I want you to imagine youâ€™re at a party. Not a great party, more like one of those dull work parties, where nobody is really thrilled to be there, but attendance is mandatory. And imagine, if you will, someone saunters in and takes a gigantic dump in the punchbowl.
What would you do? What do you do?
Bringing it up with a manager seems like a safe bet. So you tell the person in charge of the party that someone took a shit in the punchbowl. â€œYeah, yeah, whatever.â€ they say. â€œWeâ€™ll get someone to take a look.â€
So the party continues, with a big turd floating in the punchbowl. Occasionally, someone tries to get punch, ignorant of the turd, and is stopped by someone with enough sense to know you donâ€™t drink from a turd-filled punchbowl. The conversation at the party shifts from work mundanity to why thereâ€™s a turd in the punchbowl, who shat it, and why nobodyâ€™s done anything about it.
â€œYeah,â€ says Dawn in accounting, â€œI brought it up with the Office Manager an hour ago, and itâ€™s still there.â€
Now, it turns out, this party is actually being sponsored by one of your companyâ€™s clients. So, when the clientâ€™s guy shows up and sees the turd-loaded punchbowl, what happens then? They technically paid for that punch that nobody can drink.
Suddenly, now itâ€™s important. Nobody at the party can drink the punch, the entire vibe is ruined, and nobodyâ€™s happyâ€”but because someone with a financial stake in having drinkable punch raised the issue, now someoneâ€™s motivated to address it.
Any similarity to the above story to recent events involving a certain right-wing provocateurâ€”by which I mean serial harasserâ€”on Twitter, is far from coincidental.
Itâ€™s incumbent upon any organization that tries to be a space for social interactions online, that they both acknowledge someoneâ€™s going to try and take a shit in the punchbowl. Itâ€™s human nature. Someoneâ€™s always going to try to ruin the fun for everyone else. When this happens, you canâ€™t just stand aside, tsk, and then fall back on some vague platitudes on â€œfree expression,â€ or whatnot. Instead, you remove the turd, you dump out the punch, you clean the bowlâ€”or just replace it completelyâ€”and kick the punchbowl pooper out of the party.
And that last step is not censorship. If someone shat in the punchbowl because they didnâ€™t like the punch, didnâ€™t like the party, or didnâ€™t like the company running the party, it doesnâ€™t matter. Thereâ€™s better, politer, more constructive, and less disgusting ways to express your dissent. Ways that donâ€™t ruin the party for everyone else, that donâ€™t risk making everyone sick, and might actually make things better.
Letâ€™s dispense with the metaphors for a bit.
Internet trolls and abusers love to make a false equivalency between their targeted campaigns of hate and simply â€œdisagreeingâ€ with what their victim is saying. This is absurd on the face of it, but Iâ€™ll explain why in a bit more detail that is inevitably going to read a bit like a Monty Python sketch.
Disagreement is an intellectual process, wherein you express a contrary view to someone and present evidence and reasoning to back it up. Harassment and abuse is insulting, threatening, and hounding a person with repetitive commentsâ€”even if those are attached to a valid disagreement.
To put it another way, disagreement is saying â€œI donâ€™t agree, because of x, y, and z.â€ Harassment and abuse is saying â€œI donâ€™t agree, because of x, y, and I will murder you and your family because of it.â€ The former of these is protected speech. The latter is a criminal threat, but good luck getting it prosecuted in a court of law.
And, while weâ€™re on the subject, nobody online is obligated to get into a debate with you if you disagree. Even if youâ€™re polite about it. Someoneâ€™s refusal to debate you is not even close to the same thing as being harassed or abused yourself.
As long as the trolls have free reign to shit in the punchbowl, everyone else is going to have a very unpleasant experience on Twitter. By banning one of the serviceâ€™s serial punchbowl poopers, theyâ€™ve at least taken a major step in showing they care, just a little bit, about having punch thatâ€™s free of turds for all of us to enjoy.
My suspicion is, however, that they only care because the punch was paid for by someone who needs to have Miloâ€™s latest victim using Twitter as part of the promotional strategy for the new Ghostbusters. Only by threatening Twitterâ€™s ad revenue could Jack and his team decide that enough was enough, and give Milo a long overdue push out the door.
Donâ€™t get me wrong, Iâ€™m glad heâ€™s gone. I just donâ€™t have much hope that Twitterâ€™s going to do much to prevent anyone else from shitting in the punchbowl. I hope I get proven wrong.