Bring It On!

A Tough Decision

January 29th, 2007 | by Omnipotent Poobah |

Over the past two weeks, Team BIO has wrestled with a commenter whose responses to posts became increasingly personal and viscous. After receiving several complaints, the team discussed the best way to respond.

Some supported banishment because her screeds were virulently personal and hate-filled. They argued that she contributed nothing to informed debate and was grossly unfair and hurtful to those she attacked. They had no problem with her content, only with the way she delivered it.

The opposite opinion - one that I personally championed - was to let her rave. I strongly believe that censoring someone - no matter how vile their comments - isn’t what free speech is about. For me, the true measure of a democracy is how it treats its most odious dissenters. Whether you’re liberal, conservative, communist, or fascist, I believe you have a right to be heard.

But that’s a starkly black and white viewpoint - one where censorship is either wholly right or wholly wrong. It doesn’t account for the very real damage hate speech has. Hate speech can lead to violent confrontation. It can wound a person so deeply that it can have far-reaching consequences. And, it’s just plain wrong.

In BIO’s case, the damage was quite real. Two of our most valued diarists decided to leave because they could no longer tolerate her attacks. Others considered doing the same. We warned her to abide by our terms of use - and she did for a few days. But soon, the attacks resumed and became even more vehement. So we reluctantly banned her from BIO - something that has only happened three times before and only after repeated warnings each time.

Though I finally supported banning her, I was uncomfortable about it. Maybe that’s a good thing. If it becomes too easy, it’s too easy to fall into the trap of doing it as a knee-jerk reaction to anything we don’t want to hear. I’m confident that’s not the case here, but it did make me think about the validity of my position.

I still believe that total free speech is an admirable goal and I’ll continue to fight for it as forcefully and often as I can. However, I also have to keep in mind that free speech comes with responsibilities. The Supreme Court describes this as the right to say anything you want, but not to yell fire in a crowded theatre. To put it in the context of this situation, it’s the right to say anything you want, so long as your right to say it doesn’t impinge on someone else’s right not to be harassed. BIO never asked her to curtail her opinions, we only asked her to yell fire a little softer.

Was this censorship?

One of the definitions of censorship is to supervise the manners or morality of others. So in the strictest sense of the word, I suppose it is. However, part of that supervision requires an examination our own manners and morality.

This was clearly a case of someone whose manners would throw Dear Abby into a fatal swoon. Those poor manners directly damaged the BIO family by depriving it of the open and thoughtful discourse of others. Although not easy for me, I think the most moral choice we could make is the one we did make. We acted to protect guests who fulfill their responsibilities under free speech - to be civil. We acted against the person who chose to ignore her responsibilities. She yelled fire - or more precisely, repeatedly yelled fire - so we asked her to leave. I can’t say I like that decision, but I also believe she brought the problem on herself.

And you know what? I’m OK with that.

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  1. 47 Responses to “A Tough Decision”

  2. By Froenx on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    What I find suprising is she hasn’t started attacking other commentors; like me.

    Usually when someone gets personal with me, I tend to dig my heels in and stand my ground.

    I do not “cut and run” as they like to put it, so they can’t pull that card on me.  I also serve to be the opposite of what they like to use and still be on the side of progressives, forward-thinkers and people who put the interests of each other in front of profits, war, and other short-sighted ventures.

    The more they name-call, the quicker they wear themselves out.  Once they are out of material, that’s when I hit them the hardest.

     

    So to all the right-wingers that frequent this page:  continue your tirade of mudslinging.  We’ll just take it in stride and once you’re done, that’s when we call in the heavy artillery.

    So..  Bring it On.

  3. By landcomm1 on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    There was no swaying she who shall remain unnamed.  Vicious to the bitter end and then, in a personal note to me, sounding somewhat surprised and claiming she was not warned.  Hard to believe, that.  I’ve said so at least twice in recent weeks, even I have found myself getting just a bit rude, knowing full well it accomplishes nothing.  It is middle ground we need; we need to learn to get along and most important, for decisions to be made for the majority of America, not the top wage earners.  I have little doubt she who shall remain unnamed will be back in another guise or that we’ll have someone else playing hardball in her place soon!

