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Tim Chevalier ([personal profile] tim) wrote2012-03-06 11:11 pm
Entry tags:

Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech

When I checked email this morning, the first message I read was a posting on Homozilla, the internal LGBTQ/ally mailing list at Mozilla, about a posting from Gervase Markham, a Mozilla contractor who works on community relations, that appeared on the Planet Mozilla blog aggregator. Planet Mozilla syndicates blogs from various people (employees and volunteers) in the Mozilla community. Some people choose to only publish posts of theirs that are tagged with a certain tag on Planet Mozilla, while others publish their entire blogs. This leads to a mix of Mozilla-related and non-Mozilla-related content.

Gerv's post was not just non-Mozilla-related, but was a call for other UK residents to sign an anti-marriage-equality petition. While Gerv is entitled to his own opinions and to publish them on his own blog, publishing this opinion as a paid Mozilla staff member under the Mozilla banner implies that Mozilla endorses the hate speech that he chose to release. And yes, I'm calling it hate speech because saying that I don't deserve to have a fundamental human right is saying that I'm not a person. If that's not clear to you, perhaps you have a hard time empathizing with people who aren't as privileged as yourself. I would suggest you work on that; it's not really my job to help you learn.

The Mozilla staff members who administer Planet Mozilla responded by essentially standing behind Gerv's hate speech as published under the Mozilla banner. Again, Gerv has the right to say whatever he wants about how I'm not a human being, but as a company, Mozilla can make a choice about what kind of content to publish under their name.

In this case, the Planet Mozilla team -- which includes people employed by and speaking for Mozilla -- made the choice to defend the value of using a Mozilla blog to spread hate speech: Our policy for the last five years, since the creation of an official Mozilla module for planet.mozilla.org, has been that we do not filter or censor content on Planet. Further, we have encouraged our community to share more than just their Mozilla-related activities on Planet." And a number of people, some of whom are Mozilla employees, wrote comments that also defended the value of using a Mozilla blog to spread hate speech (see the same link for comments).

Whatever it accomplishes for Mozilla's mission of protecting the open Web to disseminate speech that denies the humanity of a marginalized minority group, I guess that's more important than affirming that Mozilla values the contributions made by its LGBTQ employees and volunteers. To me, defending rather than repudiating Gerv's hateful post says that my contributions, and those of every other LGBTQ contributor at Mozilla, aren't important -- that Mozilla as a company is willing to give up all of those contributions just to be able to distribute hate speech through the Planet Mozilla aggregator.

I can't help but see parallels with my experience at PSU -- in that case, authority figures made the judgment that another grad student's right to talk about raping another student, to their face, at work was more important than their or my education. Apparently, the value of rape jokes at work was so high to my group at Portland State that it was not possible to take any serious action against pervasive sexual harassment or to discipline the person who committed the most heinous act in any serious way. I thought Mozilla was better than that, but apparently there's a similar calculus at work here: the value of having hate speech targeting LGBTQ people on a blog aggregator that is clearly under the Mozilla umbrella (nobody could read it and not think it's an official Mozilla feed) is being deemed greater than the value of everything that LGBTQ contributors have to offer to Mozilla.

If you think that the term "hate speech" is overreaching, you may be confused about the distinction between offense and oppression. For example, a homophobe might be offended by this post, but it is not hate speech against homophobes, since homophobes are not an oppressed class (quite the opposite) and I have no systematic power over them. At least under California state law, it's easy to find out which classes are protected classes: for example, women, people of color, people with disabilities, members of gender and sexual minorities, among others. Speech that targets any of those groups as a group and tears down their humanity (for example, by suggesting they don't deserve a fundamental human right) is hate speech. Speech that targets individuals independently from their group membership, or that targets powerful groups that are not protected classes, is not hate speech. Speech that is merely offensive to somebody and does not have the power and violence of a dominant group (like men, white people, heterosexuals, or cisgender people with cissexual bodies) to back it up cannot be hate speech. Speech on behalf of heterosexuals that targets LGBTQ people is absolutely hate speech; words that imply we're not worthy of basic rights are the theory, and a fist to the face is the practice. Each incites the other.

Back in September at the Mozilla All-Hands meeting, Gary Kovacs, our CEO, said that people had already been fired for making bigoted remarks at work and he wouldn't hesitate to do it again. The room applauded. I felt like I was finally in a place where I could feel free to focus on work without being afraid that someone else would decide that their discomfort with my gender or sexual minority status was my problem and that the administration would side with the bully. Now, I'm not so sure. See, the thing is, you can't be neutral when a bully is bullying -- being neutral means taking the bully's side. You can't cite "free speech" when a bully is using words to commit an act of violence by asserting and renewing their superior social standing and power in a situation. Tolerating hate speech means destroying free speech for people in minority groups; unchecked free speech means that only people in powerful majority groups get to speak. When bullies are allowed to use their power to remind me that I'm not a person, that silences my voice.

I'm using the "research" tag for this post since if my setup from long ago still works, this post will be syndicated on Planet Mozilla. And, of course, this post represents about an hour that I could have spent doing research had a number of individuals not made the collective decision that my workplace should be a place where my humanity is not a given but, rather, up for debate.

Edit: Edited to remove the name of a particular person who I had mistakenly attributed more to than he was actually responsible for.
luinied: This is from the Sega Saturn game, which I haven't played. (dark)

[personal profile] luinied 2012-03-07 09:20 pm (UTC)(link)
Gervase Markham, a Mozilla contractor who works on community relations

...obviously this whole thing is fucked up, but that's what really stood out to me. Seriously?
luinied: I have only seen an aurora once in real life. (worried)

[personal profile] luinied 2012-03-07 10:32 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm not too keen on that "governance" part, either.