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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 1/26/09

Don't Call Me Silly – The Inherent Problems with Censoring Ad Hominem Attacks and Hate Speech

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Recently, the buzz around OEN has been all about ad hominem attacks. In theory the idea to not allow such attacks seems good but the reality is quite different. The theory is that there should be some decorum or civility within the debates at OEN. That outright name calling should not be allowed because you are attacking the person, instead of the argument. Once again, it sounds great in theory. There have been however, some problems.

First of all, the people who really seek to disrupt the flow of dialogue on OEN still continue to do so. Whether it is trolls or people who are just overtly and unapologetically negative; they still run rampant because they skirt the rules. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out how to ruin a thread, veer it completely off track, degrade the conversation and distract from the points – just don’t call anyone names!

Secondly, the ad hominem rule becomes a shield and it is being abused to allow censorship, plain and simple. It allows editors an out. An excuse to “hide” comments and simply try to make any kind of stretch of an argument to justify it. I recently had someone accuse me in a thread of being associated with the uber-conservative Heritage Foundation. My response was simply, “perhaps you should have checked the ole archive before making yourself sound silly.” This comment was chosen to be hidden and when I asked why, the word silly was given. Never mind that I did not actually call him silly. Never mind that I actually made a coherent point about how silly his argument was. Never mind that the term silly has to be the most benign insult I have ever used or heard. So, I had people come into my threads, using profanity, dragging the conversation away from the topic, abusing the work, but because they did not call me silly, they are ok. That is ridiculous. There is no civility gained – which was supposed to be the goal I thought.

In another thread, the author used the word “rabid” to describe the people who would probably disagree with her. The first commenter disagreed with her usage of this term and used profanity and demeaned the author to get his point across. I responded supporting the author and used the term rabid, as she did, to side with her. My comment was hidden and the reason given was the usage of the word rabid. Apparently, it offended the editor; so they hid the comment. But of course the opinion disagreeing with the usage of rabid and the profanity was allowed to stand.

Thirdly, a little ad hominem is not necessarily a bad thing. Greg Palast just put an article out called, “Why an A**hole is Always in Charge.” I am shocked at the ad hominem attack by Mr. Palast! On OEN he would not be able to run this piece I assume, or at worst he would not be allowed to express such an opinion in the comments thread. You know what; sometimes an a** is an a**. We are all supposed to be adults here.

There recently was a thread devoted to a discussion on “hate speech.” Specifically about rules developed to somehow censor it out. To be honest, two years ago, I would have sided completely with the administration of OEN and I would have no issue with trusting the editors to make objective decisions. Based upon recent developments however, I have been reminded that we are all infallibly human. We all have our own personal baggage and agendas and we all fall prey to them. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. The hiding comments idea started as a thread too, where we all talked about the evils of ad hominem attacks and how we can regain some civility. It all sounded good on paper but someone has to apply it and that someone is not always fair. They cannot be, because they are human.

An inch was given in the war on name calling and a mile was taken. The same cannot happen on “hate speech.” Here is why. Because someone else will be determining what hate speech is. That someone might have a personal agenda that skews their understanding of what “hate” is. It is bad enough when comments are hidden because they use the word “silly.” Remember that no one can see what the hidden comment was. It just sits there in the thread silently accusing the person, whose name remains. People see it and maybe wonder, “Wow, they must have said something really bad.” I doubt they see it and go, “wow, he must have called someone silly.” Can you imagine what will be wondered when they see comments hidden for hate speech?

Once again, who determines what the hate speech is? What is their agenda? Would the majority of Americans agree with them or are they using snazzy definitions to further their own personal objectives. Not of censoring HATE – but rather of censoring DISSENT. There are two opinions for everything. Some people side with Israel and some with Palestine. Is speaking out against one hateful? No, it is a matter of disagreement. Some will fight vehemently for gay marriage and some will disagree. Is one side hateful? No. It is a matter of disagreement. I have heard the poor comparison of the 1950s and not allowing black students into schools and how history has proven the racists wrong. Fine. But what is the value in censoring the wrong opinion even before it becomes history? If OEN was around in the 1950s and allowed people to post that they thought black kids should not go to school with white kids and now it is 60 years later – their bigotry is recorded. And if you were on the right side of history and you posted against these people then you are preserved as well. What is wrong with preserving history as it happens, the way it happens? The truth of the matter is that without disagreement there would be no OEN. Sure it may seem ok to read articles that only ascribe to exactly what you believe but after awhile it would get rather boring.

I know these ideas are born out of good intent but humans will ultimately implement them and therein lies the rub. If someone spews hatred and true bigotry in a thread, then the respondents will let them know. The debate will be had. But censoring people who disagree with you and calling it ad hominem or hateful is downright silly.

Hope that doesn’t get censored.

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Anthony Wade, a contributing writer to opednews.com, is dedicated to educating the populace to the lies and abuses of the government. He is a 53-year-old independent writer from New York with political commentary articles seen on multiple (more...)

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