I’ve written before about the puerile sense of manhood (or lack thereof I should say) that often permeates the online gaming community. I’ve also commented on how it often crosses the socially acceptable line by threatening those who have a different worldview than the trolls, and by how turning a blind eye towards it can be just as wrong as doing it. The supposed anonymity of the Internet gives certain people the false sense they can say whatever they like and nothing will come of it. That insulting people via twitter, or a comment, is somehow less wrong than doing it to their face. We call it trolling, but episodes like the Bonus Room show how totally out of control it can go. And people claim this is a freedom of speech issue? It’s abuse, pure and simple.
What I’ve not said is this is a problem that happens not just within the gaming community, but in our society as a whole. It’s become epidemic and I don’t think that’s hyperbole. Let’s get one thing clear though. At no time in truly civilized society has hate speech of any form been considered an inalienable right. Just as one cannot yell fire in a crowded theater when no such exists, no one has a right to exercise bigotry, misogyny or just plain old hate over the Internet. I really don’t think civilized, responsible people understand this any differently than I do. The problem seems to be people see the Internet as somehow different, and society is unable to come to terms with it.
But there is one country that has begun. The United Kingdom passed the Communications Act 2003, and in it is a prohibition against the “improper use of public electronic communications network.” Here is the meat of that provision.
127 Improper use of public electronic communications network
(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he—
(a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or
(b) causes any such message or matter to be so sent.
(2) A person is guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he—
(a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that he knows to be false,
(b) causes such a message to be sent; or
(c) persistently makes use of a public electronic communications network.
(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both.
(4) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to anything done in the course of providing a programme service (within the meaning of the Broadcasting Act 1990 (c. 42)).
So what’s the point of making this known you ask? Well, it’s a law unlike any other before it as far as my research can tell. It makes it a crime to say certain things via public communications networks, and by definition that includes Twitter and the Internet at large. How do we know this? Because this…
…and more importantly this…
It’s about damn time. The tweet above, along with other such drivel, earned this man 18 weeks in jail for sending them. ARS Technica ran this article by Casey Johnston which you can read by clicking the image or link above.
So at least in the United Kingdom, you’d better mind your Ps and Qs, because you can be charged and convicted of hateful speech under this law. I wonder if that’s an extraditable-from-other-countries offense? The only unfortunate thing about this law, as far as I can tell, is the United Kingdom doesn’t use it often enough. Because really, there is no excuse to threaten rape or anything else just because you don’t agree with someone. As I’ve said, that’s just wrong – and now criminal.
The United States tried to enforce a decency law, the Communications Decency Act of 1996, but it only applied to communications directed at those under the age of eighteen. And in court case after court case it was deemed an infringement of First Amendment rights because it was too broad, or it didn’t allow parents to decide what was indecent, or any number of other bullshit reasons. And if you’re over eighteen, I guess you have to either lump it, or move to Florida, entice your antagonist to meet you in person and then shoot them dead and plead self- defense under the stand your ground law. Now to be clear, I am not advocating anyone move to Florida so they can legally murder an internet troll. Don’t be ridiculous. Besides, even if I did mean it I’ve the courts on my side because freedom of speech means I get to say whatever the hell I want. Right? Honestly, that’s pretty damn correct in the United States and I wish it weren’t so.
So how would I regulate this if I were emperor? To me the guidelines are simple. If you wouldn’t say it in my presence because you fear I might knock your teeth out, then don’t put it on the Internet. If you wouldn’t want to be treated the way you treat other people, don’t put it on the Internet. If you’ve ever said it to a woman in person and been slapped (or shot!) for it, don’t put it on the Internet. But people just love to push boundaries don’t they? And the asinine out there think they can just go on getting away with it. “It’s just fun,” they say. “It’s only a game,” they say. No, it isn’t. Put this into your half-baked brains. When people have had enough, they will turn on you. And if they can’t do it legally, they’ll do it by whatever means they have available. If you’re one of those people who get their jollies from outrageous speech, like the tweet above, my advice to you is don’t accept any invitations for a meetup in Florida.