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William Shatner 'hates' free speech

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William Shatner 'hates' free speech

Post  nullnvoid on Wed Feb 13, 2013 12:20 pm

If you missed it, William Shatner recently joined Reddit and weighed into the free speech debate.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/katienotopoulos/william-shatner-joins-reddit-calls-reddit-out-for-being-raci

And the original post:

http://www.reddit.com/r/ideasfortheadmins/comments/18536m/turning_off_private_messages/c8bocrt

I think this is not really an attack on free speech - I'm actually parodying something PZ said about this topic. It's actually a pretty standard response for a new user on Reddit. When you first arrive at Reddit, you think "what is wrong with those people?". Once you've seen the same horrendous comments posted and reposted several dozen times you realise that they are just morons and you either downvote them quietly or if you're feeling brave contradict them.

I've been a Redditor for a long time now and while I'm aware that racism and sexism are pretty constant, I'm also aware that the people making such comments are doing so for a variety of reasons, ranging from being racist or sexist, attempting to raise a response, trolling, making a joke, repeating a meme, ad infinitum. It's not all just one type of behaviour or attitude. I'm not defending it - it's pretty woeful. I completely agree that it would be better if Reddit didn't have these types of posts. I'm also aware that if the Reddit administrators attempted to enforce standards of behaviour on Reddit, it would pretty much kill the place and it would diminish the differentiation that Reddit has from other forums on the internet.

What makes Reddit great is that people aren't faced with the same types of forum regulation that are very common around the internet. It's a site that enables people to easily establish their own personal subreddits, where they can setup and enforce the type of site they want. In addition part of the traditional moderation toolkit has been ceded to the community itself via the upvote and downvote mechanism. It is a robust form of populist democracy without the mitigation of representation. The mob (demos) rules. The experiment of Reddit began with the assumption that people are basically decent and bad behaviour would be sorted out by the group.

Reddit has always bordered this grey area between bad behaviour and good behaviour. I don't think that anyone would have missed the stories about subreddits that bordered on child pornography. It took years before the administrators would move to ban these subreddits and only after significant pressure was applied to them. And that's a good thing. They are slow to impose censorship for any reason (although they have recently made a significant exception to this by banning links to sites which have popup adverts - I personally think this was a mistake). This same policy also resulted in the existence of subreddits that promote various charitable actions. My personal favorite is http://www.reddit.com/r/randomactsofpizza, where people can post that they're in need of a pizza and people feeling charitable can order a pizza for them. No business would consider creating a site like this if they were to face the issues of legal liability that could ensue from fraud. The cost of regulating this type of behaviour is significant so much in fact that it would prevent action. The existence of this subreddit is a direct result of the lawlessness of the place. Destroying part of the ecosystem risks losing other parts of the ecosystem.

This is a totally new paradigm for a forum. The existence of bad behaviour is not considered to be something that has to be dealt with by a group of administrators, rather it is the responsibility of the community as a whole. Reddit is not really interested in imposing standards on people or teaching people how to behave, rather to act as a reflection of the nature of people who use the site and open lines of communication between people. Racism exists, sexism exists - banning it from Reddit will not end the racism or sexism. It may also have significant consequences on the community in terms of how people feel about freely posting. The chilling effect is a very real problem when it comes to legislation regarding freedom of speech.

Mr Shatner raises a valid question, if racists/sexists congregate on Reddit, won't they grow stronger, won't people be taught to behave in this way? It's a possibility. But again - only if the community allows it to happen. And there are far darker places on the internet where these types can congregate - 4chan anyone? Having it at Reddit exposes it to the light of day.

I'm struck by what he said in the last line of his post (conveniently left out of the articles that have quoted him).

William Shatner wrote:That being said, I'm still new here. That's been my observation in my short time here and I could be wrong. MBB

As I said at the start, he's new and when you're first introduced to Reddit the racism an sexism are shocking. Perhaps he should lurk m0ar before commenting. He's not wrong about the existence of the racism, but if he was more invested in the continued existence of the parts of the site he liked, he might think twice about calling for people who make bigoted statements to be banned.

nullnvoid

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