The surprisingly delightful musings of a humble Virginian whose satiric paeons to a plausible utopia implicitly shame the cynical zeitgeist of our times, causing it to cry, as 'twere, 'Damn, what was I thinking?' or words to that effect.

December 2014
In response to the following article about Internet Hate Speech:

The Troll Hunters: my response

With all due respect to an obviously very capable writer, there are a half dozen "elephants in the room" that Adrian has failed to acknowledge (let alone analyze) when it comes to the issues that he raises in this article:

1) We're told that the Research Group investigated the posts of a Right Wing website. This begs the question: was the online Left Wing held accountable, too, for any hyperbole of which its members might have been guilty when commenting online? (Did any of them, for instance, advocate the assassination of George W. Bush?)

2) What is the Research Group's definition of "hateful"? There are those in the U.S. who consider homosexuality a sin, for instance, based on their apparently sincere understanding (or perhaps misunderstanding) of some biblical text. Are these people (prima facie) "hateful" simply because they are out of touch with the reigning zeitgeist? Must everyone henceforth conform only to speech that is acceptable to the adamant majority?

3) How old are the records in which the Research Group is looking for their self-described "hate speech"? Internet documents do not generally have an expiration date. Does this mean that, like politicians, we are all now responsible for everything that we've ever said or done, albeit decades ago, provided that it is recorded somewhere online? Will the future Research Groups of the world be looking for the online commenting foibles of our youth?

4) Regarding that hate suspect who swore that his Internet account had been hijacked: It's not clear from your article why the show host treated that man's protests with such incredulity and disdain. Accounts do get hacked and viewpoints (especially radical ones) do get published under unsuspecting people's names. Is the show host so sure of his own methods (as regards the notoriously complex online world) that no one that he charges with hate speech has a right even to appeal his accusations? There seems to be some perverse logic among victimologists and other fire-brand moralists: namely that some charges are so serious in and of themselves, that a person so charged need no longer be afforded the customary right of denial, let alone of defending themselves against such heinous accusations (before they are summarily punished with "unmasking" -- by a talk show host who's been self-invested with a sort of papal infallibility).

5) One of the Research Group's "victories" was unmasking a person for saying that Muslims were genetically predisposed for violence. Although this is a thoughtless way of speaking, this comment does not necessarily indicate ill-will on the part of the commentator in question. To think that it does shows a failure to appreciate the potential ambiguities of the human language. In fact, there are reputable scientists who have identified different genetic propensities in different ethnic groups. (See, for instance, "A Troublesome Inheritance" by Nicholas Wade.) Or is that a discussion that the Research Group is not going to tolerate? Are they the new Catholic Church fighting Copernicanism? (Of course to say that genetics has a role in group behavior is far from saying that genetics "causes" a group to behave this way or that way -- but are we going to penalize folks for scientific imprecision, under the presumption that we know what "they must have meant" when they made their unacceptable comments? Who's to decide in such cases whether a person is speaking -- albeit confusedly -- with reference to scientific considerations or whether he or she is simply prejudiced, period, full stop?)

6) Although hate speech is a very noticeable problem, the mundane reality is that most Internet users already practice a surprisingly large degree of self-censorship when they're online: witness the banal character of the comments on the vast majority of Facebook pages. Anti-hate speech legislation could have the unintentional effect of killing whatever frankness and candor remains online today.

I recently wanted to start a "black-white" dialogue website about race relations with an African-American friend of mine (I am Caucasian) but he refused to participate unless he could do so anonymously. Yes, ideally, everyone's free to speak their mind online: the reality is different, because in the real world, people have to get along with (and even get jobs from) the people that they may be offending online.

Unfortunately, the Research Group gives contrarians and original thinkers just one more reason to clam up in Cyberspace: because such groups act as judge and jury when it comes to deciding what is "beyond the pale" (and hence suitable for "exposure") -- usually failing to realize how their own definition of the word "hateful" is subjectively colored by their own ideology.

Questions for Further Study

1) Surprise, surprise! Adrian Chen (bless his heart, to be sure!) has not yet seen his way clear to respond to Brian's almost surprisingly insightful litany of observations (see above). Give at least five potential reasons for this apparent oversight, being sure to evaluate the roles of jealousy and wounded pride.

2) Some say that the foregoing study question actually implies "jealousy and wounded pride" on the part of Brian himself! Such people are dead wrong, of course, but (just for fun, as it were) list some reasons why one might say so -- being sure to conclude, however, with a definitive rhetorical affirmation of the obvious, namely that Brian has about as much "jealousy and wounded pride" as my right toe! (the smallest one, I mean, the one which -- as the mighty bard sings -- goes 'wee wee wee, all the way home!')

troll hunters, research group, adrian chen, technology review

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass (follow on Twitter)