Tue, Nov 25, 2014 - Page 9 News List

The moronic inferno: Debate in the Internet era

Everyone seems to have strong opinions about everything — and everywhere people want to take offense. One slip — or even a perfectly innocent remark — can mean public vilification

By Helen Lewis  /  The Observer

This aspect of the free speech debate is often ignored. Consider the backlash to Twitter linking up with a voluntary organization Women, Action and The Media (WAM), which plans to investigate and track sexist abuse on the social network. WAM’s power is extremely limited: it in effect has a hotline to Twitter, to escalate complaints that it has verified; it also plans to compile statistics on how well the service is handling them. The power to suspend and ban users still rests with Twitter.

This was not enough to stop influential US blogger Andrew Sullivan choking on his morning latte.

“Is it simply that WAM believes that women cannot possibly handle the rough-and-tumble of uninhibited online speech?” he said. “I suspect the culture wars online just got a little more frayed, because Twitter has empowered leftist feminists to have a censorship field day.”

It has not, of course. Twitter has empowered feminists to monitor whether its own harassment policies are enforced — and to see whether the “uninhibited online speech” of one group is preventing the uninhibited online speech of another. However, this is the essence of a culture war skirmish: the two opposing positions must be irreconcilable, and if one side triumphs, the fight merely moves on to new terrain.

No one can win the culture wars, and the massacres are set to continue.

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