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.


Zoe Parness said...

The right to freedom of speech is enshrined within a number of declarations and constitutions. It is however limited by statute in most countries, particularly through the laws on libel, slander and when used for the incitement of violence. Many European countries specifically cite the expression of racial or religious hatred as an offence.

However here we are talking about Second Life. I assume that the laws of the US apply here, although there have been successful cases of prosecution in the UK when UK citizens have tried to use the fact that a particular server was overseas as a defence. Nevertheless even in Second Life there are Terms of Service and Community Standards which residents are required to comply with.

Even if there were no legal consequence there must surely be a social consequence for those who choose to exercise their right to free speech in such a way as to cause extreme offence.

More importantly there is surely the equal right of each individual to decide who they with to spend time with, have fun with and share space and conversation. If someone chooses to include in their profile views which are abhorrent or offensive to others then they must surely not be surprised if others shun their company. Unhappily there are places within Second Life, such as in thinly disguised neo-nazi groups where such views would not be out of place. However it is surely the right of an event organiser to refuse to welcome someone publicising race or religious hatred. It must certainly be my right to chose not to have fun in the presence of such hatred.

If there is someone at an event displaying such 'hate speech' in their profile I choose to leave. In taking this position I am sadly not able to take part in events which I have previously enjoyed as the highpoint of my time in Second Life and of course I am sad not to be able to attend these. Some might say that I have cut my nose off to spite myself. What would I have done had I had lived in Germany in the 30's and my favourite bar where all my friends drank was suddenly frequented by a known Nazi? I would like to think that I would have moved to another bar and that my close friends would have done likewise.

It is important, even in a virtual world to take a stand against prejudice, hatred and the propagation of an evil philosophy. I admire Huck not only for taking such a stand but also for writing about it in such a thoughtful and eloquent way.

Dillon said...

I had not thought of your point that having something hateful in a profile is very much akin to carrying a placard (mostly because I'm not one to check profiles early on) but of course you're right. That's exactly what it is.

I don't think I'd be as generous as you were I a host and someone arrived with a profile that displayed a prejudicial (as you've defined it) message. I think I'd just say, "You cannot stay here with that comment in your profile.", and let the person figure it out.

saffron said...

Let me be on the record that I absolutely completely abhor intolerant people. I can't tolerate them at all! Beyond this, I also recognize your drawing a line between hate speech and prejudiced views.

Here is the practical problem I face as an event host. I need to arrive beforehand by half an hour, ensure my mic is working, make sure the event is posted and publicized, tp people to the event, answer questions from newcomers, fight lag and then deal with placing people on the queue to read as per the requirements of their time zones, egos, children in the house, etc. All this while trying to actually read and comment on the poems that people are sharing and, on a good day, taking the poetry challenge myself.

I guess my issue is during what time am I to monitor profiles as well? How is this possible. I would LOVE to make it so everyone got along and people were kind and humane. I will happily put out reminders or pleas but to actually go through all 30 attendees and monitor profiles (and what if s/he changes it 10 minutes into the event??) well it is impossible from a practical standpoint. If someone can suggest to me how this would be possible, I would welcome suggestions. I miss and adore Huck and Zoe and all those folks. I DESPERATELY wanted Huck to be present at the Blue Angel and made a public, teary (irl) plea to people to remove the stupid racist shit from their stupid fing profiles or I'd be sad. Which I was already. But what am I to do? I do not even have the ability (most event hosts don't) to really effectively ban someone. Any ideas??? Am I just to accept the fact that people I adore will be staying home because people I don't give a fig about are public terrorists at my event?? Is it time to leave SL altogether? May be. In RL you can tell a terrorist because they have a finger on the pin. Granted, this may be too late.

Anonymous said...

The right to freedom of speech does not extend to requiring others to provide you a venue to express that speech in. You have the right to speak but others are allowed to exclude you from venues under their control for saying it.

You can speak freely on the footpath, but not in my yard (on my parcel, on my blog, whatever) without my permission, basically.

Pep said...

The English FA seem to feel the same way.

