Monday, 19 December 2011

On SL profiles and hate speech

Following some recent events in SL within the literary community, I would like to make clear my views on people putting prejudiced, specifically hatred inciting remarks in their profiles, my own actions in response to this and what I would like event hosts to consider as their own response.  I’m writing this as a blog entry because it’s too big to fit on my own profile; I will link to this web page from there.  This will also form the policy I use at any events I host and will be available as a notecard from the Nancy Redgrave Building.

I define prejudice according to its Latin origin – pr√¶judicium, or ‘prior judgment’.  To be prejudiced towards someone is to form an opinion based on a belief about a category they belong to rather than anything specific about them.  Examples of such prejudices include ‘British people are repressed’, ‘Women are bad drivers’, ‘Single mothers make poor parents’ and ‘Black people are less intelligent than white people’.  This is a wide definition and incorporates stereotyping, overt and institutionalised discrimination, and inciting hatred.

I define inciting hatred as any communication that disparages a person or a group on the basis of some characteristic such as race, colour, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or other characteristic (this is the definition for hate speech currently in use at Wikipeadia -

In other words, ‘prejudice’ is the umbrella term for any behaviour or opinion based upon a belief held about a category of people (and the belief that this is accurate for all of its members); inciting hatred, however, is a particular example of prejudice which involves actively promoting a prejudiced belief with the aim of bringing about further prejudice from others towards the target.  Examples of inciting hatred would include the promotion of messages such as ‘Homosexual people are evil’, “Migrant workers wish to destroy our culture’, ‘All Jews are sub-human’ and ‘All Muslims wish death upon non-Muslims’.

On the web, there are many ways in which hate speech can be communicated, including posting on internet forums and social networks, creating video content and constructing dedicated web sites.  It is now fairly common for websites which rely on user content to publish an acceptable usage policy which includes reference to inciting hatred.  For example:

·        We encourage free speech and defend everyone's right to express unpopular points of view. But we do not permit hate speech (speech which attacks or demeans a group based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status and sexual orientation/gender identity). – You Tube Terms of Service.

·        You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence. –Facebook Terms of Service.

·        [You agree that you will not] Post, display or transmit Content that is obscene, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable. –Second Life Terms of Service.

Inworld in Second Life, hate speech can be communicated through things said in public or group chat (in or out of voice), through notices sent out to groups and through information posted on your profile.  It has been suggested to me by a number of different event hosts that posting comments inciting hatred on your profile does not represent hate speech in the same way that making comments in chat does and should be respected under the right to freedom of speech.

I disagree with this.  If somebody comes to an event I am hosting with hate remarks on their profile, I will regard this as the functional equivalent of coming to an event in real life with a placard or handing out leaflets.  It is still displaying and communicating hate speech.  In the same way that web sites such as those mentioned earlier are at liberty to restrict the use of their site by users who do not conduct themselves as requested, I am at liberty as an event host to create and enforce an acceptable behaviour policy at my event.  If you come to an event I am responsible for with hate speech in your profile and this comes to my attention, I will ask you to remove this content for at least the duration of your stay and if you do not comply with this I will remove you from the event.  I ask other event hosts to consider the adoption of a similar policy.

Let me be clear on something.  I would not remove someone for just expressing a view which I considered to be prejudiced which arose as a natural part of conversation or discussion appropriate to the event itself.  I draw a clear and pragmatic line between opinions expressed spontaneously and the active dissemination of hate speech.  Saying, for example, as part of a conversation, ‘Immigrants coming to this country just seem to want benefits’ – whilst a prejudiced remark – is qualitatively different from placing in your profile a statement such as ‘Blacks settling in Britain are committing genocide of white culture and should be sent home’.  I might not agree with the former statement – and might well challenge it – but I would not ban you because of it.  The latter statement is hate speech.

I believe in strength through diversity.  Human beings are social creatures, evolved to live in large groups – ‘hunter-gatherer tribes’ – and a great deal of our psychology (such as our need to belong) is explained by this.  ‘Survival of the fittest’, therefore, means at the group as well as the individual level.  Individuals within the strongest groups would have had a better chance of surviving long enough to pass on their genetic material.  And strength in a group does not come from every member having the same skills or outlook or personality.  Nature favours variation.  It is a valid thing to relish and enjoy the traditions and qualities of our cultures, but to take the view that these should evolve no further is both a denial of history and of our destiny as a species.  ‘Nationalists’ keen on ‘preserving’ their country or way of life as they see it might not recognise their land as it was a hundred or a thousand years ago, just as future nationalists would probably not recognise that which exists today.  Customs, culture, lifestyle and language always have and always will evolve.

I will not tolerate hate speech.  It is offensive and it is ignorant.  If you actively promote this in SL – through your profile or otherwise – I am likely to mute you and I will exercise my right to not attend or perform at events you are attending (just as I would do in real life).  And I will eject you from events I am responsible for.

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