Nominee for Diogenes' 2011 Asshat of the Year
Techdirt - There’s been a lot of talk recently about issues concerning “corporate censorship” after Facebook shut down Roger Ebert’s page, supposedly because some people complained about his comments (on Twitter, not Facebook) concerning a death, which some took offense to. A lot of people are jumping on the “censorship” bandwagon, and part of it makes me wonder if we need a different word. When a private company “censors,” it’s quite different from when a government “censors,” and using the same word often leads to confusion.
But, perhaps a larger point of this is how private companies now have tremendous say over what speech they will and will not allow. That’s legal, but it leads to certain arbitrariness, as was demonstrated here, with many people thinking Facebook went too far. The company later tried to claim it was a “mistake,” but not many people seem to believe that.
However, I think where this gets more interesting is in raising a separate issue: the total pointlessness and arbitrariness of the “jerk patrol.” Some people apparently disliked Ebert’s comments. That’s fair enough, but does a few “offended” people mean he should lose his account? That’s what makes lots of people quite uncomfortable. As it should. And yet, as all of this is happening, there are all these efforts to try to criminalize being a “jerk” online. But, as this little kerfuffle shows, what is and what is not “a jerk” or “offensive” is totally subjective, in most cases, and offending one person is hardly a reason to take action against the speaker. It’s too bad that Facebook doesn’t seem to recognize that, but it’s even scarier when governments pass laws without understanding it.
I personally think Roger Ebert is a pompous toad. But sadly enough, the offended get the long shrift. The idea that we can maintain a society of unoffended people and call it civil is an abomination to creative thought, to vibrant give and take. It insults the individual at the expense of the many.