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Freedom of Speech, Blogs, and Trollocity

Last week, the editors at Wizbang agreed to ban a poster by the username of Lee Ward. Mr. Ward had participated at the site for several years, and at one time enjoyed the rights to edit a spin-off site, Wizbang Blue, created to provide liberal alternative posts to complement the main site's right-of-center political opinions. The Wizbang Blue experiment failed and Ward lost his editorial rights in early 2010. After that time, his behavior became disruptive, the consensus of the editors was that Ward made no effort to engage in debate but attempted to hijack or derail discussions he disliked. After a number of individual editors announced their intention to ban Mr. Ward from their articles because of his consistent abuse of commenting privileges, a decision was made to ban Ward from the site altogether. The debate, between the site editors and among commenters in a number of articles, including the one announcing Ward's banishment, has focused on three key points - the right to free speech, the private ownership of the Wizbang site, and the quality of debate when a voice is silenced, for whatever reason.

First, the easy points. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution bans Congress from making any law which abridges free speech. There's nothing at all in the Constitution that says a person can go anywhere and say or do anything they please, or that the people they attack or deride must put up with it. In fact, insulting a person can actually be illegal under certain circumstances; according to the free dictionary, "assault" is defined as 'threat of bodily harm coupled with an apparent, present ability to cause the harm'. Those members of the New Black Panthers who stood in front of a polling place and harassed selected passers-by, for instance, fit that description, and so no reasonable person could claim they were merely performing an act of 'Free Speech'. Obviously, the lack of physical presence seriously impacts the viability of a charge of assault viz a viz a blog comment, but I mentioned the definition for two reasons - first, the clear fact that speech has limits in a free society, and second, the foundation for the statute rests on intent - again referring to the legal dictionary; 'Intent is an essential element of assault. In tort law, it can be specific intent--if the assailant intends to cause the apprehension of harmful or offensive contact in the victim--or general intent--if he or she intends to do the act that causes such apprehension'. One step back from an actual charge of assault, we see that the intent to attack is out of bounds. Keep that in mind, because I will come back to it. For now, it should be readily apparent that the Constitution of the United States restricts federal interference in religious and political speech, even if commonly found to be offensive. It does not protect a right, specific or implied, of an individual to attack another person or group in a non-federal venue.

- continued -

The second point rests with the right to private property. People familiar with history understand the linear progression in the observance of property rights, with which I will not bore the audience, except to observe that private property is one of the fundamental rights in any free nation - without such rights the people are at the mercy of whomever controls the government. The counter-claim, that private property can also be used to create social injustice through the weight of mercenary influence, is refuted by the fact that all nations where private property exists, are also nations governed by law and regulated by representatives of the public interest, such as Congress and the various state legislatures and city councils here in the United States. The condition is not perfect but governance does exist in fact and function. With regard to speech as a right, privilege or condition of permission, when a person enters private property, they are bound by the rights of the property owner. This is neither new nor unreasonable. The State of Texas, for example, used to enforce a rule that anyone entering the Alamo must remove their hat or head-covering as a sign of respect to the fallen heroes of the Alamo (heroes of Texas, by the way); I don't know whether they still do that but that rule is an example of how an entity in control of property can enforce rules of conduct. In fact, the maxim trotted out by exasperated parents-of-teens, 'my house my rules' is simply an extension of that same concept. A property owner may control behavior, bar or allow admittance according to his personal will and right to free association, or expel undesirables as he finds necessary (hence the use of bouncers and doormen as employees at certain entertainment establishments).

Weblogs are by definition private property, as they have clearly been created by a specific entity and control of the website belongs to that entity, whether an individual person or a group of people engaged in an enterprise. Like a brick-and-mortar establishment, the blog may impose restrictions on access or participation, such as registration for comments or membership requirements to read all or some of the material published on the website. It should further be noted that such restrictions are common on the most popular blogs for participation, and on those where certain behaviors are dissuaded, such as Democratic Underground or Hot Air.

These two points bring us to the third issue; whether the quality of debate depends on allowing everyone access to the stage. This may be considered with the analogy of a chess tournament. Consider that a certain chess club wishes to hold a tournament. They may set up the tournament in different ways, and one consideration is eligibility for the tournament. Should it be open, limited to members, or perhaps an invitation-only affair? The answer depends on what the club wishes to accomplish by the tournament. If the club is new or small, and the purpose of the tournament is to bring in new members, then the tournament needs to be open, in order to attract members who are not already part of the club. If the club is established and merely wishes to rank its existing members and to perform an orderly tournament without surprises or excitement, then the tournament should be limited to the existing members. If the tournament wants to produce a predictable result and build its name in connection to known masters, then an invitational tournament is the type which makes sense. And the same case is true for blogs. Many blogs start out as small enterprises, and so any reader is welcome and comments are treasured, even attacks from trolls. This allows the blog to build membership through traffic. Well-established blogs, however, may decide to lock the doors in order to conduct their business of discussion in an orderly manner, and such blogs may allow public entry but warn of consequences for poor manners. This is, I think, a reasonable description of Wizbang. Finally, there are blogs which enjoy a genuine business brand, and as such they protect the, hmm, climate of their sites by requiring registration and monitoring of members and comments. Bland as day-old oatmeal but safe. The opportunity for controversial comments, let alone troll raids, depends on the risk a site is willing to accept in hopes of increasing reader interest, measured against the distractions created by the incursions of antagonists.


But that addresses motive, not right to free speech. The right to free speech is not, however, linked to participation in a given website. In addition to the fact that blogs are not created or supported by government institutions and therefore cannot be morally connected to Constitutional rights, and the fact that blogs are private property and therefore the rules under which they operate are part of any blog's identity, there remains the fact that anyone who not accepted at a given blog is welcome to join another, or simply write what they wish in their own blog. It is, quite literally, impossible to prevent someone from speaking their mind and making their opinion known. It is merely possible to control comments at one site. The question of rights is, at best, merely one more attempt by trolls to divert discussion from the site's original focus.

Earlier I discussed the importance of intent. When discussing rights, it is important to recognize that in any debate the rights of both sides are valid to the extent that they focus on the topic or issue. Personal attacks and attempts to derail the topic are, in essence, admissions of failure, and therefore it may reasonably be said that troll behavior demonstrates that the offender has abandoned the discussion and, in the same way that a drunk is ejected from a bar for everyone's benefit and well-being, a troll may be expelled from a discussion, either by having his ill-chosen comments deleted, or by other measures, up to and including banishment from the site. Once intent to subvert or deface the site is demonstrated, the offender has demonstrated intent which is incompatible with participation, even if no specific rule prohibiting such behavior has been published.

Some will note that in essence, this article merely states the obvious. While I agree that this may be so, sometimes the obvious must be said, and sadly, even then the message will not sink in to those who need most to consider it.


PS - For the record, I wrote the main article Wednesday evening. Jay Tea's habit of rummaging through my brain (or I, unconsciously, through his) seems to have produced a similar article regarding our favorite village provacateur d'idiot. Hopefully, our different perspectives complement each other in this case, so there is benefit to reading both, rather than redundancy. The only danger is that Lee will merely note that he is indirectly or directly addressed in each post, and fail - as usual - to note the substance. - DJD


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Comments (38)

Ahem. DJ, consider it payba... (Below threshold)

Ahem. DJ, consider it payback for ALL the times you pillaged MY ideas for posting.

And if you're looking for sympathy on this subject, take it up with Shawn. I've been looting his mind of late, too.

J.

I've often run into those w... (Below threshold)
Faith+1:

I've often run into those who use "freedom of speech" to act like an ass. They tend to object to my using my "freedom of speech" to treat them like one.

Shorter DJ: Freedom of the... (Below threshold)
James H:

Shorter DJ: Freedom of the press belongs to he who owns the press.

Payback? Isn't that the na... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Payback? Isn't that the name of Hillary's female canine?

And no, I'm not looking for sympathy.

A winning Lotto ticket? Sure.

A gallon or so of fresh, hot coffee? Every day.

A way to lose about sixty pounds by eating deep-dish pizza? It's a dream.

But sympathy, no.

james H, until recently it ... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

james H, until recently it was even shorter:

"Freedom of the Press = who runs CBS".

And James, I do hope you un... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

And James, I do hope you understand the difference between a blog, which anyone may start up and run, and a network, which requires money, influence, and opportunity on a scale enjoyed by very few people.

It's a difference of scale,... (Below threshold)
James H:

It's a difference of scale, really. But I'm not sure what you're getting at.

For my part I would say tha... (Below threshold)
jim m:

For my part I would say that discussions have been much more civil (if not necessarily polite) and for the most part on topic. People are actually discussing and not shouting accusations and denials of racism.

I doubt whether there could have been the discussion that there was on the Sherrod video and her firing if Lee had been here.

