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Episode 62 — How Internet Subcultures Combat Free Speech

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Here's the easiest experiment in the world. Go to YouTube. Click on ANY video. Scroll to the comments. How long did it take you to find a comment that was the most horrible and vile combination of words you've ever seen? If it took longer than 2 seconds, you really weren't trying hard enough.


Internet commenters! Trolls! Gross men's rights groups! Your weird aunt on Facebook who doesn't think the moon landing happened! You don't know a single one of these people in real life (other than your aunt) but they seem to make up 75% of the population whenever you go onto the internet. How does that happen? What has made the internet, the ultimate technology to make speech truly free, into this school-yard full of bullies and uninformed people shouting into empty rooms?


This week on the podcast, Cracked editor-in-chief Jack O'Brien is joined by editors Jason Pargin (aka David Wong) and Tom Reimann to try and answer these questions. They theorize on why the loudest people on the internet are so over-represented, and how the un-moderated nature of the internet and social media might be limiting free speech more than we even realize.

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Ha! Sorry to disappoint you Jack, but I will not defend the internet's free speech bullsh*t. Mostly because there are teenagers on the internet. I'm a firm believer in people proving they're worthy to use something before having a crack at it; if you need to take/pass a test before being trusted to drive a car, I don't know why there are no barriers elsewhere in society. Advanced technology like the internet shouldn't be used by people who think they don't need vaccinations (hell, those people shouldn't be allowed to have children since they'll just endanger those kids' lives with their backwards way of thinking), politicians shouldn't be able to become state representatives if they can't hang with a grade school science curriculum, and people shouldn't just be able to spit whatever awful thought instantly pops into their head onto the internet. People should have to prove they won't be shit-heads before handling some things. Some barriers in society for people to go over are a good thing; lest we all become those big, fat slobs at the end of Wall-E...


Especially after Gamergate. I can ignore a lot of that racist/misogynist/human garbage-stuff, but not video game stuff. I frequent sites like Kotaku, Giant Bomb, etc. constantly, so holy sh** was that awful to live through. And I'm proud that so many "social justice warriors" came out to fight back; because, at least on some level, we know that we can't give up and let those people rule that conversation. Good voices need to drown it out; there is more good than bad, and it IS a shame (thought I think people recognize on this side of the comments too) that "I enjoy that" usually translates to silence on articles.


The gateway talk briefly touched up on Jason - about how you needed to go write a letter to a newspaper or whatever - is something that I would've loved to see implemented in more things in modern technology. The "dumbing down" of every conversation in society is directly to the rapid eradication of our "gate keepers". The barrier that someone must overcome - shit, even just signing up for an account on a site (which stupid DISQUS and Facebook have largely destroyed) was an effective enough deterrent we can see now. Just that extra bit of time it took was enough to squash that stupid thought. But going ever more, "Instant gratification" is equal parts moving more and more away from "stewing on that idea" and really reflecting upon it.


That's one of the many reasons I hate Twitter. That shit has never once been interested in ELEVATING conversation. If it was, then it would've gone with the opposite idea and instituted a minimum word/character count. Because anyone who's ever sat a test in school and thought to themselves, "I need HOW MANY MORE WORDS for this stupid answer?!" is the same type of idiot who does the dumbest stuff online. So having people just spit out some random letters, misspelled words, hashtags... it just encourages them to spit out whatever half-baked seed of an idea that happens to pop into their dumb little head. It's awful. It's the worst thing to happen to conversation.... that's it. I was going to say, "since (something)", but it doesn't need it. Twitter is bullshit.


It's weird because I just saw on en.rocketnews24.com an article about a girl who created this program called, "Re:Think". An application that simply asks you to re-read something before posting it. They even go into the science a bit about it during her talk - and I quote:


"It was after learning of a particular fact about adolescent brains that she was able to come up with her brilliant idea. The fact is, as our brains develop, they develop from from back to front, the front part of the brain not being fully developed until around age 25. That front part of our brains is what helps us with decision-making. This is why kids are more likely to act on impulses without considering the consequences."


Granted, I'm pretty sure the idea of the computer throwing your comment back in your face before you commit to post it was an idea some web-comic did in jest awhile ago. Still, it made sense back then.

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Not sure if you guys read my comment from your Year in Review episode, but check it out for more context.


Back in June I started experimenting with my Facebook account when it occurred to me that after you have a computer and an internet connection, the only "publishing costs" are social. I also felt compelled to start putting my otherwise worthless master's degree in anthropology to good use by pointing out ways to clarify issues that I didn't feel were being accurately understood and discussed by most people.


I'm starting to annoy even myself with how much I sound like a broken record, but I think science provides a ready-made framework for the Golden Rule of Social Media. If you're gonna criticize something that someone has posted, you have to stick to that person's thoughts and be as explicit and transparent in your critique as possible. I've also found it helpful to always try to state my opinions in ways that they can be empirically falsified by someone who's willing to do the leg work to point out flaws in my logic.


We gotta stop pretending that the social conventions which apply to face-to-face or verbal interactions are a necessary template for online interactions. We're not running out of Internet, and if Facebook comment boxes have a size limit I haven't found it yet. Nitpicking everything someone says to you is a total asshole move in person, but I honestly appreciate it when someone helps clarify my thinking on something online. Using my anthropology powers, I recently realized that among primates the picking of nits is a sign of endearment. Where we've been going wrong online is that we don't have much practice distinguishing between the nitpicking of someone's thoughts and the nitpicking of someone's person.


One last observation along these lines: we're so not used to the characteristics of online interactions that we often fail to remember that it's actually almost entirely silent. I make the same mistake myself all the time, so don't take it personally when I point out that you guys consistently used language that relates to sound when talking about commment sections. In a room full of people, the loudest talkers actually drown out others, but unless you've got someone spamming the "post comment" function, no one's opinion is actually inherently less perceptible than anyone else's.


Most of my Facebook posts for the past 8 months have revolved around these ideas and around me grappling with the realization that a lot of my Facebook friends don't have all that high of an opinion of me. Take a look.


Keep up the good work.


Ben Bradshaw

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