This morning, on opening my emails and checking all the social networking paraphernalia of the 21st century, I found I had been invited to join a cause by someone whose opinion I generally have total respect for, and have always held in high regard morally speaking. I looked vaguely at it and saw we were protesting about fur coats again, no brainer I thought, and clicked on the linky thing. I then had to invite half the universe to join as well (like usual) no problem, so I invited people who I thought might be interested, and did all the shiny things that it asked me to do without really giving it a second thought, after all the fur thing is bad, and I am not likely to agree with anyone who says otherwise.
Now this is where it gets more interesting, this was not a straightforward “lets all say no to fur” campaign, it was in fact to get a facebook page pulled down, called “Real Women Wear Fur”. Now obviously, these are not my kind of people, I suspect the whole thing might be an exercise in trolling, much the same as my subsequent excellent trolling page idea “Real men bite the heads off babies and fuck the stumps”. I didn't go with that in the end, surprisingly, not everyone would get the joke.
In my tuesday morning foggy headed state, and general, “if somebody else tells me this is a bad thing then it must be bad” soma-drenched mood I clearly forgot my life-long commitment to freedom of speech. Had I forgotten all the time I spent pointing out the awfulness of the SOPA and PIPA acts in the USA to censor the internet? Clearly I had become as bad as the “won't you think of the children and ban everything cos I can't be arsed to check what they're doing” brigade. Thankfully, an hour or so after I had done all my clicking and feeling like I was a good person for making a difference crap, I got a comment on this facebook activity from a recently met friend. He pointed out that he couldn't follow suite due to his commitment to freedom of speech. I immediately realised my mistake, and spent more time than anybody should trying to find out how to leave the bloody stupid cause I had joined (surprisingly difficult, it turns out).
At this point I decided that a more intelligent form of activism against the awful hateful things that turn up on the internet is to engage the trolls in conversation, we must post on their pages and tell them how and why they are wrong, whilst also trying very hard to respect opinions that differ from our own. For if we go around just telling those that do not agree with us that they are a bunch of cunts who should just fuck off, or invoking Godwins law and comparing them to Hitler, then we're probably not much better than they are. Polite, yet relentless criticism is the best way to win the war, check out moronwatch on twitter for a decent example of this. He wades in where other lefties fear to tread. Oh, and while we're at it, if you are spouting off at people for their hateful attitudes, the word “retard” is probably one you shouldn't use, ok?
Now why the hell am I bothering to go on about this? I'm not entirely sure, it just shook me that with a nice big powerful tool like the internet, so many of us go off sheep-like and just share every single stupid campaign that we get sent to us (see the whole Kony 2012 debacle if you don't believe me) without checking it out first. I always assumed I was better then that, and then it turns out I started doing the exact opposite of what I have been fighting against for the last 20 odd years. I left a website I used to help moderate over completely mild freedom of speech issues (they said no swearing or political/religious discussion, I said don't be ridiculous, and took all the interesting posters over to my new site instead, it's been dull as ditchwater over on that other site ever since). I have spent the last few years campaigning against all the internet censorship acts that are continually being pushed at us. It is worth remembering that if the group “Real men bite the heads off babies and fuck the stumps” did actually exist and wasn't a joke, at least you would have a chance of tracking them down before they bit off the head of another baby. If you banned the page, and sent them further down the underground, the stump-fuckers would be a lot harder to find.
This big digital playground is ours, all of ours, and just because somebody is saying something utterly abhorrent to you does not mean that you should censor what they say. It just means that you have to challenge it, and if you can't take the rebuttals, get the fuck off the big slides and go back to the paddling pool. You also have the right to not look at the bits you don't like. If the decidedly stupid criminals wish to continue posting pictures of their criminal activity, and leaving lovely digital trails all the way back to their IP addresses, lets let them. I'm not going to go in to the ins and outs of piracy here, but it appears to be killing the music and movie industries about as much as home taping/video pirates didn't back in the 80s. Leave the web alone, let it police itself, blocking sites via ISPs can only lead to chinese style censorship, which nobody wants (do they?) if you want to stop the pirates, then get a hold of yourselves, and make it easier to buy stuff legally, when the CD costs more than the mp3 downloads to get in a legal manner, you have got it wrong.
So, next time you find yourself just clicking a link from a trusted old friend, have a go at reading the whole thing first, and doing a little research before you commit yourself to some cause that it turns out you fundamentally disagree with. Otherwise you're no better than the Nazis (Yay, Godwins Law invoked!)
It's also worth pointing out that signing an online petition and sharing a few videos and pages of sad looking children/bunnies/corpses do not make you a social activist, or a good person. Get out and help real people, make a proper difference, I don't much, I'll admit, but I don't pretend to be a good person either, I chuck a few quid at a few charities every month and hope it makes me a better person than I know I really am. If you have just punched your wife in the face and then told you kids to go fuck themselves then signing an online petition to stop the bunnies getting condoms jabbed in their eyes will not cancel that out. Just a thought.