  4. By liberal vet on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    She was and is a racist. She despised immigrants and anyone who disagreed with her. I would not have banned her, but I am an occassional visitor and have little to no say in the matter. I can honestly tell you she is a fine example of extremism of the kind that breeds hatred and misunderstanding. The man named Gnome awaits her pathetic commentary. LV

  5. By LesserFool on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    When it comes to non-thinking, vulgar posts, I too am of the opinion to let them be. For people who rant mindlessly are often their own worst enemy with regard to solidying the opposition viewpoint. On the other hand, there should be a limit (policy) to prevent such people from causing complete distraction without shutting them out entirely.

  6. By Steve O on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    I too strugled with this decision but sometimes you have to do whats best for the community. We lost two very valued voices trying to protect her right to free speech and in the end it was not worth the cost of losing another.

  7. By L. Long on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    So, you welcome all opinions, as long as they don’t differ too much from your own?

    And bad behavior is not tolerated, unless it is from one of your inner circle? 

  8. By Omnipotent Poobah on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    L,

    No one objected to her saying anything she liked, only how she said it, so it’s not a question of opinions. There are several conservative blogs at BIO and they are allowed, encouraged to speak their mind. We don’t edit or censor them. Notice your comment is here. If we objected just because we didn’t agree with an opinion your comment wouldn’t be here. In fact, since the featured contributors often disagree with each other, we’d have to censor each others posts if opinions were the problem.

    As for bad behavior, we don’t usually say anything about that either, unless it gets out of hand. We’ve only banned three people in the history of the site. All three of them were extremely persistent and personal in their attacks and we warned them several times before taking action.

    We have two competing priorities…censorship vs protecting our guests from abuse. We had a choice to make…either ban her or continue to lose readership. That’s why it was a tough call for me. I expected criticism for it and that’s OK.

    If you believe this is an ideological decision, I encourage you to set up a BIO diary and say what you want to say. If you can do it without personally attacking posters to an unacceptable degree, we welcome you.
     

  9. By mr. bigstuff on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    i have only posted a couple or more times, which may not have earned myself an opinion on the banning subject. i assume you are talking about sandyb. please let her post again. no matter what anyone, anywhere at anytime says to me, i fear no words. especially words typed from the anonymity and security of the internet. to those who are so offended by her remarks: laugh at her. use her comments as motivation. strike back (with the keyboard of course) with logic and solid arguments strong enough to change even her mind. i got banned from the fireronzook.com website a few years ago for being unpopular. they were florida football fans, i am not. the most unpopular opinions still cannot be destroyed even if they are delivered rudely and crudely. mien kampf is still sold in bookstores all over the world. why? so we can all see what a lunatic hitler was and not fall into that trap again. well, at least those that read and pay attention anyway. 

  10. By windspike on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    Freedom is not absolute.  With freedom comes responsibility. Sandy, abused her/his respoonsibility, and thus lost his/her freedom. 

    Blog on friends, blog on all. 

  11. By Emmet on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    Should probably re-name BIO! to Bring It On ONLY if You Agree With What WE Say!

    Pretty pathetic name for a site!  BIO!  Especially since the site’s name EMPHASIZES the theme in there own NAME!

    You’r all a bunch of sissies!!!

    Oh, YOU HURT MY FEELINGS.  I’m going to take my ball and go home now!

  12. By Pinkfem on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    I  agree…let ‘em rant.  Free speech, free love, free life.

  13. By Tom Harper on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    I was never personally offended by any of Sandyb’s comments.  She always seemed more silly and juvenile than mean-spirited.  But she did make a very nasty below-the-belt comment to one of our staff writers, and this was after numerous warnings.  Our “rules” here are pretty lenient compared to most large political blogs.  These rules were spelled out clearly and she chose to keep violating them after being repeatedly warned.  She has nobody to blame but herself.