I appreciate the action as well as your restraint. Banning someone should never be taken lightly, but in this case it was warranted and the clear improvement in the quality of Wizbang demonstrates that.

Well it is your blog, so ba... (Below threshold)
Roy:

Well it is your blog, so ban who ever you want. He can go start his own blog. Hell, he can even go start up Journolist 2.0

James H: "I'm not sure w... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

James H: "I'm not sure what you're getting at"

Your initial comment implied that control of a blog was equal to control of the debate. However, since anyone can start up a blog or find one which matches their perspective and POV, even someone banned from one site can find a way to express their opinion and be heard.

OTOH, control of a network means immense influence controlled by one POV only, and dissent can be effectively suppressed. This is, after all, the chief complaint by liberals against Fox and by conservatives against CNN; the influence reaches so many people that there are concerns that the average American does not find out all the facts, but is instead flooded with propaganda and spin.

No one is "banned" from watching network TV, but only a few people are allowed to express an opinion or present their case on TV. Therefore, in actual fact a website which bans some individuals is still more open than a network which locks out all but a few voices.

It's what I was getting at,... (Below threshold)
James H:

It's what I was getting at, sorta, but not.

My point is that a person who owns a particular "press," whether that "press" happens to be a TV network, a newspaper, or a Web site, has total control of that press, and is entirely within his discretion to allow voices or not.

Openness and conversations and whatnot are virtues, I suppose, but they are ethical constraints on the owner of that press, not legal constraints.

Those of us who disagree with management's viewpoints are only able to post here at the proprietors' sufferance. If the proprietors choose to ban somebody, the proprietors are entirely within their discretion.

My quote is an old saying, and is a bit more pithy than your discourse and my own rumination in this comment.

Thanks, James.... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Thanks, James.

Folks tend to redefine term... (Below threshold)
Oldflyer:

Folks tend to redefine terms to suit their personal prejudices. Especially when it comes to differentiating rights and privileges.

"Freedom of speech" was never intended to encompass the privilege to speak in any and every forum.

It's your forum. For the time-being you have the privilege to control who speaks. Some people call that censorship; most would call it moderating. Enjoy your privilege while you can, because Congress and the Regime have their eyes on you--among others.

Lee Ward has, in my opinion... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

Lee Ward has, in my opinion, expended everyone's patience. I cannot say for certain what his motive is, but I am pretty sure it is to incite, repudiate and attempt to take us off topic and focus on him, which he was very good at. He through out the bait and sure enough someone took it and then the comment thread became about him. Over the years, I have found that boring to the inth degree.

I know all the editors do not and should not want to easily ban someone and it is a testament to you all of how important this decision was because just about all the editors have voiced a reason for the ban. Personally, I wouldn't give it a second thought. After a decision is made, that is it. For years he has been asking for it, begging for it, daring you to be banned. Now he got his wish. I say let's move on and discuss important issues.

How about from this point forward anyone that mentions his name has to send $5.00 to a charity of Wizbang's choice for each mention. ww

In my house I am king. But ... (Below threshold)
ron:

In my house I am king. But in your house I am your guest and servant. If some ass came to my house and became an ass they can leave when I tell them to get out, or I can bodily throw them out. Lee Ward got thrown out... Freedom of the press doesn't mean that the guy owning the press lets the enemy into his print shop.

For many years I had no alternative to spreading my beliefs but to talk to everyone I knew, and or met on the street, or family or friends. Maybe there is not enough of that today but if something happened and I lost my ability to communicate on the internet I assure you I literally become far more effective and stealthy on the street. Simply because of freedom of speech and a little game called telephone.

Lee Ward is passe blase, as my mom used to say.
Not that I am anybody but you guys don't have to worry about dumping that moron. Not in my book anyway.

During the Civil War, how l... (Below threshold)
James H:

During the Civil War, how long did General Lee ward off the North?

How about from thi... (Below threshold)
iwogisdead:
How about from this point forward anyone that mentions his name has to send $5.00 to a charity of Wizbang's choice for each mention.

Lee-who-shall-not-be-named?

That'll be $10.00 buck's Ro... (Below threshold)
914:

That'll be $10.00 buck's Ron.

RE: 17I think I co... (Below threshold)
epador:

RE: 17

I think I copyrighted that a while ago.

