‘That young man, Nolan, I really don’t like him. He rides too well. He knows a lot. And he has no heart. It’ll be a sad day Airey when England’s has her armies officered by men who know too well what they are doing. It smacks of murder’.
— Lord Raglan to Sir Richard Airey: (Dialogue from ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ – a 1968 film about the Crimean War)
Let me start this out by saying that Tumblr, as an Internet entity, is a valuable resource for sharing information and self-publishing. On this aspect alone I praise it as a means for people around the world to communicate freely and its potential to solve conflict through dialogue between common people. There are few, if any, restrictions on the service which is fantastic for those living in countries where the thought police stalk the populace. And let’s face it, the liberties of a free Internet have changed the political landscape forever. Indigenous liberation protest in PNG, Chiapas, Aotearoa, Occupied Canada (Idle No More) Hawai’i and the Arab World in particular have benefited greatly from the web and this is something all educated people should support. And Tumblr does its part to add this this communication.
So, where am I about to start complaining? Right about here. That’s right, the Internet is a free space for free speech and Tumblr is a wonderful platform. But freedom also comes with a responsibility. Moreover, political and social freedom in a complex civil society simply demands a certain level of maturity in order for ‘freedom’ to work. Please note here that I am not, at this particular juncture, referring to the ‘state’. I am talking here about not the system, but the people who make use of the Internet in a reckless fashion. Namely, the total abuse of Tumblr by users who post material best left to adult web portals that specialise in such material
Before I go any further let me point out that this is not in any way a call for further top-to-bottom censorship. So far, and I am assuming in this, Tumblr does observe some degree of monitoring or at least responding to complaints from registered users. But even then, due to the nature of the service, they cannot be expected to censor on-the-fly the very moment some fool posts something that really doesn’t belong on Tumblr. To do so would in the end would place the basic freedoms of the service at risk of heavy censorship. On the contrary, I am asking users of the Internet to exercise some mature judgment. In other words, self-censorship
Those of us with a concern for the Internet remaining a space for the free transfer of information and ideas, this is a serious issue. This is also International Women’s Month and it seems fitting that we at least consider how the Internet can influence and impact the plight of women living with abuse and institutional discrimination. Firstly, Cartesian common-sense in a logical universe would dictate that one should not add material to a public, all-ages forum that can be viewed, quite accidentally I might add, by people who either do not, or should not, have access to such material. This is a no-brainer. Especially given the fact that Tumblr is used by a large number of young people. Secondly, the empirical fact that a good deal of the material I am discussing here can be regarded as misogynistic can only add on to the negatively women already face in civil society. Numerous users have raised the fact that some of the most misogynistic posts on Tumblr, (and other social networks for that matter) garner a large share of attention. A situation that says much about the people who use the service as well as the society that nurtures such retrograde attitudes
The Aboriginal Press News Service (APNS) is a grassroots-based Indigenous journalist/activist guild that is very grateful to Tumblr for providing us a space to connect with those interested in the issues of the Fourth World and under-reported news. But we also wish to state that we have a concern with how the use of #hashtags could innocently lead a visitor to material that many of our readers are certain to find objectionable. Let me be clear, while one would hope that Tumblr will do what it can to curb the abuse of their platform, it is not Tumblr who posts the material in question. Users do that. Consciously. Have consideration and consider using the appropriate channels made available for specialised content. Flooding the web with inappropriately placed material will bring the free Internet to an end
My point is this: if you want the Internet to stay free, treat it and others that use it with respect. Do not assume that everyone shares your interests. And do not assume that purposefully shocking unsuspecting visitors with strong material carries no potential downside. Military veterans are not the only people who suffer from PTSD but I include them in this list. Some of the material in question could possible cause severe psychological damage to people who are recovering from previous trauma(s). Again, there are long-established websites dedicated to extreme material. And it would be wise for the shock trolls to make use of them. Because at the the rate the web is going in terms of global access to personal information and the like, irresponsible and negative misuse of the Internet will lead to its being shut down.
At some point the people are going to have to take back the Internet from both the capitalists (who flood the web with useless SPAM and junk commerce sites that clog up transmission speeds) and the self-centred trolls who misuse and abuse the honourable free speech perspectives that make the Internet what it is. It is a damned shame that parents cannot trust the web. And I defy anyone using Tumblr to argue that it is possible to avoid strong material. No matter what terms you may utilise for a search, you are bound to come across something you had no intention of viewing. This is more than awkward, this is clearly unacceptable. And it is time that it came to a halt for the good of the Internet
Internet trolls give ultra-conservative pundits and authorities with a paternalistic streak the political excuses they need to impose broad state censorship on free expression. In their utter recklessness, people who care little for what they place into the public sphere will lead to exactly to the sort of top-down, bureaucratic control observed in China, North Korea and Saudi Arabia. And as we all know and understand by now, once that happens, there will be no chance of going back. Yes, the state is simply grasping for more power over its subject populations in wanting to control the Internet any more than is being conducted already. No one disputes this. Especially after the self-inflicted passing of a young Internet activist due to the pressures of an aggressive prosecution regarding a non-violent protest against an educational institute’s claim to copyright information. The stakes are very high. And it is up to all Internet users globally to actively address the issue.
We need to act with a mature eye towards sustainability and preserving co-operative access on the Internet for all. Without universal access to communication, conflict and confusion are always just around the corner. The more responsible we all act, towards each other and the web as a whole, the better things will be for everyone who wants to use the Internet safely.
This isn’t too much to ask. We all observe certain rules of safety and common courtesy when we walk down the street and drive the roads. There would be total chaos if we didn’t. Civil communication is deteriorating rapidly as it is. And the common politeness seen in generations past is practically non-existent today. Young people will ask you, rudely, for the time without saying thank you. Moreover, they sincerely feel that they don’t have to. They have been raised in a Reagan-Thatcher inspired, passively-misogynist,consumerist culture that places a higher value on selfishness than say, social justice. And we act surprised when average people think and sometimes do things that, by rights, should have been left back in the stone age.
We can change this. By being responsible. In all of our public spaces.
-TheAngryindian, chief editor – APNS