When I originally wrote my post entitled "A Little Clarification Before Putting This To Bed" it was meant to be the first of two. The goal of those two posts were to (a) define the problem of censorship by intimidation and (b) show how that kind of behavior was especially dangerous among the tech community.
But in the time between writing that first post and posting it I decided the discussion was getting a little too heated and a little too focused specifically on the Loren Feldman situation to get a general message across. So I put the second post on moth balls.
But yesterday Louis Gray posted about an incident that made me realize how much my second point needed to be said. In Mr. Gray's post he says...
This afternoon, I caught a video broadcast with Wayne Sutton and Corvida Raven of SheGeeks.net, where Corvida had the opportunity to share her story of asking Verizon to drop their relationship with Loren Feldman of 1938 Media, in light of his controversial video parodying African American bloggers. While both carried on a strong conversation around the issues of race, bigotry and getting ahead through hard work, their efforts were dwarfed by some of the most hateful, shameful, racist speech I've been exposed to in a very long time.
A quick look at the chat room screen shot confirms the repulsive nature of the comments. But then Mr. Gray steps over what I think is a very dangerous line when he says...
Forty years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, and with all the advancements we think we've made in Civil Rights, we still have to see this horrible, ridiculous, ignorant junk. I was appalled at what Corvida and Wayne had to suffer through, and I wish I never had to see it again. These people do exist, but they don't deserve a platform, and in this case, there should have been ways to either increase filters, block by IP address or reveal the real names of the trolls.
Last I checked there was still a difference between Repulsive and Wrong. I can't say enough bad things about racism but being small minded is not a crime. People have the right to their beliefs, even the repulsive ones, and none of us has the right to eradicate those beliefs based on our dislike of them (though we do have the right to simply look away which I think more people should take advantage of)
Lets not forget that in the time of Martin Luther King it was his beliefs that many (particularly in the south) found repulsive. I'm certainly not, and I repeat NOT, NOT, NOT, NOT equating Mr. King's comments to those of racists. What I am saying is that Mr King wouldn't have had the chance to express his beliefs if we allowed those who thought they were repulsive to silence him and the danger of making rules based on how you feel is that someone with warped values (like those who found MLK's ideas repulsive) can use your rules to justify atrocities (like silencing him would have been).
The distinction here is between the perfectly acceptable "I would never give them a platform" and the completely unacceptable "they don't deserve a platform". I encourage people to use tools to keep undesirables out of their private conversations but on the macro level trying to silence even the most repulsive of people is contrary to a belief in free speech.
But none of that is the point of this post (and I apologize for taking so long to get to it). The point of this post is...
People who create or work on technology need to realize they have a special responsibility in this respect. Because users need to put their trust in technology and if they have to fear the self righteousness of the people building it they won't be able to.
Technology must remain neutral and that means the creators of it must force themselves to do the same.
With more and more data moving "into the cloud" we simply can't risk a world in which someone feels they have the right to harm those they disagree with, however repulsive those they disagree with might be.
Imagine a world in which someone's personal files are published by their "cloud based storage provider" because that person said something on their blog that the storage provider found offensive. Or where anonymous comments become unanonymous based on the whims of the software maker who created the blogging software. These scenarios are unacceptable because they instantly and completely erode the user's confidence in technology as a whole.
That's why its imperative that anyone who creates technology or works for a technology company be neutral towards their users. Because if they aren't they risk setting the whole industry back decades.