It’s 9:15 a.m. on the East Coast of the USA. While drinking my morning tea, as always, I caught up on the day’s headlines. All the news today all over the world stems from pretty much the same issue: cyber-bullying. And the front page of the http://www.NYTimes.com shows that I’m not the only one who thinks so: various articles explore the limits — once again –of freedom of speech. Personally, I still think Justice Holmes had it right so long ago. That’s because the mother of a friend of mine was a survivor of a real fire in a crowded theater — and 135 other people were not:
Unregulated speech on the internet seems to be getting people killed. But no one wants to shut down the Free Market of Ideas.
My first thought is, let’s look at the dynamics of speech. It seems so simple to identify legally protected hate speech, the kind that expresses a personal opinion. And everybody feels hatred — it’s part of the inner mix. If you think you’re against racism, take a look at the memes you’re sharing about The Tea Party and GOP. You think you’re among friends.
Are you egging each other on?
Do you really know everyone who’s reading and sharing your post?
And what about when you express your contempt in such a way. and in such a forum, that reasonable minds might anticipate someone with less social discretion and personal self-control than yourself will see it and respond with explosive vengeance?
Would it matter if they believed they were acting in self-defense?
Not hard to be against.
But what is it?
I asked my dictionary and thesaurus.
Is it poking?
Here are two kinds of poking.
The physical action is exactly the same.
Should we ignore the race and gender of the people involved?
If race was the first thing you noticed, the answer is no.
Are the intentions the same?
How can you tell?
Do the likely outcomes matter?
If you can guess what they are, the answer is yes.
But really, in most cases, how CAN you guess the likely outcome?
Here is a summary of some other explorations of poking, using Poking on Facebook as a focus device.
Did You Just Poke Me?
And here’s an interesting caution about overreacting to a poke.
Poking Someone on Facebook Can Land You in Jail
And what about third-party placements that deny they intend to poke someone?
One sympathizes with Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, as she and Prince William sue to stop unauthorized photos of a private unclothed moment going public. But really, is this not somewhat trivial, in a world that’s on fire for other reasons?
What if she’s a four-year old girl whose photo has been lifted from a Facebook birthday party shot — and now has been redone for people who like to masturbate using pictures of very small children to get themselves off?
Why do these publishers really think people want to buy bare-breasted pictures of a woman famous for her public dignity? Do you think it’s any different from these folks buying baby nudes for hundreds of dollars and putting them out there?
I’m not posting photos for this group of questions, but if you want to, I’m sure you can easily find them.
Again with Facebook, one of my favorite ways of staying in touch with people.
Facebook Is Filled with Third Party Aps.
And apparently now you also have to specify to Facebook that you don’t want it to share your “Likes” of products or services in advertising you might not be aware of.
Admittedly, this is pesky rather than dangerous. I get annoyed when I have to delete posts telling me who shopped where over the weekend.
But is it only a nuisance? Since Facebook started using unauthorized third party “likes,” I have started instinctively wondering, when I see a “like” from other people, whether they really hit a button to recommend this product. Part of me worries that a moment of exuberance on their timeline just got raided.
The integrity of their name has been diluted, even with someone like me, who checks in with them several times daily.
Would it be unreasonable to guess that cutting into the value of what someone says to their friends would make them mad?
Which brings me back to my primary question:
What is the difference between playful pokes (some people say there’s no such thing) and the taunting, goading speech and gestures whose easily-anticipated outcome is violence by the recipient against the party they blame for jabbing them?
And if your only reason to feel safe from a violent response is that you believe this target to be too physically far away, or highly restrained in their character and actions, have you done anything different from taunting, goading, poking other folks with known propensities to violence?
Isn’t this why the Israeli right insists on a massive military response to every threat of violence to their homeland: so no one will ever again mistake the Jews for people who will let themselves be victims?
If so, this suggests that all of us ought to be willing to sometimes respond to goads and taunts not with pacifism, but with violence.
The other alternatives are, setting and enforcing regulations on all forms of free speech — or accepting that the nicest folks will always be the ones who get attacked.