Didn’t draw a line under anything I mean. You would have thought it would have. Someone spends the best part of a year examining accusations made against someone and comes up with nothing, you’d think that would stop and make people reassess their online mob behaviour. Not so. Of the 80 odd people Zak Smith called out for flinging and supporting accusations a grand total of three, that I’m aware of, apologised to me or showed any sort of contrition.
The specific post talked about has been changed, but not in such a way as to apologise to me for spreading rumours and false accusations, but rather to apologise to the people who were harassed as a result of supporting those false accusations. Even going so far as to claim there are threats of rape and violence involved when the lack of them was what undermined the original post in the first place. You’ll excuse many of us – once bitten twice shy – for taking these threat claims this time around with a pinch of salt.
So, in the past eighteen months to two years of accusations and opprobrium what have we learned from all this?
I was already aware that lies spread quickly and that they’re hard to fight when they do.
I already knew confirmation bias meant people see what they want to see and that they will try and do anything to stick with the ideas and positions that they already have. “…it is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not desire.” – Thucydides
I was already aware that extremists on what I consider to be ‘my side’ existed. Even if I didn’t know they extent to which they did.
I suppose I have learned a lot of new jargon.
I have learned that we can’t be complacent in protecting free expression, or good causes from those who would tarnish them, despite being of the best intentions. Somehow, those good intentions make it worse.
I suppose in some ways I should thank my ‘torch-wielding mob’ since, thanks to them, I’ve found a new enthusiasm for anti-censorship activism, the CBLDF, sex work, BDSM and porn advocacy, resistance to the UK porn ban and ‘extreme porn’ criminalisation. I have thought hard and long about my positions, been exposed to new arguments and others who think similarly to the way I do. Cleared out some people I can no longer truly consider to be friends. It’s been a tough couple of years with stress from all this on top of periodically crippling depression but I’ve come out stronger for it I think.
I have also learned that this little skirmish is part of a greater cultural war with conservative elements co-opting liberal hand-wringing to push the same old agendas, just under different banners. We can see it everywhere from attempts to sanitise the net to a regular ‘two minutes hate’ on Twitter every time anyone remotely in the public eye says anything that could be remotely construed as controversial. It’s a war that reasonable, calmer headed people are losing to this unholy alliance, primarily because they worry about their reputation and image, rather than doing what is reasoned and right.
The UK internet porn ban and extreme porn criminalisation is likely to go virtually unopposed, not because people think it’s a good idea (whether from an IT, sociological or free expression point of view) but rather because people are nervous about standing up in support of it, of publicly being identified with their private kinks.
This reluctance to stand up and defend oneself, about things that – after all – cause nobody any harm, gives the pseudo-activists far more power than their number or the veracity of their claims should give them. To give an example from our little corner of nerdery, there are aggressive and sustained attempts to force ‘harassment policies’ on gaming conventions, literary meets, technology expos, atheist conventions etc. There’s some resistance, but who could really be for harassment and against having rules in place to stop it?
Well, that’s not what’s going on, is it? That’s not what the objection is to. Take Dragonmeet’s anti-harassment policy, seemingly derived from the same Geekfeminism/ADA Initiative one that has been doing the rounds, forced on all and sundry. Was it a success? Did it make any difference or was it totally unnecessary?
In fact, if anything, attendees seemed to be treating it like a bingo card of things to cross off their list before they left the convention. I made a point of talking to a number of people about it and not a single one of them considered it to have any point to it whatsoever. It was a laughing stock. It’s not like its laughability wasn’t established well ahead of time so why was it instituted? I suppose it’s easier to give in to people than it is not to, easier to compromise rather than to knowingly allow yourself to be misrepresented.
Except that, like surveillance laws, the problem isn’t necessarily the regime present now, but the regime that may be present in the future.
All it would have taken would have been one, particularly stick-arsed campaigner seeking to make a fuss or someone like me who believes the policy is broken – either of whom would also have to be willing to ruin the convention for a lot of people – to disrupt the convention for all the other attendees. After all, by the interpretations we see often in arguments, a great deal of the book covers, displays and particularly the art on display would have contravened the ‘sexualised material’ clause if anyone had chosen to be a dick about it.
This culture war needs to be an argument, a conversation, an interplay of thoughtful positions backed by evidence. Not a screaming match in which false accusations fly and nobody feels able to offer even the slightest apology, even if they’re wrong, no matter how damaging their accusations can be.
Hopefully we can move to a position where that ideal becomes the case, or at least come to accept that it’s sufficient to be innocent and to be right, rather than to have one’s opponent’s admit the fact. To thine own self be true, at least first.
Here’s to a new year with less drama, given I have concerns beyond myself now and am not as free to be as antsy as I would like, that would seem to be the case.