Monday, January 11, 2010

Here’s The Problem, Roblem

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, and don’t know, Plurk is a social networking website that a large number of SecondLife residents use to communicate and network outside of SL.  As you might imagine, drama abounds!  And while I normally afford things I read on Plurk the appropriate amount of deference, which is none, a series of events recently transpired that I found profoundly troubling.
Someone or a group of people signed up for a Plurk account under the nickname “SLFashionFails” and proceeded to post links to pictures and images from various SecondLife fashion blogs with colorful commentary that I suspect was intended to be humorous, though certainly contentious.  Word of the “SLFashionFails” account spread and there was no shortage of opinions.  When a SecondLife resident that I know only as “Roblem Hogarth” learned about the “SLFashionFails” timeline, he took to his own timeline and blasted “SLFashionFails” as being filled with “anonymous … hate” and let his Plurk followers know that “we can all see who you are, I give you all 24 hours to shun this krap…”  My understanding is that a number of people were encouraged or conspired to file abuse reports with Plurk regarding the “SLFashionFails” account in an attempt to have it removed from Plurk altogether.  The “SLFashionFails” account was ultimately banned.  “Roblem Hogarth” discussed the issue in more detail on his blog.  “Roblem” takes issue with “SLFashionFails” because it is (1) “hate” speech by (2) someone who prefers to remain anonymous.
I saw the handful of posts on the “SLFashionFails” timeline and, personally, didn’t find it anymore offensive than most of the content on Saturday Night Live or Comedy Central.  And while “Roblem” suggests that the person or people behind “SLFashionFails” were hate-filled homophobic, racists, I don’t think that using the word “queer” or uttering the words “black” and “white” in the same sentence make it so.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that people who have actually been victims of hate, like survivors of the Holocaust or Matthew Shepard’s family, would be pretty pissed that you trivialized their experiences and losses by putting them in the same category as people making fun of prim hair and pixel skin.  And even if “SLFashionFails” was fueled by bona fide hate, they have the right to speak freely.  They also have the right to speak anonymously.
Forget for a moment that “Roblem” uses revenue from SecondLife, where a huge number of people flock to find comfort in an anonymous escape from their real identities, to make “the real money to pay for [his] real rent and groceries.”  There are a multitude of extraordinarily valuable and meaningful reasons to write, speak, and vote anonymously.  Whistleblowers keeping corporate America honest, unpopular people who want their ideas to be given a fair shake, human rights activists and political rebels the world over represent only a fraction of a percent of the people that rely on anonymity to make their voices heard against the tyranny of the majority.  Mark Twain, Voltaire, George Sand, and Benjamin Franklin are either pseudonyms or people who used pseudonyms to express themselves.  John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison signed the Federalist Papers only as “Publius.”  The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized a constitutionally-protected right to speak anonymously, courtesy of the First Amendment.
No, “SLFashionFails” isn’t a corporate whistleblower or Voltaire.  But you can’t have just a little bit of free speech anymore than you can be a little pregnant.  So next time someone decides to show his or her ass anonymously, perhaps you should do the opposite of what they want you to do and disregard what they say or write.  And if you jumped on the bandwagon to silence “SLFashionFails” then maybe you should consider what might happen if you ever decide to step left when everyone else is stepping right.