  14. By tos on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    “The man named Gnome awaits her pathetic commentary. LV ‘

    Snag LV wrong person.

  15. By liberal vet on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    TOS

    He was most certainly banished check it out. He is a nasty mean spirited pseudo intelectual, he and the lunatic sandy will get along. Dare I  say   his initials are NG, and I remeber him well. LV

  16. By Dusty on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    Personal attacks are just that..nothing more, nothing less. sandy did nothing but personally attack the posters and commenters. Everyone’s rights end at my nose, so so speak..and if you personally attack anyone on these threads you should be handed your hat and banned after being told that your behavior is unacceptable. BIO does offer free speech to the extent that it doesn’t attack anyone, regardless of their political beliefs. I think this site is far more tolerant of wingnuts such as sandy than anywhere else I post or comment. The rightwingers ban lefties far quicker than BIO did ..just a little fyi there Emmet and L.Long. 

    I encouraged sandy to post a diary..I kept deleting her comments on my post and suddenly she did post a couple of diaries. I thought maybe since she had a soapbox she would back off personal attacks..but sadly that was not the case.

    If free speech is having the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theatre, then sandy’s vicious personal attacks should be tolerated.. otherwise, we did the right thing.

  17. By Tom Baker on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    I love how the “conservative” crew comes out and pulls the whole “free speech but only if you agree with us.” What twaddle is that. Is that the best you can come up with? It’s a straw man argument if there ever was one.

    As one of the people who supported sandyb’s banishment, I’d like to speak out on why we did it. We are a community. We enjoy lively debate. We sometimes enjoy heated debate. There are many comments from liberal and conservative folks alike that drive me batty. Many of you who disagree with my opinions (TOS, Steve, Emmet), if you are honest, know that  we do not censor opinions and arguments. We argue back, sometimes till we are blue in the face. It makes for a fun exchange. It is what we are all about here.

    If you are honest, you will also admit there is a difference between letting someone express their opinion about issues, and letting someone be derogatory towards another member. Once the attacks cross into the personal and someone gets upset about being the victim of said attack, we have an obligation to enforce our long standing terms of service. This is not stifling debate, it’s creating an atmosphere in which people really ARE welcome to disagree without fear of personal reprisal for their views.

     

    If you think the ability to say whatever you want, without consequence, is free speech, you are mistaken. Go tell you boss he’s an asshole and hie wife is f**** ugly. Will there be repercussions? Probably. That’s the way the world works, and that’s the way Bring it On! works. We give a lot of latitude (swearing, teasing, ranting, fuming etc) but it isn’t a license for cruelty.

    Finally, as I have stated before in previous posts, banning someone for whatever reason here isn’t a Freedom of Speech issue. I’ve heard that from the other 2 people we’ve banned in the last 2 years, and every time it rings hollow. Why? Because we are not the government. WE are not depriving you of your right to express yourself - we are only refusing you the space to do it on our site. That’s not censorship, it’s ownership, something our conservative friends should understand.

  18. By Jet Netwal on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    This was never about not wanting to hear an adverse opinion. BIO has taken some financial hits from liberal advertisers because we refuse to be a blog that only puts up one side of the situation. To be blunt, we find the fact liberal advertisers find us unappealing motivational. It tells us we are on right track, because we have zero interest in preaching to the choir.  

    What we will not accept is personal attacks on other guests. Attack the topic all day long if you like. Hate the ACLU? Let’s hear it. Think Hillary sucks? Say on, my brother. Think the war in Iraq is winnable? By all means, post your thoughts and supporting data. We’re all agog. But, if you deliberately personally insult another poster and they complain, we will look into it. If we see a pattern of abusing other posters instead of debating the topic, we will send you and email. If you can’t get it together, you may earn a ban.

    The reason for that is simple. Every person on this site is welcome to have their say. If you disagree with their ideas, you get your turn. That’s called debate. It’s how the human race communicates, reasons and learns. It’s why BIO exists, why we work so hard, and why we give so much of our free time to it.

