There's No Natural Right to Be an Asshole on the Internet
This all has to do with the continued devaluation of human judgment and the continued trend of people believing that laws should be administered and enforced not only by government, but also by private entities and even individual people. You see this in comments sections all the time: somebody -- often some local Republican apparatchik with an email account -- says something awful (racist, sexist, whatever), it gets written about, people express their outrage, and then defenders of the perpetrator step in to defend his "free speech" rights, as if the First Amendment protects the rights of cretins to say anything they want without fear of criticism.
But it's not only Internet commenters.
Whole businesses have grown up around the idea that not only should people be allowed to say or do whatever they want, but that private entities have a obligation to facilitate bad behavior. This is partly due to "safe harbor" laws like the rule in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that protects service providers from liability for the actions of their users. These laws are absolutely necessary. Without them, ISPs and companies like Google and Facebook might not be able to exist because they'd be held legally responsible for the actions of their uses -- whether it's someone downloading child porn, sharing unauthorized copyrighted movies, or uttering defamatory statements.
But the notion that companies shouldn't be held responsible for the behavior of their users is several big steps away from the notion that companies should just let users say and do whatever they want.
In the Kickstarter case, a vocal minority protested the fact that the crowdfunding service (belatedly) yanked the project in question: a book titled Above The Game: A Guide to Getting Awesome with Women, written (as if you couldn't guess from the title alone) by an emotionally stunted manchild. His name is Ken Hoinsky and his advice for getting awesome includes such gems as "Decide that you're going to sit in a position where you can rub her leg and back. Physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don't ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances." And: "Make her push your hand away as you get closer to her vagina." Also: "Pull out your cock and put her hand on it. Remember, she is letting you do this because you have established yourself as a LEADER. Don't ask for permission, GRAB HER HAND, and put it right on your dick."
It's no surprise that lots of Internet commenters think this approach to what Hoinsky has actually called "dating" is just fine. Every single account of this online has comments that should make us all quiver in fear over the current state of American maleness. They're predicable enough that I don't have to quote them, but I will single out one that I found particularly amusing: "But being sexist is all part of seduction. What's wrong with that?" Which of course is straight out of Spinal Tap:
But, you know, commenters. Far more disconcerting is when a popular publication foists complete nonsense into the marketplace of ideas, as The Awl did when it decided to post an apologia for, and interview with, Hoinsky by Maria Bustillos. A purer sample of drivel would be hard to find.
Bustillos' defense of Hoinsky and her characterization of the blogger who outed Hoinsky's rapey posts on Reddit as "some fool who can't read," are the rantings of an addled mind. Hoinsky's book is "entirely harmless," she said, because of his offhand, oh-by-the-way suggestion that if the woman makes it real clear that she's uncomfortable being manhandled, maybe the dude should stop being a "LEADER" and put his dick back in his pants. And in the interview, she let him lie about all this manhandling taking place only after the woman has signaled consent. Leaving aside statements like "Force her to rebuff your advances," and "Make her push your hand away," what normally developed adult thinks that if you're in a sexual situation, a man has to force a woman's hand onto his gear? If that doesn't happen naturally, you're either not assessing the situation accurately, or you're just plain committing a sexual assault.
Hoinsky had also related this incident on Reddit:
I did this yesterday in a dance club.
I re-open a girl by walking up, grabbing her, caveman-ing her against the wall & kissing her. Then I cast her aside and get a drink at the bar. The entire time she is staring like "OMG who is this guy?" (in a good way).
I come back to her with my drink. "Come on, let's go."
I walk her to the corner, escalate kino, smalltalk a bit. Fast forward and guess who is getting a BJ in the dark corner of the club? THIS GUY!
Nevermind the "pickup artist" jargon in there. It doesn't matter what it means. The point is that, if he is to be believed, he did this in a public place, and clearly way before any consent was proffered by the woman.
Bustillos joins the ranks of people who don't quite understand that private entities not only have the right, but the responsibility, to cast out assholes. "Kickstarter is a private entity, and can police its use however it likes," she charitably writes. "No one has a 'right' to Kickstarter. Out in the real world, however, we know that the rights to publish and speak are ten thousand times more important than the overheated rantings of some fool who can't read."
That, like much of her writing, is a little hard to decipher, but from what I can tell, she states that nobody has a right to Kickstarter just before she states that "in the real world," everybody (or at least Hoinsky) has a right to Kickstarter. Which, especially in the context of the rest of her bleatings, seems more like the fantasy world than the real one.
Luckily, we're starting to see companies that once tended to take a "hands-off" approach to what their users did become a little more proactive about curbing the worst abuses. Facebook is reviewing its policies regarding hate speech and other awful content. Indiegogo (which offers a crowdfunding service similar to Kickstarter's) booted a project to produce a 3-D printable gun. Earlier this year, the petition site Care2 -- which is supposed to be cause-oriented -- decided to review its policies after Microsoft used it as part of its highly negative marketing campaign against Google.
At least some Internet services, it seems, are becoming aware of what should be an obvious fact: that as organizations operating in a free marketplace, they can take some responsibility for what their users do. Now, if only we can get YouTube to shut down all those racist commenters.