Sunday, May 29, 2011

When Free Speech Crosses The Line

You all know I'm a man with opinions.

I have ideas that are in keeping with the political party I've chosen to support. I have ideas that are very different, and I defend them vociferously. I'm always happy to debate those ideas, and listen to the ideas of others.

Sometimes, though, it's not possible to come to an agreement. Sometimes, you have to agree to disagree. Sometimes, the other person isn't interested in compromise. Heck, sometimes - very rarely - I'm not interested in compromise. And so you end in a stand-off. This is the reality of adult conversation.

I've long been opposed to the co-opting of public figures' images, names or internet identities for partisan gain under the guise of "satire". I didn't like it when Ed Stelmach's domain name was snapped up. I didn't like it when fake Stelmach and Ted Morton id's popped up on Twitter. Those are elected officials, and they're fair game for criticism. I get that. Bloggers are no less public, and that's by our choice. We choose to step out of the shadows, stand on a soap-box, and proclaim our thoughts to the masses. So, we're fair game for disagreement at all times, and for ridicule when we deserve it.

All that said, though, it's still not okay in my mind to co-opt someone's identity to try and embarrass them. So it was with great trepidation that I saw recently someone had started a fake account on Twitter for my friend and fellow blogger Christina Rontynen. Christina did a great job of turning the other cheek, and even considered it something of a badge of honour that she had been considered a big enough threat to have warranted a "spoof account". This reaction denied the offender that which they were most probably seeking: The chance to be hurtful to the object of their scorn and ridicule.

My disgust at the appearance this weekend of a hideously named Twitter account meant to ridicule Jane Morgan is palpable. I know that, as a staunch advocate of free speech, Jane is going to let this roll off her back like water on a duck. But the clearly degrading language used to describe this earnest and passionate Albertan is completely unacceptable in a civilized society. The account suggests it may be the work of someone in her own party, but that could just as easily be a red herring. Whether the account is related to the Wildrose nomination battle in Calgary-Klein (nee North Hill), a result of someone from another partisan bent trying to get their shots in anonymously, or just some coward with a keyboard and a lot of free time is beside the point. It's name-calling in an attempt to be hurtful. It's something children do. And my friend Jane is many things - but "childish" is not one of them. She won't give this coward the satisfaction.

I have had the pleasure of meeting many of the political bloggers here in Alberta, from across the entire political spectrum. I count some of them - regardless of their affiliation - among my closer friends. We disagree on many things - but we disagree and debate those differences with respect, and in full sentences. It was a pleasant shock to me that when many of us were invited by Wildrose Alliance blogger The Alberta Altruist to join him in a suite at the Saddledome for a Calgary Flames game this past season, we all GOT ALONG. Not just those of us who were inclined to agree with each other before we met - ALL of us. Even Shane. Because we're grown-ups, and we can disagree without being disagreeable.

Jane says things sometimes that are inaccurate. She says things sometimes that are ill-advised, or that she shouldn't have said. You know who else does that, sometimes? Me. And Dave Cournoyer. And Ken Chapman. And Shane Byciuk. And DJ Kelly. And Jeremy Zhao. And Alheli Picazo. And the Alberta Altruist. And Dan Arnold. And Dan Pagan. And Kirk Schmidt. And Alex Muir. And Christina Rontynen. And Peter Pilarski. And Allie Wojtaszek. And Duncan Wojtaszek and Blake Robert, before I put them into retirement. And every other blogger, past and present. We ALL do it. And we're not alone - REAL journalists, who are trained to do this sort of thing and smart enough to insist on PAYMENT to do it, make those mistakes too.

When we DO, we should be called on it. By the general public, and by each other. We have to police ourselves, to keep the public discourse based on reality and civility. It's the responsibility of all of us to hold each other to a high standard, and to speak up when that standard isn't met.

I respect all of the bloggers listed above, and I've been lucky enough to have met many of them. Many of them have very different ideas from me - and that's okay. Because we can respectfully disagree. Because we're adults.

But a spoof account on Twitter made to embarrass or hurt someone's feelings?

That's a child's game.

Grow up.


Anonymous said...

Sure she didn't start it herself?

Unknown said...

I can't help but think that people who choose to involve themselves in politics deserve a certain amount of respect. It seems safe to say that the blanket goal is to somehow improve the system through their involvement; I don't think anyone out there wants to actively make the politics of Alberta worse. So, I think everyone involved in the discourse deserves at least some politeness and common courtesy.

At the same time, I also think the people involved should be showing that same politeness and courtesy. Not giving a little respect doesn't justify being treated with a lack of it, but I think our political discourse could use a shot of the stuff.

Christina said...

Thanks for the props Joey.

My friend Giggles was hard to ignore - but it is so important to attempt to turn the other cheek and get on with what's important in life.

I love the Twitter community because we do let one another make mistakes. We all recognize that one another are human. It's nice. It's very real. God knows I've made a bunch of mistakes online ... including one that made the Metro (oops).

Thanks for blogging about this topic. Peter and I were both shocked when we saw this latest fake account. It's unfair.

Thanks for your advice and encouragement - I wouldn't be where I am in the Twitter community if I didn't recieve your friendly reminds not to feed the trolls.


Amanda Henry said...

Thanks for this post. I couldn't have said it better myself.

As an Alberta Party member, I often disagree with Jane via the twitters and occasionally find her penchant for trolling annoying - but my head nearly exploded when I caught up to the spoof twitter account thing. How inappropriate.

And not only inappropriate but sexist, denigrating and insulting to both politics (which should aspire to be a noble sport) and to the women involved in it. Should people be a target for criticism? Sure. Should sexist (or racist or classist or whatever-ist) slurs have a place in the game? Absolutely not. It cheapens us all.

I hope whoever started that up knocks it off and apologizes. And I hope that they don't think they're acting on behalf of whichever party they belong to (if any). No one on the spectrum needs to be dealing with this crap. We all have real work to do and real, substantive discussions to have - hopefully with an ever-increasing number of less hackish Albertans.

Jane Morgan said...

Thanks for the post Joey. It really isn't much more than an annoyance for me.

My skin has gotten very thick with many years of internet debates over the years.

You can always tell when people want to post ridiculous ideas ... they do it anonymously.... as your first commenter demonstrates.