Well actually, in America, free speech is your constitutionally protected right to criticise the government without fear of censure.
The government cannot censor anything you say that is not an incitement to hatred or violence, which means that you can stand in a public place and hand out flyers about your doomsday cult or conspiracy theorist coffee klatch or sad internet forum for teenaged crybabies who think feminism stole their video games, and the police can’t drag you away unless you’re harassing people or causing a public disturbance.
This is an important and vital right, and everyone in the world should absolutely have it. No person should have to live in fear of their government taking away their right to criticise it, and even the most absurd opinions shouldn’t be banned from public places if they aren’t actually harming people.
However, in the same way that a restaurant doesn’t have to allow solicitors to hand out flyers on the premises, websites aren’t obligated to allow you to practice your right to free speech on their servers. Private companies and corporations are not the government, and they have no duty to uphold your right to say what you like on their dime, or, for the men reading this, 0.0002423 of a BitCoin.
Part of adulthood is understanding there are times and places where some kinds of speech are neither appropriate nor welcome, and then respecting the fact that this is the case.
I suppose that expecting that standard of behaviour of angry men on the internet is futile, which brings us to #TheTriggering.
If you don’t know what #TheTriggering is, I’m not surprised. As movements go, this one has had fantastically bad penetration. As far as I can ascertain, the idea behind this collective cry of desperation is to invade the “safe space” that is twitter dot com (yes, the same one where violent harassers don’t get banned because that would be infringing upon their right to free speech) with bad gore GIFs and angry tantrums about how feminism is stopping women from having sex with them.
The purpose appears to be to make feminists upset, but what’s happened instead is really kind of magical.
Instead, for a couple of days, sad internet trash children put a trigger warning on all their worst bullshit.
Don’t tell them–I don’t think they’ve figured it out yet–but for the first time, men’s rights whiners have embraced the trigger warning. If you use a Twitter platform that allows muting hashtags, which is almost all of them except for the web interface and native apps, all you have to do is mute #TheTriggering and a whole lot of disgusting content will suddenly become invisible to you.
(This is if you were ever going to see it in the first place; the other thing the hashtag’s creators seem not to have figured out is that there aren’t a whole lot of feminists and social justice warriors following their accounts on Twitter to begin with, so how likely would we be to see their petulant whining about child support payments anyway?)
Even if you don’t use an app or site that allows you to mute hashtags, #TheTriggering is a golden opportunity: just tweet the hashtag with something disparaging (like I did yesterday) and watch as your mentions fill with a whole bunch of accounts you hadn’t blocked yet:
this #thetriggering game is fun, can I play? *clears throat* MEN ARE NOT OWED THE AFFECTION OR ATTENTION OF WOMEN THEY FIND ATTRACTIVE
— jay, reverse racist (@jaythenerdkid) March 9, 2016
Ultimately, #TheTriggering does raise some perturbing questions: why are there still people who identify as GamerGaters in the year of our lord two thousand and sixteen, why are there so many unsupervised twelve-year-olds on Twitter, and do their parents know what kind of language they’re using in conversations with random women?
It’s also a little sobering to think that there are people–at least a dozen teenage boys with more sockpuppet accounts than they’ve had satisfying orgasms–who think that deliberately posting crude and disgusting content with the express intention of harming people is some kind of impassioned defence of free speech and not just a sad indictment of the culture of casual and thoughtless cruelty that birthed the rancid bowel movement that is Men Going Their Own Way.
I had a great deal of fun with #TheTriggering today, as did many of my most adamantly and bullishly feminist friends. It was a chance to point and laugh at an idea that could not have backfired any more spectacularly. But I think it’s also important to remember that while the planning and execution were pathetically bad, this was a plan born of genuine hatred and fear of women, people read as women, and anyone who supports their liberation and fair treatment.
The people behind #TheTriggering weren’t dauntless free speech advocates—just sad and spiteful little gremlins who genuinely think that trans people should die and women need to talk less.
Don’t get me wrong : that should definitely not stop you from mocking them. Mock early, mock often. Mock loudly and proudly and get all your friends to join in. Sometimes, the best cure for hatefulness is abject derision. Something to smile about: almost all of the top tweets in the hashtag are either people mocking the creators, or the creators getting mad at the people mocking them. It’s kinda beautiful, really. This really could not have gone any more wrong in any more predictable a way.
Just remember that in reality, safety and freedom from harassment and violence are no joke. It’s sad that there are people so devoted to a quixotic crusade against the perceived tyranny of “cultural Marxism” that they can’t see that.
But: it's a start. Today, we get the MRAs to embrace the trigger warning. Tomorrow, we teach them that catcalling isn't praise. And eventually, one day, they'll take a sobering look at themselves, their computers littered with "offensive memes", their rooms likewise littered with Ayn Rand and the dead forgotten husks of once-young pizza rolls—
and maybe, just maybe, they'll realize that they've had a "safe space" of their own all along.