So I sent this to the IGF Head Honcho

Hope you may do me the benefit of reading what I write

I have some concerns about your want to “take back the Tech”. My concern is not that you want to “take it back”. The internet is an open platform and does not belong to anyone but rather everyone. So you are not taking it away from one group and back to another. It is a “misnomer”.

What does concern me is a number of things:

1) Online violence. What exactly do you mean? What is online violence? As a man who is opinionated and forthright, I have been disagreed with, argued with, shouted at, insulted, threatened, sexually harassed, doxed and even stalked. It is typical fair. I must say that the last two DID shake me up a little but the rest is just another day online. What is the definition of violence in this. I was not harmed or hurt. The doxing did freak me out a little and the stalking was creepy. But the rest is simply disembodied words on the screen. I know where the off button is.
2) How is this a woman issue? Is it not an issue that affects men and women? If someone is trying to upset someone online, they have very few ways to upset you. Generally all they have is words. If they know you are a man, good way to get at you is to make gendered insults and shaming language. “You are a virgin”, ” You have a small dick”, “You are gay” or “you can’t get it up”. If you are a woman they may call you a slut or threaten you with rape. Then of course are the body shaming insults which are fired at both men and women. Women and men get called fat but men also get the skinny and wimpy pronouncements as well. Of course the old and young thing. Then there is the race thing, which is pretty easy fare, for an obnoxious person to do. So, again, and with respect, how is this a race issue.
3) All platforms have security. If I start getting people piling onto me, (it does happen) I have agency. I am not an infant. I can choose to put up with it until they go away. I can fight back (my normal option). I can make use of the platforms own blocking/muting/protection measures OR I can turn the computer off and have a walk or go out for a while to clear my head. If things got super bad, I guess I could call the police or if not THAT bad, contact the web service and ask the platform to ban the perpetrator. I do not NEED another option.
4) How do we deal with bigotry individually if it is all censored and banned? Free Speech is free speech for everyone. My Father was a bigot. He was not a nice man. I grew up where racial insults were the “natural way” of talking about people and every racial ethnicity had particular negative stereotypes that were standard. I shared these learned behaviours. I saw people from a young age as the sum of the colour of their skin or what country they came from. But by the time I was 11 or 12 I had realised the other boys and girls in my year were not as my Father had been saying and it had been a slow realisation. I was embarrassed and mortified. My bigotry stopped. His did not but I was not responsible for his thoughts or his ugly personality.
IF I was not shown both examples how could I have judged? I am grateful that I was exposed to both mindsets to know which was right and which was wrong.
You do not protect people’s right to free speech by taking away others.
5) Who minds the minders? If there is to be decisions made to censor or restrict the internet who should have the power to make the rules, interpret the rules and execute the rules and who gets to correct them if they get it wrong?
If you were to say to me “Ross, we are taking away online violence against women” I would not support it. NOT because I am a misogynist (the default for many online to claim), but because I have NO idea what that would mean. To YOU it may mean rape doxing. To someone else it may mean rape threats. Someone else it may mean saying “You suck” or “you are a loser”. To someone else being told to “drop dead” may suffice. To someone else it may be simply retweeting an insult. Where do the people that make and enforce the rules draw the line? I do not know and neither do you. I do know that the more enforced it is, the more censorous the space becomes. This is not good. Never is.
6) Build better mice and the mice get smarter. I used to go on a forum that became more and more “safe”. The rules were heavily enforced. You know what happened? It became a toxic place of superficial happiness and all the nastiness done on secret private messages or off site and a lot of the nastiness online was passive-aggressive. Enough plausible deniability to be able to say “Oh I never meant that to be taken THAT way”. It was toxic.
If that is not a bad enough image, the trolls get trickier. They come back again and again for sport. Seeing how long that they can last.
7) When was it that women could not handle themselves or people being mean? It will come as not news to you that there are men and women online that are horrible people. Many women and men online are horrible and sometimes sexist to men and women. We are saying that women have not the emotional stoicism to dismiss or wipe their feet on such behaviour?
I am a single Father of a teenage daughter. I love my daughter very much. I want to wrap my daughter in cotton wool. I want good things for her in life and to save her from bad thoughts and heart break and bad choices. I can’t though and I would not if I could. I will give her the weight of my values and experiences and and my support and love and she will have the agency and self-determination to do it on her own. She is not oppressed or a victim. Her decisions and her choices she will take responsibility for.
She does not have to fall to pieces because someone says something nasty at school or online. There are always bad people and censoring people will not change this.

8) The danger of echochambers. I am grouchy and opinionated. Much in the way of many middle aged men, I guess. I do not really like people telling me what I want to hear. I want many views. I want to hear the views and agree, disagree, learn, teach, and evolve. Echochambers where everyone is surrounded by people who share the same blocklist or all belong in a safe space or a ideological driven grouping, is sterile. What is there to share? You all agree and what is worse, you better or you will be kicked out. That is sterile and intellectually indefensible.
Let’s say that you are a “Flat Earther”, IF you refuse to entertain any other view and stay in your group of 10 others, talking about how flat the Earth is and how round earth believers are the real crazy people, you do yourself a disservice in not listening to opinions you do not trust or believe.
Swap Flat Earth with “Truther”, Feminist, Atheist. Christian, Conservative, Liberal or whatever ideology you wish. The benefit in transparency and open channels of communication far outweigh any benefit in censorship.

I could possibly keep going but please consider what I said and the spirit of concern in which I have said it. Free Speech can not be used in the positive in any speech which promotes censorship or restricting the internet.

You, no doubt, are a learned woman and understand that “free speech for me and not for thee” MUST be staunchly defended against regardless whether the “me” is women, or “feminists” or “middle class” or a religion or whomever. Why?

We CANNOT allow this kind of thinking and the Animal Farm mentality of Orwell creep in or even worse the 1984 narratives.

As I say, I believe you are a learned women and can tell why this is INHERENTLY flawed.

Happy to discuss this privately or publicly.




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