While I was away, and not paying as close attention to the Internet as I usually do, a bit of a tempest in a tile bag erupted over at one of my usual haunts, BoardGameGeek. I didn’t actually witness all the events, and a lot of the stuff is gone now, but it was something that was brewing for some time and there’s enough fallout in evidence that I’m pretty sure I knew what went down.
I’ve been a member of several virtual communities in my time, from BBSes to the Something Awful forums to the Straight Dope forums to BGG. Any online watering hole of any import develops this particular brouhaha sooner or later, often several times over the course of its existence.
What happens is this: some user starts saying things that the person or persons who run the place don’t like. The “owner,” for want of a better word, usually first asks that people not say these things. When they persist, the owner will sometimes delete or edit messages to remove the material to which he objects. In extreme cases, users get banned. At any point the original user and often others will start complaining about censorship. The complaints will get louder and louder, with references to Nazi Germany, Political Correctness, and Stalinist Russia being thrown about.
Without exception, every time I have seen this happen, every single time, it’s all started for the same reason: someone wants to be an asshole. The outraged user being “suppressed” is always someone who wants to be free to be a complete asshole in the community. Your first clue is the whole “Political Correctness” thing. As soon as someone starts complaining about that, it’s almost always because someone is not letting them be racist, sexist, or just a jerk in general.
Sure enough, this particular little dramafest was sparked by people who felt that a site primarily about board games should be expanded to include insulting other users. Aldie, the guy who pretty much runs the show over there, felt otherwise. I don’t know if anyone got banned, but there’s one guy who is now parading around exclaiming how he’s going to destroy his account by “scratching the email and using a nonsense password”. This is his protest of the site’s crushing of free speech.
Now, I’m a card-carrying ACLU member. I firmly believe that freedom of speech means freedom to say even idiotic things. I understand that sometimes we have to defend even that which we find abhorrent, lest our freedoms become meaningless. I’ve also seen enough of these debates that I can recite by heart all the arguments about the semantics of the word “censorship,” how public a public forum is, blah blah blah ad nauseam. As much of a loony liberal I am, though, I have to say that I just can’t muster up any sympathy for assholes. And I’m not just using that word because I don’t like these folks, it’s because that’s exactly what’s going on. These are the guys who see themselves as straight-talking, free-thinking, politically incorrect, call-em-like-they-see-em, no beating around the bush assholes. They’ll be proud to be called an asshole. They might even pull out that old canard, “I may be an asshole, but at least I’m honest about it!” as though that somehow makes it better. And if you can’t take their in-your-face style, well that’s just your problem. You just need to “suck it up”, “grab a pair”, “quitcher bitchin”, “cowboy up”, and quit being so “PC”. Somehow you not wanting them to be an asshole makes you the jerk.
This bizarre outpouring of hostility over on BGG had been brewing in odd ways, as you can imagine on a site that mostly talks about boardgames. It seems to be stemming — as these things always do — from just a few people. A few people who want to hold everyone else hostage by hiding behind the first amendment, a few people who tell everyone else to quit whining but will be the first to squeal when their “rights” are being violated. I’ll happily put my liberal credentials aside to declare the place is better off without them.
Everyone has a right to free speech. Everyone also has a right to remain silent. Unfortunately too few people use that second one.