    It’s also our house. We welcome all, but we expect you to exercise your manners. Save your passion for the topic. If all you’ve got is petty personal insults, you’ve already lost the discussion.

  19. By tos on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    Sorry LV I thought you were referring to me,thinking I was banned. Alrighty there then.

  20. By Tom Baker on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    TOS, if we were going to ban you, it have happened years ago :) 

  21. By Jet Netwal on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    Ban Tos? Never happen. She stays on topic and does a fine job of presenting her POV. I’d be happy to have 10 more just like her.

  22. By becks on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    To ban or not to ban… 

    On this blog and in communities in general- when someone continues to disrupt discussion with rude personal attacks- regardless of their political leaning- something can and should be done. 

    And while the whole point of this site is to invite differing views there is an expectation that while you may not agree with what is said, you will disagree with some modicum of courtesy, personal respect and dignity. 

    If your goal is to help me see your point of view and possibly convince me that I am wrong in mine- insults and anger will get you nowhere.  Hurtful, hateful, mean and spiteful comments do nothing to further the greater good. When someone doesn’t understand that and obviously isn’t going to stop, then they should be asked to leave.

    If you are not interested in an EXCHANGE of ideas and opinions-go somewhere else. If all you want to do is demean people who think differently than you- then get your own blog. 

    It’s unfortunate that banning this individual is seen as “partisan”.  I would expect ANYONE who’s comments are venomous personal attacks to be shown the door.  I’m glad this was a hard decision.  OP is right.  It should be.  It says alot about how committed this site is to open discussion.     

  23. By Dusty on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    Good points beck. thanks for adding your $1.35*

    *adjusted for inflation :P 

  24. By Tom Baker on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    Yeah and for the record, we have dropped the hammer on liberals too. Just because you vote Democrat doesn’t give you a special license. If you see anyone personally attacking ANYONE on this blog, let one of the writers know. When in doubt send a note to Jet, SteveO or myself. We will look into it. 

  25. By tos on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    TOS, if we were going to ban you, it have happened years ago

    LOL Tom

    Ban Tos? Never happen. She stays on topic and does a fine job of presenting her POV. I’d be happy to have 10 more just like her.

    Thanx Jet

  26. By steve on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    When you pushed the “ban” button on Sandy, did you shout Muqtada al-Sadr, repeatedly?

    And why isn’t there a shaky video of this?  Steve O..?  You are good for  getting this kind of shit!! 

  27. By landcomm1 on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    Who needs Sandy anyway?  We have Emmet, who seems ready, willing and able to hate just about everyone who posts here!

  28. By Jet Netwal on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    Emmet’s not a hater, he just plays one on the internets. :-)

  29. By Steve O on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    Emmet doesn’t have a solid opinion but he did sleep at a Holiday Express last night!

    I’ll say this time and again, this forum is like sitting around shooting the shit and chugging down a nice cold one among friends, agree to disagree but what it someone personally attacked you in person, would you stand for it?

    Next round is on me! 

  30. By steve on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    Hey someone cut Steve O off… he’s getting real friendly!! :)

  31. By Dusty on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    At least he is a friendly drunk steve :P

  32. By tos on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    Lets see a cold beer or working out? Tough decision.

  33. By Jet Netwal on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    Ah jush wanna say, I luv yous guys. I rully, trully (hic!) do.

    Da bes, man. Cheers!

  34. By L. Long on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    Tom Baker:

       Now don’t be so judgemental.  What makes you think I’m a conservative?

    “we do not censor opinions and arguments”  By banning people from this post you are censoring opinions and arguements.

    BUT

    As you said, you are a private forum, which chooses to open it’s doors for all to see. Quite a quandry.  Personally, I tend to agree with the ACLU: Freedom of Speech doesn’t end when it makes someone uncomfortable; it begins.

    If you want to keep opinions you dont like off BIO, close it and require a login/password to post a reply.  But then, that would tend to limit conversation to those of like mind.

