Tuesday, September 11, 2012

It's not just the victims: Twitter's "trolls" need to harden up

There’s an interesting psychological PhD to be had, and I’m not a psych student, so I’ll offer it for free to anyone who cares:

Why do so many people believe Twitter’s “block” function raises questions of free speech?

If someone subject to an attack hits the "block" button, the "troll" (hate that usage) often rises up in fake outrage. They blocked me? How DARE they?

HTFU, dude: blocking, like posting, is as close as you'll get to a "right" on Twitter. FFS: the function is built into the service. What gives you the right to dictate its use? 

(To be even harsher: I don't have to pander to someone's whining, desperate, nasty insecurities by actually listening to them. Share your inadequacies in the mutual materbatorium, I won't stop you. I just won't watch the circle-jerk.)

So: you take aim at a target, and the target doesn't idly stand by for the bullet, and now you're upset? 

HTFU: harden the fuck up. If you can't stand the push-back, you're a lame excuse for troll, bully, or abuser. You're just a wet slap with an anonymous profile, location "Web". An archetypal self-abuser, face it, dickhead, you're a loser.

If someone’s attitude offends me, I can unfollow them.

I can filter someone if they’re bugging me, or I can block them. I hit the “block” choice at least once a day, nearly always for spammers.

I apply filters routinely, sometimes because someone I follow has become obsessively noisy about something I don’t care about (a temporary sanction); sometimes to avoid someone I don’t follow from being re-Tweeted into my timeline (for example, I long ago found Annabelle Crab to be as predictable as a song from The Church, as repetitive as a catechism, and as interesting as a hammer, so even if someone wants to tell me how funny she is today, I don’t need to hear it).

But the block button is a hot button. When people suggest to someone like Robbie Farah that he should block people sending abuse at him, there’s counter-voice yelling “freedom of speech”.

There is no “freedom of speech” issue in blocking someone. They’re not being stopped from posting their Tweets: they’re just not allowed to force me to see them.

Over time, people have come to believe that “right to free speech” carries an implied “right to be heard”.

With the exception of speaking to particular institutions (such as a court or a government), nobody has a “right to be heard”. What’s happened is that an active right belonging to the individual – “I have the right to say this” – has been re-interpreted as an obligation imposed on others.

Kooks love the "right to be heard". They regularly demand of me that I hear and publish all sorts of conspiracy theories merely because once they've told me, I need to give up my judgment and tell the world about Area 51, the Illuminati, and whatever else the diseased imagination can contrive.

Once you accept the proposition that I have the “right to be heard”, you have imposed an obligation on an audience not to ignore – which is absurd. Of all the billions of people in the world, a mere handful will read this blog post. By what “right” can I demand the rest of the billions hear me?

I have no right to demand that anybody hear me. I can pretty much make myself heard in my own home, but even that’s subject to permission: my wife might tell me to “shut up”, my sons might retreat behind headphones … the rest of the world? Yeah, right.

Even in my professional capacity as a freelancer for The Register, I cannot demand, only seduce: people will read me because (by now) they know me and seek me out (always a delicious honour for any journalist), or because I drag them in with a clickbait headline, or because I chose the right story at the right moment.

I have the right to speak: you are not obliged to listen, here, on Twitter, or anywhere else.

As I discussed yesterday, Twitter doesn’t even exemplify a right to free speech: you’re on Twitter’s patch, captive to its terms of service, and if it dislikes what you do, it can kick you off.

And as for the “block” button: a “right to be heard” doesn’t exist outside of Twitter. Someone blocking you – or me – isn’t inhibiting our right to speaking, merely exercising their right to ignore us.

People following the “bully’s charter” tell “troll victims” to “harden the fuck up”, but rise up in confectionary fury when someone blocks them.

Been blocked? HTFU. 

No comments: