Chilling Effects and Being Offensive

A while back I wrote about the chilling effect that sanctimonious vitriol can have on discourse. It punishes people, particularly the most vulnerable people, in the name of some righteous cause or other, and because it's an exercise in influence, a lot of people don't want to get in the way of seemingly justified anger.

A perpetual worry is that the fear of giving offence causes people to self-censor. Given that the internet is full of people who think that holding a shitty opinion is literally the worst thing you could do and that it's acceptable to threaten people until they shut up, this is perfectly understandable. Even then, there are issues and nuances; on a trivial level, people self-censor all the time. It's why politeness exists. Some level of self-censorship is normal in most societies to stop us from fighting all the time, because there are times that are bad to pick fights and times that are worse to pick fights. The internet is now a perfect place for people to never bother with self-control and discretion, because there are relatively few actual consequences. On a less trivial level, it seems that depending on the particular groups you belong to, harassment of some people is treated as less serious than harassment of other people. There's an awesome breakdown of harassment by demographic from the Pew Research Center.

On the other hand, if you're that worried about being offensive, have you considered not being a dick? There's an entire industry of people who are actually paid real money to be offensive on the internet. Most of them are pathetic. If nothing else, the market is saturated. Besides, real trolling is a dying art.

I know this is anathema to a sizeable group of people who believe that they're the last defenders of true free speech, whatever the hell that is (most people advocate some kind of restriction on speech; I can't figure out where we should put them, if anywhere, and even if I decide speech should be completely unrestricted I'm not going to coddle people I disagree with). I frankly don't care any more. While I don't condone silencing people, speech has consequences. When you have free speech, people are going to disagree with you - sometimes vitriolically. That's the price you pay for having that free speech. You are not a victim.

If you're scared you're going to offend someone, why are you scared? What's so offensive? Would you want to change it? Is your statement factually correct? Think through those things before talking up a storm about how victimised you are.

So, to sum up:
1. Don't be a member of one of those internet mobs who decides that tweeting something you disagree with makes the tweeter literally Hitler.
2. Think before making a stunningly poor attempt at being pointlessly offensive.
3. Think before you post things.