-We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog to bring you these thoughts-
EDIT: This post is not going to make any sense to my older audience, at least not at first. Rest assured, I do get to a larger point about free speech later on.
I consider myself to be a pretty savvy internet user. I know where to find movies and TV shows streaming within hours of their airing, which is a huge benefit considering the free streaming sites in the US that are legal do not work outside the states (I would be using Hulu ALL THE TIME if this was the case). I am pretty familiar with internet memes, and know how to spot a RickRoll. I have a Facebook, a Twitter, a Tumblr, a blog, and am a regular presence on a message board and several other blogs. The double rainbow meme was already annoying me before it broke on the internet at large.
It sort of goes without saying - I know my way around.
It also goes without saying though that there are also several areas of the internet I know nothing of, and it's of one of these that I would like to spew some thoughts today.
I'm almost frightened to mention it, because the first two rules of this certain imageboard (a board created for posting jpegs and gifs) are, in classic Fight Club style, "Do not talk about /b/." and "You do NOT talk about /b/."
But today, I am going to talk about it. "/b/" (pronounced "bee") is the well known section of a certain notorious website known as 4chan. 4chan was developed in 2003 by a 15 year old kid, as an English copy of a Japanese web format. There's a whole lot more background than that, but for the sake of discussion, I'm going to skip to the important points.
The important things to know about 4chan is that it 1. Has 700,000 posts a day, and 2. Is almost completely anonymous. It's anonymity is part of the massive draw - you can say virtually anything, with almost no repercussions (though I must say there have been cases where someone threatening to blow up an airport or something as a joke was caught and prosecuted by the FBI, so there are some limits). /b/ is by far the more popular section of the site - it is the "random" board and the one where pretty much anything goes.
"Anything goes," in the internet age, translates to virulent racism, lots and lots of porn, and lots and lots of gore. "moot," the now 22 year old who founded the site, refers to this corner of the internet as "unbridled free speech," a last bastion of sorts in an era where everyone knows everything about everyone else. In the safety of 4chan's anonymity, you can spew angry thoughts about your coworkers or boss, rant about the gay/black/latino/pick your poison groups at your school, and, yes, caption cat pictures.
(Yes, that's right, 4chan invented the LOLcat).
Here's the problem, if you haven't spotted it already: the issue with completely "unbridled free speech" is that it only functions positively when it happens among mature adults who realize that what they say has consequences. The anonymity and lack of policing on /b/, combined with a massive amount of teenagers who lie about their age to get around the board's supposed 18+ restriction results, often, in actions being taken too far, in harassing people and shutting down whole websites. Part of the reason I was afraid to post my thoughts about /b/ was the idea of a 4chan member picking up on it and running with it.
When we encourage free speech and anonymity at the same time, we get this weird, non-real world vortex where what you say has no consequence, and you can spew whatever. Most of the time that's pretty harmless, and I'd be willing to bet most people on /b/ are pretty normal people with a weird sense of humor. But, anonymity and an overly emphasized concern for my "free speech" is what results in riots, is what results in hate speech and hate crimes, is something that is a dangerous combination.
Free speech only really works if you understand what it means to say something and have it mean something. The anonymity and lack of consequences on 4chan also is a double edged sword: while it has led to some awesome expression and some pretty damn hilarious stuff, it also means that what you say never means anything real. When it comes down to it, you're an anonymous person in his mom's basement trolling an 11 year old girl. Those who hide behind the veil of both free speech and anonymity are cowards unable to face the consequences for their actions.
Is that really what we want to use free speech for?
Blog inspired by this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_1UEAGCo30
-back to your regularly scheduled blog now-