Really encouraged to see so many people starting to speak up about the issues on the official Star Trek Facebook page, and imagining the potential of positive change. The above is a selection of comments left on the Change.org petition for CBS and StarTrek.com to develop a comments policy to address the sexist, racist and homophobic comments on the Facebook page, and appoint moderators to enforce it.
Have you signed the petition yet? If not, what are you waiting for?
There are only 339 signatories to the petition so far — come on Tumblr — we can make that tens of thousands, can’t we?
PLEASE! Everyone go and sign this! So, so important!
Only 27 more sigs needed!!!!
Okay, listen. As terrible as racist, homophobic, obnoxious comments are, they are not doing anything they are not allowed to do so long as they are not directed at someone specific. Freedom of speech works both ways. :(
The response to the petition so far has been overwhelmingly supportive, but I wanted to address this, I think well-intentioned, misconception that implementing a comments policy and page moderation in any way infringes on freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech is a hugely important right, one that I rely on daily as a feminist blogger and media commentator. But the right to freedom of speech (read the wording of the First Amendment for a good example) is meant to prohibit government suppression of speech, not to say that private citizens and organizations must, in their own spaces, accept any and all speech from others.
So let’s just say, for example, I wanted to express an opinion that others might find controversial, like: “Jonathan Archer is the best Star Trek captain ever and anyone who doesn’t agree is an idiot.” (Don’t worry, that’s never going to happen).
I am guaranteed the right to say that in my house. I can have a banner printed up and hold it while I wave at passing cars. I can start my own blog about how great Archer is and how stupid everyone who doesn’t like him is. I can even stand on a street corner and hand out pro-Archer pamphlets and try to strike up conversations with random members of the public…
But I can’t force them to stay and listen if they don’t want to. I can’t stand in the middle of a city street with my banner and disrupt traffic. I can’t walk into the middle of a Macy’s and stand on a crate with a megaphone and shout my love for Archer. I can’t invite myself to a Captain Janeway fan club meeting at someone’s house and go off on a vicious anti-Janeway rant and call everyone there idiots; they’d be well within their rights to kick me out of their space for being a jerk.
Similarly, corporate entities like CBS and StarTrek.com (as well as Facebook) have the right to determine who gets to use their space under what terms.
I can’t even come close to listing all the major, mainstream, legitimate organizations that have comments policies for their websites and/or social media similar to what this campaign is asking for. But I did make a list of a handful of particular policies that specifically address sexism, racism and homophobia, and that seem to be working well.
What we have on the Star Trek Facebook page is not free speech; it is free reign for a loud minority to spew sexist, racist and homophobic comments, and to troll and intimidate those who object, thereby silencing the voices of many women, people of colour, and LGBT fans.
Freedom of speech is so often misconstrued as being the right to say anything and not receive backlash or have any action taken against you for it. It is merely the right to say anything without government interference. People can and will call a person out if they are being a hateful bigot. Website and Facebook page administrators do have the right to remove comments and ban individuals at their discretion. Their right to freedom of speech is not being violated as they are still free to say those things in their own home, they are free to post them on a website that does not have a moderation policy prohibiting them, they are free to create their own website and post those things on it (though there are usually limitations to free speech, for example advocating violence against a group of people).
Websites with comprehensive comments policies forbidding hate speech, offensive slurs, personal attacks, etc. often have the most vibrant communities of people who discuss, debate, and disagree with each other respectfully; sites that allow people spouting offensive garbage usually end up haemorrhaging those respectful individuals because there is no room left for civil discourse when the dialogue is primarily composed of offensive content. Who wants to stick around and discuss and debate issues when every time you post you have people calling you names and attacking you personally?
The official Star Trek Facebook page COULD become a great place for people to discuss Star Trek, have lively debates, keep up to date on news, share information, talk about what they’d like to see from the franchise in the future, etc. Instead, it is currently a place overrun with sexist, racist, homophobic and transphobic individuals who enjoy posting offensive comments and attacking anyone who calls them out on it. People who don’t want to be exposed to that kind of behaviour are leaving in droves and the page is becoming a dumping ground for offensive garbage with little meaningful contribution.
Nobody is asking the page to ban dissent. There is a vast difference between “I don’t think Janeway was a good captain because her actions in X instance caused Y problems” and “I hate Janeway, she’s such a fucking bitch”. Right now, most of the comments on the page are of the latter variety – often much, much worse.
Moderation is not censorship. In places with freedom of speech laws, people shouting offensive comments have a right to shout them without government interference; but the Star Trek franchise also has the right to say “we don’t want you doing it on our Facebook page or our website”. That’s a right we’re asking them to exercise in order to make the page a welcoming place for fans of all races, orientations, gender identities, and abilities.