Free Speech in Communities

This past week a Mozilla employee and community member that is syndicated on the Planet Mozilla feed posted a short appeal for folks in the UK to sign a petition in favor of the government defining the term ‘marriage’ as being between a biological woman and biological man.

This stirred some debate of that specific matter, but also highlighted questions of content policies for the planet in question, as well as the expression of some that they felt the particular appeal constituted everything from tactlessness to hate speech.

As I read that planet daily, my guess is there was something around two-dozen related posts, and, all told, maybe 200 comments on said posts.  That’s overlooking any other discussions that may have occurred such as on IRC.

Before delving into the actual free speech issues, a few points of order are necessary.

Foremost, free speech is sacrosanct, with very limited exceptions that amount to immediate public safety and self-defense.  But within a community, the toleration of speech is a separate issue.  That said, for open communities where participation is meant to be encouraged, leading on the side of tolerance as much as possible without falling over is desirable.

Insofar as this may allow for some bad things to be said to good people, the good should stand with their words and not fists or bans, and they should kindly explain the error of judgment that the bad speech represents.

Other contexts do not allow this delicacy, such as when the speaker is telling kids they will suffer eternally due to the fact of their birth.  I don’t care if the speaker is their parent.  Society has a vested interest in seeing that kids don’t grow up to hate themselves.

Secondly, equality under the law requires the law to treat like as like.  The strange thing is that the few that oppose equality of diction under the law in this community are mostly software engineers.  Some of them even work directly on language design.  It would seem that they cannot fathom that the law works much like a computer language, in which things such as classes exist.

I support calling all marriages marriages or calling them all civil unions.  I am opposed to such schemes that would have us refer to right-handed persons as humans and left-handed persons as near-humans.  Not just because it is morally wrong, but because it is semantically disgusting.  Any sane engineer should recognize that fact, and should not suffer a language that makes them make completely meaningless distinctions in their code.

Thirdly, the initial post had a very swift reply of roughly the same (though much more concise) argument I just made.  That argument was not addressed, except by those favoring it.  I consider that to be a testament to the fact that those supporting legal splitting of the same class into two do so not out of any real conviction, but as a kind of feint.

That is to say, they ask themselves what, given their identities with some attributes, they are to do.  Then, they do it.

If I say, “I am a person, male, lumberjack, who sleeps all night and works all day,” then finding myself in a forest, I will chop down the trees.  This attribute-driven behavior is very common, so it’s important to recognize it as such, and not get bent out of shape when we encounter humans exhibiting it.

Instead, we must find ways to remind them that imposition of their attribute-based beliefs via the law upon the rest of us constitutes a breach of the social contract.  That is to say, if the Christians can impose their baseless morality upon non-Christians via the law, then they should expect to find themselves eating their own dogfood (namely, being forced to pray to Moloch, the Ammonite god) every Tuesday, and occasionally sacrifice their children thereto).

But I digress.

The real question that comes out of all of this is how to manage speech of a community.  We see some people (myself included) that want to filter out certain sources that are considered bad (eg, SPAM).  Nobody argues that filtering out spam will cause insularity of viewpoints.  Yet wanting to filter out other SPAM-substitutes like the Murdochan Empire does raise that argument.

And other sources may be innocuous yet bothersome to manually ignore.  Such as duplicate feed items, but also issues that are of no direct interest.

The answer, at least for a setting like the community planets, might be some kind of score that the author would attach to the post.  That score, say, zero to nine, of how closely it matches the core interest of the community.  A score of zero would be purely related to the interest, where nine would be completely off-topic.

The second mechanism would be feedback from the readership, which would accumulate over time so that a source’s scoring could be adjusted.  If someone tended to overestimate their topicality, they would get points added, and if they underestimated, points would be subtracted.

The readership would set their threshold of what level of divergence they would tolerate.

Such a scheme might work within the narrow context of planets.  I don’t believe it would be effective for the large setting of general filtration where no contexts exists.  But it could still work for categorized news.