This came up on my RSS feed this morning, and I thought it apropos for the current toll-spam situation on Kinja:
[T]he very essence of constitutional freedom of press and of speech is to allow more liberty than the good citizen will take. The test of its vitality is whether we will suffer and protect much that we think false, mischievous and bad, both in taste and intent.
I know that 1A doesn't apply to Gawker/Kinja on a legal level, but the ideals apply across the board.
I haven't seen any of the offending posts, personally, but I fully understand the desire to eradicate them and prevent them from every coming back. And I fully agree with it.
The reactions I see, however, bother me—on two levels.
Level 1: Technical
Most of the comments I've seen (admittedly, a very small portion of the total volume) have been calling for restrictions on the rights of burner accounts. Others have been calling for more complex restrictions.
I've only worked in IT at this level in an ancillary capacity, but even I know how difficult it can be to implement the kinds of changes being called for. And even if they can be implemented, they take time—days, even weeks. An amazing amount of people seem to be insisting that changes happen yesterday. IT workers aren't magicians who can instantly change complex systems with a few magic words.
Level 2: Philosophical
I've read a few hundred responses to the problem (again, only a small percentage of the total, but enough to get the gist), and most of the suggestions I've been seeing are problematic to me on a philosophical level.
Silence anonymous users... that's a common sentiment. Except... some of the greatest leaders of our country published their works anonymously at first. Anonymity is a cornerstone of democracy.
And, more pertinent to the situation at hand: A very significant number of people who come to places like Jezebel (the primary target of these attacks) do so anonymously. They do so because they are unsure. They do so because they have valid reasons to separate "meatspace" from "cyberspace". They do so because they are afraid.
Any retribution on anonymous attackers will also be rained upon anonymous friends. How much collateral damage are we willing to accept?
Prices and Hypocracy
I have a penis (and I'm sexually attracted to women—exclusively), so... there's a dump truck full of salt over there, feel free to apply as much as you feel appropriate to the comments that follow.
Go back and read the quote at the top of this post.
I fully agree that these attacks are disgusting, disruptive, and beyond the pale.
However... I live in China, and those are the same justifications the government uses to silence speech that we consider to be justified—that we would fight for against the same types of restrictions that people are calling for on these forums.. How do we—objectively—separate ourselves from dictators?
And... What price are we willing to pay in order to achieve peace? Are we willing to silence all speech we find offensive? Are we willing to silence all speech so that nothing offensive gets through?
That's not a hypothetical. It's already happened. Tens of thousands of people have been (metaphorically) gagged to prevent a handful of people (one person?) from speaking.
Isn't that the same action taken by all those dictators we hate? Isn't that one of the main reasons why we despise Stalin and Mao?
No matter where the line is drawn—in this battle or others—every victory against the enemy will come at a cost to allies. And every one of us must decide—as an individual—just how much freedom we are willing to sacrifice in order to have peace. And where we draw the line between those who are enemies and those who disagree.
I'll be perfectly honest: I really don't know where that line is. And it seems to keep moving.
...and that kinda scares me.