Twitter Jitters – the Limits of Freedom of Speech on the Internet

Posted on November 6, 2010

Never had much use for Twitter.  Who the heck cares what a guy in India is doing at this very moment.  Tweeting has been raised to an art form by people like Sarah Palin who have been very effective in reaching out to people curious about who and what she is and to her loyal followers to keep them inspired.

And  of course we found what a lifeline it could be when in June, 2009,  Iran erupted in civil  conflict and tweets from the protesters to the world outside got word out about that oppressive regime and of the hideous death of a girl who became an emblem for the struggle, Neda.

It’s positive uses aside, for many more it is the old west – wild and woolly – a live video game.  It’s where you sign up under a false name with an e-mail obtained under a false name and go out there on verbal search and destroy missions taking down the innocent and not so innocent with dark threats and abusive language.  You win if you can out tawdry tweet your opponent.

Now consider that social networks are creating a kind of interconnectedness that allows your followers and also advertisers to know where you are at any moment should you agree to be tracked globally.  The end result is that there is a lot of garbage out there being tracked that doesn’t have anything to do with anything and a few things being linked that you may not want connected.

I was allowed to get away with a user name “FlickaDickAtaU.”  The name still makes me giggle but in reality it’s not the kind of handle you’d want your 10 year old to see.  It only looks as if the 10 year old created it.  Still, it should not be allowed on a social network even thought it pretty much describes what a lot of people are doing to each other out there.

On Twitter, you can change your “real” name at will; your avatar at will, and your user name at will.  It is all so ridiculously easy.  Why seriously deal with a universe like that?  You can’t take anything or anyone seriously there.  It’s like going into the fun house.  Now obviously there is a need for such a place.   So let’s call it what it is and let’s not let Twitter or Facebook consider that these are part of the “social network.”

It seems that you can get away with things on the internet that might land you in jail in real life.  Consider the mother of a girl who pretended to be a young man and tantalized her daughter’s friend until she committed suicide.  That mother – user – was taken to court and found guilty.  It gets all degrees of serious.

The Chinese now are moving to require that their citizens register on the internet with their real names.  That is the other extreme. Here’s hoping people will be able to have a user name that will protect their identity.

But a user name that is used responsibly and civilly is a far cry from the use of multiple IDs to enter into a kind of base combat with others in a discussion group.  More often than not both sides are using the same tactics.  These are not ideological discussions – not on this level.  It is corruption of freedom of speech on both sides.

Freedom of speech is precious. We need to  preserve and protect it along with all of  our other constitutional gifts.  Perhaps these kinds of “word games” need to be restricted to a board game or video medium.  Let’s hope that such verbal brinkmanship that is self-limiting as well as abusive to others remains virtual and does not spill over into the streets.

©On My Watch…the writings of SamHenry.  Registration pending.