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Summary

Paul sits down for the latest episode of the Permaculture Smackdown with Katie and Kyle to discuss how to deal with haters without running and hiding.

The question was originally posed by Katie who wants to start a permaculture YouTube talking about what she knows, but is afraid of the inevitable torrent of haters and trolls that the internet is known for as her somewhat thin skin leads her to avoid such confrontations.  She’s fine with Permies thanks to the good moderators keeping meanies at bay, but other sites like YouTube are notorious for lacking such moderation.  The first issue that springs up is free speech.  It doesn’t apply to online forums run by private companies.  It lets you go out in public and say “I like pies” without being arrested by the government, but has no bearing on what companies publish or not – that’s down to freedom of the press.  A news company or a website like YouTube has the right to simply not publish something you’ve said, so deleting a troll’s comment isn’t touching their free speech (unless you have them arrested for it or something), you’re just not publishing what they’ve said.

Kyle suggests borrowing each other’s accounts so that they can moderate each other’s haters without ever being the target of haters, but Katie isn’t a particularly decisive character and would spend a lot of time agonizing over any decision made even a long time after making it.  Simply taking the “Calvin’s Dad” approach of thickening her skin might work, but it’ll likely change who she is – something she’s not ready for and even if she is, it may not be for the better.  Unfortunately, Paul doesn’t have a good answer for this quandary and the only advice he can give is to not feed the trolls – downvote, thumbs down, hide post, and move on.

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COMMENTS:
 
Lina Joana
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This podcast really got me thinking about freedom of speech and what it means in this era.  I'd love to hear others opinions. But first two points:
1) I wholeheartedly support Permies "censoring" policies, because I fully recognize that they are what make this space so enjoyable.  So, if this post is too far off topic or starts a dumpsterfire, please remove it without a second thought!
2) in the interests of avoiding said dumpster fire, I ask anyone who would like to to participate in this conversation to rise to the following challenge: write your post in such a way that the reader cannot tell which side of the political spectrum you are on - or what you think about any current hot button issues.  Good luck!

So, here is what I have observed, and my questions:
I understood Paul to say, as one of his examples of free speech, that you could go into a grocery store and have the right of free speech.  Actually, that is not quite true.  In my misspent youth, I did some volunteer canvasing and signature gathering.  Once, I tried very politely doing it in the parking lot of a grocery store.  After a fairly short time, I was politely asked to leave.  Not because my shy teenage girl self was harassing anyone or doing anything that could not be done on a public sidewalk, but because the store did not allow any petition gathering at its store or parking lot.  It is private property, you see, and you don't have the free speech rights on private property that you do on a public sidewalk.  As people moved from main street to mall, this privatization of public spaces meant that the opportunities to walk around yelling "I love pie" and get a response were fewer.

Enter the internet.  These days, we all engage in an awful lot of electronic communication.  I have watched it evolve - first, from something that felt much more like personal communication; emails, chatrooms, forums, and texts instead of face to face or phone conversations.  Then things like Twitter and Facebook evolved into some sort of hybrid of peer-to-peer communication and media clearing house.  I think the average user, if asked, would have said that these online social media platforms were essentially a public space.  Things were taken down, but the debate was primarily  around things like nudity - which can get you in trouble even in a public space.  So, Facebook felt like a public park where your friends hung out and you didn't have to see flashers. As Facebook got bigger this became more and more of an illusion  - with some much content pilling on, they put algorithms in place to curate what the end user saw.  But since that curation was based on your preference and engagement, it still felt like a public space. YouTube felt like a digital public square where you could set up your soap box.  You were almost guaranteed to get hit by the rotten fruit so easily flung by trolls. So that was certainly an issue - as discussed in the podcast.

Enter the post-US 2020 election era.  Suddenly, it became clear that social media platforms were indeed more mall and less main street.  As private companies they had and have every right to take down and ban users on whatever criteria they choose. I had mostly stopped using Facebook long before that, and never did get into Twitter, but my understanding is that they mostly take things down in the categories "hate speech" and "misinformation".  I have no way of knowing if I would agree with any or all of their decisions.  But they certainly have the right to make those decisions, because they are private online property. Just as Amazon has the right to refuse Cloud Services to whatever alternate platform - don't remember the name - tried to get going to host the people who were banned from Facebook.

So, here are the questions:  Is there a truly public square type space on the internet? Or is everything basically a private mall, where you can shop and maybe have private conversations with your friends, but you can't publicly orate without permission? Would setting up a website be orating?  What are your options if the corporations that host blogs and storage won't sell to you?

A few more questions to consider: I heard in the news somewhere that there were groups lobbying cellphone companies to block text containing misinformation.  I think they were referring to mass mail, spam type texts, but it brings up an interesting question:  Cell phone companies are private carriers.  Do they have the right to block a text from your crazy uncle because it contains misinformation or hate speech without your permission?  

So, to summarize this rather long post:  in the past, free speech meant you could get on a soapbox in a public space where people congregated and say whatever you liked without being arrested.  People could listen or not listen as they chose and be persuaded by your eloquence or throw rotten fruit as they chose.  Now, everyone congregates in private spaces - and, increasingly, in private digital spaces.  What does that do to the soapbox?  Is it lost?  Is that a good or a bad thing, and why?  If it is bad, is there a way to regain it?  And, coming back around to the podcast, is there a way to use the privately owned public squares (aka YouTube) without being overpowered by smell of digital rotten fruit?
 
