Why Is Our First Reaction To Mass Shootings To Talk About Censorship?
from the avoiding-the-real-discussions dept
There were more mass shootings this weekend in the US. The Onion has been busy running more copies of its infamous “No Way To Prevent This,” Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens articles which run after every such shooting. And yet, it seems that many people want to talk about censorship. And this is true on both sides of the mainstream political aisle. Rep. Kevin McCarthy got the nonsense kicked off with the usual fallback for Republicans who don’t want to talk about guns, by blaming video games. This happens all the time — often from people who claim that they’re “Constitutionalists.” Of course, it’s hard to see how you can be a Constitutionalist if you dump on the 1st Amendment to protect the 2nd.
But it’s not just Republicans with an aversion to having any sort of actual discussion about gun control who jump to censorship. Given that some of the most recent shootings have involved angry, ignorant, idiotic rants posted on 8chan (stop calling them manifestos, guys), there’s been a vocal discussion this past weekend on whether or not 8chan should be censored or shut down. 8chan, as you may recall, was founded as something of an alternative to 4chan, after some people (somewhat ridiculously) felt that that site was moderated too much. It was founded with the same hubris as the ignorant people who insist that there should never be any content moderation on any site, without realizing what that means in reality. And now, with even the site’s own founder saying that it should be shut down (people might want to go back and look at what he was saying during the GamerGate era…), Cloudflare has now been pressured into cutting off its services for 8chan as well.
This is a perfectly reasonable move for the company to make, as part of being in society and providing services to society is determining what kinds of services you want to provide and to whom. I appreciate that Cloudflare is reluctant to get into the business of making any sorts of judgment calls on content, but no one can avoid those questions forever. However, as Cloudflare notes, it’s not clear that a company like Cloudflare making this decision will change much in the long run:
Unfortunately, we have seen this situation before and so we have a good sense of what will play out. Almost exactly two years ago we made the determination to kick another disgusting site off Cloudflare’s network: the Daily Stormer. That caused a brief interruption in the site’s operations but they quickly came back online using a Cloudflare competitor. That competitor at the time promoted as a feature the fact that they didn’t respond to legal process. Today, the Daily Stormer is still available and still disgusting. They have bragged that they have more readers than ever. They are no longer Cloudflare’s problem, but they remain the Internet’s problem.
I have little doubt we’ll see the same happen with 8chan. While removing 8chan from our network takes heat off of us, it does nothing to address why hateful sites fester online. It does nothing to address why mass shootings occur. It does nothing to address why portions of the population feel so disenchanted they turn to hate. In taking this action we’ve solved our own problem, but we haven’t solved the Internet’s.
Indeed, by far the best take on this issue comes from Ryan Broderick at Buzzfeed, who notes that The Problem Isn’t 8chan. It’s Young American Men:
Shutting down the site is unlikely to eradicate this new extremist culture, because 8chan is anywhere. Pull the plug, it will appear somewhere else, in whatever locale will host it. Because there’s nothing particularly special about 8chan, there are no content algorithms, hosting technology immaterial. The only thing radicalizing 8chan users are other 8chan users.
There’s a lot more in that article that is worth thinking about. As noted above, I have no problem with any particular platform deciding that it doesn’t want to be a host to the horrible, racist, bigoted, hateful content found on 8chan — but merely focusing on cutting off that conversation does literally nothing to deal with the people behind that racist, bigoted, hateful content. And that’s an issue. Rather than focusing first on censorship, can we start talking about how to stop people from being so confused, ignorant, and hateful? Can we talk about ways to recognize alienated, disillusioned people, and seeking ways to actually do something positive, and keep them from becoming so hateful in the first place? Some will argue that part of that is shutting down the places where these people gather, but as the articles linked above noted, that’s next to impossible. So it seems like a better plan is to figure out a way to arm people — especially young people — with knowledge and facts that will help them resist the lure of darkness, alienation, anger and hate.