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Hunting for witches in the Internet Age

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POSTED August 22, 2017 1:30 a.m.

History repeats itself.
But instead of burning people at the stake we are much more civil today— sometimes anyway. We just pull the plug on their web pages instead. And in lieu of taking to the streets with pitch forks we pummel those we fear and don’t understand using social media.
There are a lot of repulsive things out there including the white supremacy movement. Most believe sites such as Daily Stormer that they haven’t seen — nor have I for that matter — are repugnant. It falls into the category if a site promotes violence I don’t have to see it to be repulsed by the content as I will assume it is based on what others are saying and what the site in general represents. That said, no one is forcing anyone to look at such sites
CloudFlare and other Internet companies blocked the Daily Stormer website in light of comments it posted regarding Charlottesville that they argued pushed the envelope too far. There would be no problem with that given their Internet operations are not government run but here’s the rub. Companies like Google  and CloudFlare want it both ways. The “Do No Evil” folks insist that their motives are altruistic, argue the Internet is the 21st century public square when someone sues over postings they host so therefore they are faultless, and that they shouldn’t be regulated like a regular business because they are engaged in the noble pursuit of free enterprise, free markets and free speech — as long as they can profit from it and be held harmless for any damage they may do.
But if the Internet is today’s public square, they should be held to the same standards the U.S. Supreme Court holds those in government that oversee physical public squares and those that exchange ideas,  participate in speech, protest, or linger there.
The American Civil Liberties Union has it right as does the high court. I’m not going to lie. There’s more than a few instances of free speech that the ACLU fights to protect that I find repulsive as well as that which the high court protects.
That said, I’d rather respect the law governing free speech and the rights of individual regardless of how repulsive I may find either than to let the pack mentality illustrated back in 1693 rule the land, or the Internet for that matter.
Thirty-two people were executed as the direct result of mass hysteria — including 20 in Salem, Massachusetts. We look back and shake our heads wondering what they were thinking and assure ourselves it couldn’t happen today. Guilt by association, false accusations, lapse in due process are a thing of the past, right?
There is no justification for the violence or the death at Charlottesville. And even though you are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, it’s tough not  to view the driver guilty already of murder even though we have a system that allows such an act to be judged by  degree of premeditation and other circumstances.
But to leap over the fence that keeps us from stumbling down the slippery slope of having self-righteousness and intolerance  determine who has the right to speak, is just asking for it.
Consider Spotify’s action on Thursday.
The music-streaming platform declared it was removing, “illegal content or material that favors hatred or incites violence against race, religion, sexuality or the like is not tolerated by us.” That statement was emailed after Spotify started taking down white-nationalistic acts from its platform.
Hopefully Spotify keeps that in mind when it goes over rap music it streams as there is more than a smidgen that gets a little too wrapped up in abusive sexuality and violence.
But, wait — that’s different. You might say. But that’s the problem — “you”, as in everyone views the world slightly different or jumps on the bandwagon of what is the norm and acceptable that differs from other bandwagons. And even if you are in the majority our governance system is based on the minority not having their rights taken away just because they are in the minority regardless of how vile or disliked they are.
The problem with treating free speech like Uber treats taxi regulations and government rules with their business model of “ignoring the law on purpose, charging ahead and let them sue us” is that you are dealing with individual rights and making them submissive to that of a for-profit corporation or hordes of witch hunters armed with pitch forks and torches.
The Silicon Valley is working mightily to rewrite the rules. If they want the world to treat them in terms of regulation as if they aren’t a business but are the keepers of a public portal of change, then they can’t have carte blanche to revert back to “we’re just a run of the mill business” every time their Internet backbone is used to whip up mass hysteria and the people with the pitchforks come after them for allowing “witchcraft” or white surpremeists to express their views even though they are repulsive to the vast majority of people.
You don’t resolve differences by banishing people. Treating those who have views we view as vile as the world once treated lepers isn’t the answer. Banishment didn’t cure leprosy and banishment won’t eradicate hatred.
What happened in Charlottesville must be addressed.
But those hoisting pitch forks act more as if they want revenge than resolution.

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