they wanted to do with it. Owning it, they promptly promoted radical free speech with all the unfortunate attributes that go with it, alongside a top down management philosophy that brooked no criticism. And then displayed contempt for both the medium and those who maintained it. It prompted people, me included, to reconsider the places in which they wanted to invest their time.

And cometh the hour cometh the mammoth. Yes, I’m a bit of a fanboi at the moment, the learning curve is quite steep and I have a foot still in both camps, but it kind of feels like the old place rather than the new. An anarchic low hierarchy network of connected servers (or in old terms, BBS’s) that each have distinct flavours and share curated messages between them, so that where we dialled into each BBS separately now we have them all together yet separate. and politeness is back in fashion.

If a server decides to host the stuff that the majority of server folk decided was “beyond the pale” the connection is cut and they are exactly that – exiled. All of a sudden it matters how you post and what you post. Censorship, sure, but based on group good manners rather than corporate advertising focused site moderators. Again, yes, I’m a bit wide eyed at the moment, and this post might age quickly – especially if it doesn’t upscale fast to cope with the current twexodus – but multi-instance, independent, peer hosted social networking might just have found it’s place.

And all of a sudden I have to recognise, I’m not a free speech advocate and never actually was. I’m an advocate of wakeful, considered, polite and caring social interaction. And I always was. On the sunny side of the fence. Oh, and I chose, even though it’s EU centric and we’re sadly UK no-mates, because it hosts renewably, and plants trees with part of the small funding support it requests – we desperately need more trees.

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