Pep (Although it is more convenient for them to discipline an Uruguayan for supposedly making, without independent corroboration, unsubstantiated remarks to a Frenchman in an unspecified language.)

PS Do you get the feeling there is a politically correct bandwagon rolling through the public relations sector rather than a coherently expressed philosophical and moral concern?

Huckleberry Hax said...

@saffron You're quite right, there's no point in creating a policy that's not practical. Absolutely you cannot go through the profiles of everyone in attendence, what with everything else there is to do as a host.

But look again at what I wrote: "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." Attendees share responsibility for this issue. They can't expect you to automatically know what people have in their profile, but they can point it out.

The attendee with hate speech in her profile on Sunday night had, in fact, attended events I had previously hosted in SL and I hadn't noticed the content because - as you say - I hadn't had the time to go looking at profiles. In the end, it was pointed out to me by someone else.

I think the hardest thing as an event host is having to make a snap decision to something on the spot, which is why I (as an attendee) never have and never would issue a demand or ultimatum on an event host to ban someone from their event. I respect completely the demands on hosting. This is why creating a policy in advance is important. It gives you time and space in which to reflect on your own thoughts about an issue and come to your own conclusions, whatever they might be. Then, if an issue does arise, you have a framework within which to work.

Regarding banning power, I have the power to eject anyone who comes to an event at the Nancy Redgrave Building on my land, of course. Most of my events, however, take place elsewhere. I might not have the power myself to eject there, but I can certainly include in my pre-event discussions with the venue owner my approach to this problem. If they can't accept this, then we're both at liberty to do other things. Again, this highlights the usefulness of having an approach thought out in advance.

And, just to be clear, I personally wouldn't ban anyone *permanently* from my venue for hate speech in their profile; I would only ban them for the duration of an event. I'm a big believer in clean slates and tolerance, etc. So it's not like I would be telling a venue they had to enforce the ban once my event was over.

Everyone's welcome at my events, regardless of their beliefs. But I won't have my events used by others as an oportunity for inciting hatred amongst others. Similarly, I won't allow my presence and participation at an event where I am aware of hate speech in an attendee's profile to be regarded as some sort of passive endorsement of their statement.

Mr. Crap Mariner said...

Saw you pop in and leave a few times at Blue Angel, wondered what that was about, and then Persephone said something about something in someone's profile.

(That's when I added my QUADLINGS SUCK! bit... you know, because I'm a closet Munchkin Supremacist and all.)

I profile-snooped, didn't see anybody's bio jumping out at me and shouting HATE HATE HATE! but then these web profiles are such a nuisance.

I dove in a bit deeper, checked Queen's profile... picks... ahhhh that.

Yeah, a bit extreme there.

Perhaps y'all should talk about it directly? I chatted with her for over an hour yesterday, eh. Good person, seeing things that are concerning over there, and that's her take on it.

Or, if that's unresolvable, there's mute/block/derender at common events... I went on about this in yesterday's post, followed up today with pondering the modern hate-of-hate-is-justified-hate phenomenon these days, and memories of dodgeball and doing picket duty at a synagogue-community center doing religious services because a protest group decided to attack them for political national purposes.

Take the test. Think it through. See what reasons you come up with. Then question them.

Man is a creature of reason.


saffron said...

This is a great discussion, Huck. Thanks for bringing it to the fore.

I love you all and wish everyone a happy holiday or just a few great days off to spend with family.

saffron said...

When it is brought to my attention (as it was only once in the whole 6 years of my event hosting) I will request the attendee to remove the hate speech and, if given the powers to bounce or ban, will do so if the attendee does not comply. This is what I did. The hate speech was removed within minutes of my issuing the request. But you still don't come to the poetry event. So, I wonder what happened there. I thought I did the right thing. The person in question did, in fact, change her profile that very same night. Yet you have not been back. I am saddened by this.

saffron said...

I do adore you a little bit, Crap. Though, to be fair, woman is a creature of reason, too! (don't forget dolphins, whales, etc.) :D Oh and Elephants! Love elephants.