    Wow, freedom.  What a concept.

  35. By Dusty on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    L.Long..its not opinions ..its attacks. Big difference. You seem to make this very simplistic.. do you agree that freedom of speech should allow you to scream “fire” in a crowded building? If someone was screaming at you..would you stand there and listen? Would you allow someone to stand before you and insult you, knowing they do not know anything about you? 

    We have conservatives, moderates and yes, liberals here. You assessment doesn’t tell me anything about your party affiliation..only that you believe, as I said..that screaming “fire” in a crowded building should be considered freedom of speech. 

  36. By L. Long on Jan 29, 2007 | Reply

    Dusty:

      Wow, you’re up late.  Early morning here in Iraq.

    No, of course yelling fire in a crowded building isn’t freedom of speech. 

    If someone was screaming at me, hurling insults at me (such as equating todays american soldiers with SS menbers)  I would turn and walk away. I have. Freedom of speech is not a guarantee to be heard.

    Personally, I thought Sandy was a distraction, and seemed to be largely ignored. I know I did.

    Again, this is your blog, you have every right  to do as you please with it.  Admit who you like, ban who you please.  But, as long as you leave it open, you need to accept opinions you dont like.

    Or walk away.

  37. By Dusty on Jan 30, 2007 | Reply

    Its early evening here in CA. L.Long..sandy was asked numerous times to stop with the bashing. I am sorry you don’t see our POV on this. If someone constantly goes off the deep end..it becomes more than a distraction to many people. She could tear up the whole discussion, and she has on numerous occasions as one of our conservatives steve, pointed out. Since only a couple of people have actually been banned from BIO, its not like we are hot to get rid of anyone..regardless of political affiliation. 

    Your in Iraq? wow..how is it going where you are? 

  38. By L. Long on Jan 30, 2007 | Reply

    Dusty:

      How’s Iraq? Cheese cakes and coffee breaks every day.

    Not as bad as the news portrays, but nowhere near as good as we wish.  Bad guys are quiet, not shooting at us too much where I am.  Rainy season, so lots of mud.  Cool temps at night.

    As I may have mentioned before, I’m with the Minnesota Guard unit that was extended.  So we’re a bunch of happy folk, to say the least.  Another summer in Iraq. 

  39. By Dusty on Jan 30, 2007 | Reply

    I have a young niece in Afghanistan L. She thinks she will only be there a year..I tell her don’t bank on that m’dear..she says its quite muddy in Afgan as well..she spent Christmas day on the firing range there. All 5ft 98 lbs of her. I have done a blog or two about her here.

    Take care and be safe..I will keep you in my prayers with all the others I know over there. Not that I know you…but you know what I mean right? 

  40. By Ann on Jan 30, 2007 | Reply

    I’m glad you deliberated over banning Sandy for so long. I think, speaking from experience, it takes time to understand how things work around here but, it can be a little bewildering and overwhelming in the meantime.  Having visited several other sites previously, it took me a while to come to terms with the fact that, here, whilst not everyone agrees on all issues (take the Gun-Toting Liberal, for example (!!) - a contradiction in terms if ever there was one ;) ) you are all willing and eager to listen to all differing opinions, to all differing hues, to debate those views and, hopefully, to find the common ground between you.

    I liked that - eventually.

    I can’t be alone in being somewhat disturbed by some of the discourse you read, both in the media and on various political sites, which seems intent on being both divisive and discriminatory against anyone with an opposting view.  If Sandy had taken the time she may have found that it’s actually quite refreshing to come somewhere where opposing/differing opinions are still valued, respected, and listened to, regardless. That’s why I’m sorry she never finally ‘got it’ about BIO and, in some ways, I’m sorry to see her go - I’m sure she can’t, in real life, be how she came across here (I’m sure we’d have heard about her by now….). But I think in the end it was the correct decision.