Andrés Bernal
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Totally agree with Paul’s option A of just not feeding the trolls. I think energy vampires are a more accurate representation tho :)
 
Beth Bauer
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I think the grocery store parking lot petitioner analogy to online restrictions of speech is problematic in that stores that bar petitioners usually ban ALL or NONE, depending on their company policies.  The major issue with online throttling is that they tend to throttle those with whom they disagree while allowing causes to which they are sympathetic free range.  

I also call BS on the “hate speech” and “inciting violence” labels, as those also seem to look the other way as honored voices and supporters of approved causes can say pretty hateful things with impunity while comments of those who defy the agenda are scrutinized for “dog whistles”.

One of the more horrifying trends along this line that I have witnessed has been among the LGBTQ+ community.  I have many dear friends of the community that have been shunned by family and friends— if not outright hatefully trolled and cyber bullied for posting their (not hateful) views.  

There have been a number of social media platforms that claim to uphold the soapbox in the park model.  I find the offerings on Rumble and Locals to be pretty non partisan, but I confess that I haven’t dug too deeply—mostly because having largely broken my social media addiction, I’m wary of reinstating it.  When I feel my finger assuming the position for efficient scrolling, I drop the phone like a hot potato and get out and find something to do in the yard.
 
Catherine Winter
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"So, to summarize this rather long post:  in the past, free speech meant you could get on a soapbox in a public space where people congregated and say whatever you liked without being arrested.  People could listen or not listen as they chose and be persuaded by your eloquence or throw rotten fruit as they chose.  Now, everyone congregates in private spaces - and, increasingly, in private digital spaces.  What does that do to the soapbox?  Is it lost?  Is that a good or a bad thing, and why?  If it is bad, is there a way to regain it?  And, coming back around to the podcast, is there a way to use the privately owned public squares (aka YouTube) without being overpowered by smell of digital rotten fruit?"

Your entire response is incredibly well thought-out and articulate—thank you so much for sharing your insights!

I feel for Katie, and for everyone who has a thin skin and is afraid of negative responses from trolls and other haters out there. As someone who doesn't have a thin skin in that regard by any stretch of the imagination, I find it difficult to relate to her trepidation. Your soapbox reference comes to mind here, in that I remember walking past soapboxes on street corners and hearing the people on them howling all manner of opinions. They ranged from racist hatemongering to religious fervour and everything in between.
There were people stood around these manic street preachers, and those who walked by without paying them any mind. Some cowered away from the mean things they were saying, others merely shrugged, chuckled at their stupidity, and left knowing that they'd never think about those people again.

We seem to live in an age where there are extreme reactions in all directions. The "good vibes only" crowd can go overboard with silencing and cancelling those whose opinions differ from their own, while hateful bigots will curse and threaten those they deem too different from themselves. Many are quick to insult and criticize—not only what a person's saying, but their appearance, cultural background, vocal inflections, and the like. The middle road of respectfully agreeing to disagree, or constructive criticism without cruelty seems to be quite rare these days.

I don't have an answer for the best course of action either. People have a right to be able to express their opinions, but if those opinions are just mean, then why not keep those ideas to oneself? Before the internet comments section came about, the only time we'd hear vitriolic grumpings about various topics would be from an ornery uncle kvetching about something during a family get together. Now, every single social media post gets inundated with hateful responses from childish, hateful little boggarts from around the world.

I think it's important for people to develop their own set of healthy coping mechanisms so they don't crumple over mean comments. The whole "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me" approach and all. That said, having moderators around to reduce the sheer amount of hatred and stupidity frothed in one's direction can go a long way towards maintaining good mental health.

Is there a middle road that one can walk, here?
 
Lorinne Anderson
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Personally, I subscribe to a triple pronged approach:

A) ignore wherever possible, do not GIVE energy to a post that is intentionally inflammatory.

B) educate when necessary. By this I mean provide multiple links to responsible/credible sites that further explain/prove the point in question.

C) bullies are bullies, be it in person or online. Insist on an alteration to their post, explain why and that if they choose to NOT comply, DELETE the post and ban (or put their comments on "approval required") them.

This is how I handled facebook when I moderated; I am not sure if these would work for YouTube as I am unfamiliar with that platform.

If it is YOUR group/page/account then it is YOUR home. Your house, your rules, period. Set the tone, and without mercy, stick to your place of comfort. Always keep in mind, that dissent CAN be positive, especially when it makes us "think outside the box". Innovation comes from those who question the status quo. So be careful about insisting EVERYONE must agree with you - that is often very counter productive.

Nastiness is just that, nasty, and like an infection, it will spread if not dealt with swiftly and appropriately.

But always remember: Your house, your rules - no justification required.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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a fairly kind and functional app for conversation and substance is Clubhouse.  I don't know much about TikTok but Clubhouse has been pretty great for me because it's audio, not text, and real-time.  People have said they've even convinced trolls to turn into positive participants!  

and today I had a chat with the permaculture club founder on there and he would like to do a thing on the Building a Better World Book.

(He was also wondering if Paul might be willing to come on Clubhouse!  Or shawn?)
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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I just checked and there Permaculture Club has 1,600 members.  Not a large number.  But possibly a more invested 1,600 people?
 
paul wheaton
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Joshua Myrvaagnes wrote:and today I had a chat with the permaculture club founder on there and he would like to do a thing on the Building a Better World Book.

(He was also wondering if Paul might be willing to come on Clubhouse!  Or shawn?)



Maybe start a new thread.
 
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