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Weekly Musing: Free Speech, the 2-Way Street


It's been a while since I've written anything on Destructoid that wasn't an embed tag followed by a sentence, but this Monthly Musing article struck a chord with me, even moreso than the "I suck at games" topic from last month. Online communities and the people that inhabit them have always gotten flack for both adhering to stereotypes and making asses of themselves.

And yet, somehow Destructoid has managed not to fall into this pit of despair. It's no secret that I'm a complete and total Destructoid fanboy, (and it's even less of a secret that I hate Kotaku) but what has the Destructoid community done to earn my devotion and respect? And why aren't other online gaming communities treated in the same respect?

Destructoid completely and totally honors free speech. Whether you're claiming CTZ hates black people or saying that Brad Nicholson eats children for breakfast, you won't get banned (or disemvoweled; seriously, what!?) for saying it. And that's how I believe online communities can better themselves- by allowing their members to speak freely about anything, whether it's as simple as "omg this is not news u guys" or as long winded as "jim h8s sony jim h8s sony jim h8s sony jim h8s sony, etc." Censorship only creates controversy, and the last thing anyone wants to see is a large user base fall out because of it.

However, it's a two-way street for a reason. The members of online communities need to realize while that free speech means you can voice your opinion without getting a banhammer beatdown, there's a right and a wrong way to do so. The perfect examples for both can be found in the Destructoid review of Prototype. (If you made the mistake of not commenting intelligently, I'm not blocking out your name. Suck it up.)

The right way to voice an opinion is to calmly state your opinion. All caps are a huge no-no. Unless your caps lock is mangled or Billy Mays died yesterday, you're better off not yelling at others who will in-turn, hand your ass back to you. Being diplomatic and calmly refuting what the original post says is much better than calling them names and hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. Also, you notice how both of these comments start? "I found/I thought..." It's never an outright "THIS IS WHAT IT IS." Your opinions belong to you and no one else.

The wrong way is much easier. It doesn't take too much effort to be a douchebag, so a sentence or so should do it. State your opinion indirectly, claiming that your word is law and anything else is tyranny. Always make sure to come back to the post you commented on so that you can yell at people who yell at you, otherwise, no one will take you seriously. Don't worry about grammar or spelling, though. No one's going to take you seriously if you can spell words at a 2nd grade level.

Learning and honoring the right way to use your powers of free speech is much better for everyone. Anyone would rather hear a calm "I disagree" than an ouright, raging "FUCK YOU ARGHHHH!"

Online community managers aren't in the clear, though. While you realize the right and wrong ways to voice opinions, just because someone talks like an asshole doesn't mean you need to clear them out of the way. Banning and disemvoweling for flaming and trolling isn't going to help the situation anymore than finding out where they live and punching them in the face would. I understand that bans are a necessary part of keeping a community running, but you should probably keep that for spam and comments that are meant entirely to disrupt a discussion or break the site.

Long story short, it's up to both the people who inhabit the internet and the managers that keep them in line to ensure that the internet doesn't turn into a giant wasteland of spam and irreverent thought. If you're going to be part of a community, treat it like you would a crowd of people. Don't be a dick and say they're wrong for voicing an opinion. That doesn't mean you have to be subservient; the great thing about free speech is that it has little consequences. Getting into a nice discussion doesn't have to become a war or words unless you make it so.

Kings and queens of the banhammer, learn how to wield your hammer (teehee) without being a tyrant. Don't disemvowel or ban people for saying what everyone's thinking. (e.g. This is not news, you're a racist, this is so biased, this is crazy wrong) or for disagreeing with you. Flaunting and threatening with the banhammer is as useful as adding "COMMENT HERE: REMEMBER THAT I CAN BAN YOU" to the end of every post, which is, well, not useful at all.

If everyone learns to follow these rules, the internet (and by consequence, the world) can be a better place for everyone. Except WiISucks.

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About garbaggioone of us since 8:53 PM on 04.10.2008

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