  41. By Paul Merda on Jan 30, 2007 | Reply

    even though Sandy was quite the pain in the ass, I’d probably take ten more like HER.  nothing so validates liberal thought than to have a nutcase like her around… 

    In spite of that, I’ll give a good riddance to her…

  42. By Jet Netwal on Jan 30, 2007 | Reply

    Sandy said some truly unacceptable things; unacceptable to me, anyway. But that doesn’t mean anything. She did not lose access because of it, and I took her side for months. When the comments shift from such and such is vile, to you personally are vile, it moves the thread from debate to harass. That is not helping anything. People are expected to enact self control in most aspects of their lives, and this blog is no different.

  43. By Craig R. Harmon on Jan 30, 2007 | Reply

    When I have guests over to the house for conversation, earnest or light-hearted, I don’t tell my guests that they must agree with me or they will be thrown out. Everyone has their own mind and they are allowed to express their opinions.

    However…

    One of the guests starts personally attacking another guest, calling them names, questioning their own sincerity, fidelity to truth as they see it, honor, telling a former soldier in our armed services that s/he is a friend of the enemy rather than a hero who served honorably…it may be censorship to throw said person out of my house but it is my house and I would not have anyone in my house who cannot treat my self, my family and my other guests with respect.

    I am not the government. In my own house, I am allowed to censor speech. The first amendment restrains the government in what it may do to stifle dissent; it does not restrain me.

    Now I mention this because it is analogous.

    Bring it On! is like a large “Open House” where everyone is welcome to come and go when they like, express whatever opinions they will. Their light-hearted banter, their serious debate, even their anger is welcomed and respected but this is still a privately owned home with hosts and guests, people who consider each other friends and family. This is not the public square where psychotics roam the street and curse the ether and passers-bye and must, for the most part, be tolerated but a privately owned residence. The owners reserve the right to expel those who cannot respectfully interact with others.

    In my time here, no one has been thrown out for expressing an unpopular opinion. If that were the case, I’d have been banished long ago for defending the use of torture in certain interrogation situations, defending the NSA electronic surveillance program, defending the US invasion of Iraq and our continued presence there and a host of other extremely unpopular positions.

    My points of view have pissed off a lot of people here but no one has ever threatened to ban me from their home because, for the most part, I am able to distinguish between rebuttal of a point of view with which I disagree and abusing the person who advances that point of view. Owners of this sight and those who are guests here are under no obligation to suffer people who cannot make such distinctions.

  44. By john harty on Jan 30, 2007 | Reply

    L Long, please tell us about how things really are over there.

    how much do the iraqis pay for gas? is electricity available off base 24 hours a day? can the local iraqi economy provide basic neccessities? do the iraqis feel that they are better off without saddam and do they want or understand democracy? can you guys tell the difference between shia and sunni by looking at them? which are friendly and which are not? do you feel safe walking among the iraqi people off base? what are the iraqi women like? can you drink beer over there? is there anything we can send you to make things better? please respond if you get the time. keep your head down, don’t volunteer for anything and come home soon.

  45. By abso on Jan 30, 2007 | Reply

    I agree with what others have said as well. Getting into a heated argument and having different opinions is great. But personal attacks do nothing to help the cause you are trying to defend and are a sure sign that you don’t know when to let something die. When these types of attacks become pervasive, the point of a board for the open exchange of ideas becomes moot, as more time is spent trying to clean up a mess than in actually discussing ideas.

    It is a fairly clever tactic though, misdirection. If you are forced to spend your time defending yourself or countering spite with spite, you fail to achieve your goal of information exchange. The only way to stop someone on the Internet from seaking attention like this is to ignore them, whether they make personal accusations or normal posts. While I do not like supporting this view, some people’s opinions become  tainted when they have been associated with negative attacks. Much like the criminal who testifies as part of a plea-bargain.
     

  46. By Emmet on Jan 30, 2007 | Reply

    I LOVE you PEOPLE!  Hugs and Kisses to all!  Sorry, time for me to go take my meds!

  47. By tos on Jan 30, 2007 | Reply

    kumbaya!

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