Thursday, June 3, 2010

Why you cannot hide behind "free speech"

I appear to have a very hard time keeping my nose out of some of the more dramatic things that go on in the sex blogging community, I love to follow along as people better known than I tell others what they did wrong and so greatly admire what others in the community do to make it as safe of a space as possible and hold companies accountable for their actions. Mostly, I don't comment because mostly I'm on the outside of these things. There is one thing however, one thing that I am in fact late to the party on, that I don't think I can refrain from commenting on because a big part of it is something that bothers me on a very deep level.

I just read furry girl's post about why she dropped out of the Sex 2.0 convention this year, and as someone who is rather invested in sex worker's rights, I have to say that in the same position as she was in, I likely would have done the same thing. My major academic work so far has been related to sex work, and one of the things I believe sex workers need most is a place where they can come together and freely discuss their lives and their work. Perhaps if we had more of such spaces through out the world there would be a chance of properly unionizing sex workers (particularly in those countries where prostitution is legal), making it possible to more successfully agitate for what sex workers need, and giving sex workers more of a voice in the political process rather than letting other people decide what is best for them. But I digress. What actually bothered me most about this situation is the way in which Carnal Nation chose to defend themselves when they were called out for allowing someone to put sex workers in danger.

What they said amounts to "we have freedom of speech in this country" and that is basically my least favorite defense of anything. For one thing, freedom of speech does not in fact mean "freedom to be an unrepentant asshole" and it certainly doesn't mean freedom to say things that endanger other people's lives. You cannot yell fire in a crowded theater without getting in trouble, you cannot incite a riot without getting in trouble, you cannot speak in ways that incite people to kill other people without getting in trouble (well, at least in theory, in practice...well, we're a bit shaky on that) etc. etc. Now, the fact is that what was said by this creep of a person on Carnal Nation probably doesn't constitute speech that the government would decide is worthy of suppressing, but a lot of that depends on the state that the case would be looked at in, the specific judge, etc. etc. I can certainly see ways in which what was said (though I have not read it) could constitute hate speech, and I can see many ways in which it could count as potentially causing violence against another person.

Regardless of all of this, the fact that we have freedom of speech in this country still doesn't mean that anyone gets to say anything they want and we have to put up with it because of "free speech", idiots on the internet hide behind this all the time when you attempt to tell them that what they said was in some way morally reprehensible. Free speech, as a legal concept, mostly just means that the government cannot restrict your speech, and last I checked Carnal Nation is not the government and as such can actually restrict the speech that occurs on their website. While I understand and largely agree with their statement about how content hosted on other sites sometimes gets taken down simply because enough people say they don't like it, there is a really significant difference between someone saying something unpopular and someone saying something potentially dangerous. As a company that wishes to be viewed as sex-positive and/or sex worker friendly, allowing posts that are dangerous to sex workers to be posted on their website is frankly stupid. It shows a serious lack of commitment to the cause they claim to believe in, and simply saying that they think what this guy is posting is repugnant is not doing anywhere near enough.

Further, their comparison of what this guy is doing with sex workers to what Larry Flint has done with Republican politicians is largely idiotic. First of all, when one becomes a politician one knowingly enters the public eye and can reasonably suspect that their private business may well become public knowledge at some point. When one becomes a sex worker, one does not in the same instant decide to be in the public eye, and many sex workers work very hard to make sure that their involvement in sex work does not become a matter of public record. Second, sure, a Republican politician may lose his job if s/he is found to be cheating on his/her spouse, but in the current political climate that doesn't actually happen all that often and generally exposing them does little but to show their hypocrisy, if anything they leave office and find some other sort of work. Alternately, if an individual is found to be a sex worker s/he may not only lose her/his job but may not be able to find work after that, particularly because being involved in some types of sex work (prostitution specifically) can result in a criminal record that will follow that individual for the rest of her/his life. These things are not the same.

In summary:
1) That's not what freedom of speech means.
2) If Carnal Nation wants people to believe that they are sex-positive/a safe space for sex workers to have honest discussion this is exactly the opposite of what they should be doing.
3) This is nothing like people trying to catch Republican politicians doing things contrary to their stated morals.
4) That's really not what freedom of speech means. Stop hiding behind it.

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