I have been a regular reade... (Below threshold)
DaveK:

I have been a regular reader (and sometime commenter) on this blog for quite a while now. I enjoy the posts, and the oftentimes lively debates about the posts in the comment section. That being said, I never saw much of anything of value to the topic or debate posted by Lee Ward. His constant race-baiting and whining were irritating. The only issue that I have is the follow up posts since Mr. Ward's banishment. It seems to me that there is some hand-wringing going on, almost as though assurance is necessary that the banishment of Lee Ward was the right thing to do, and that everyone is ok with it. Maybe it is just me, but that is the vibe I am picking up from posts like this one. I like to think that we are all grown-ups here, and willing to play by Big Boy Rules. Mr. Ward may have a constitutional right to Freedom of Speech, but he does not have a constitutional right to be an annoying troll. DJ, Jay Tea, et al, you guys did the right thing in sending him packing.

"therefore it may reasonabl... (Below threshold)
retired military:

"therefore it may reasonably be said that troll behavior demonstrates that the offender has abandoned the discussion and, in the same way that a drunk is ejected from a bar for everyone's benefit and well-being"

This defines what happened to the Rev Lee Ward Wright perfectly .

I still contend he is happily masturbating away at the thought of being banned from Wizbang.

Go ahead and give me a negative vote there lee.

RM-"I still con... (Below threshold)
914:

RM-

"I still contend he is happily masturbating away at the thought of being banned from Wizbang."


Yeah, He's kind of like a serial poster who keep's returning to the scene of the crime to self titillate.

DaveK: "you guys did the... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

DaveK: "you guys did the right thing in sending him packing."

...

Packing?

PACKING?!?


I never voted to let him pack first.


So THAT'S what happened to my luggage!

He Who Shall Not Be Named -... (Below threshold)

He Who Shall Not Be Named - gone and quickly forgotten! How sad to be one of the mostly irrelevant people and not know it!

I seldom found him to be anything other than vile and offensive in his fulminating rhetoric. He won't be missed.

A small price to pay, DJ. M... (Below threshold)

A small price to pay, DJ. More than worth it.

Especially since it was YOURS he took.

Besides, will you really miss your Hannah Montana carryall with matching Barney backpack THAT much?

J.

Comment 23, combined with y... (Below threshold)
SCSIwuzzy:

Comment 23, combined with yesterday's discussion of the individual wandering San Fran looking for wireless in various locations, including bath houses... there are jokes that come to mind that I know should not...

Hmpf.The ba... (Below threshold)
DJ 'Curmudgeon' Drummond:

Hmpf.

The backpack was an "Invader Zim" backpack, and it belonged to my daughter.

The luggage, however, was the

Lux-o-Dream Ecstasy Collection, featuring:

* retractible wheels and handle;
* Stainfighter(tm) genuine imitation leather;
* 50 cubic feet of luggage space, yet guaranteed to fit within airline weight and size restrictions;
* personal fridge with wet bar; and
* decorative runway model to gesture at luggage in order to impress passersby.

RE: 17I think... (Below threshold)
iwogisdead:
RE: 17

I think I copyrighted that a while ago.

My apologies. I probably read it before, but, like everything else, my memory doesn't work as well as it once did.

For Lee or his supporters t... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

For Lee or his supporters to even hint there is a "free speech" issue in his banning would be the very height of chutzpah. When he was a page editor, he banned those who disagreed and deleted comments which refuted his assertions. The guy is a pure Stalinist who would have us all carted away to gulags if he were in charge.

I disagree that his disruption began after Blue shut down. My recollection is that Blue began as a way to divert his disruption of main page topics. He was always an evil jerk who sought to sidetrack discussions unfavorable to his socialist views.

My objection to Lee's presence wasn't his rancid politics, it was his behavior. Contrast him with Paul Hooson, with whom I disagree on nearly every political issue as well, but who is a sincere person with respect for others. I don't know James H that well, but his dissent seems civil to me also, and should be - and is - welcomed.

There is no "right" to be here. Personally I believe Kevin has gone several extra miles to accommodate Lee over the years, attempting to bring him into a genuine conversation and debate. Every new chance led back to the same problem. Just as some criminals will never reform, neither will some asp-holes.

You sir, are free to speak ... (Below threshold)
Texas Tom:

You sir, are free to speak your mind in any fashion that suits your whim, but you do not have the privilage to do so in my presence.

Shove off, vermin d'commie!

(in a nutshell)

My objection to Lee's pr... (Below threshold)
Babyface:

My objection to Lee's presence wasn't his rancid politics, it was his behavior. Contrast him with Paul Hooson, with whom I disagree on nearly every political issue as well, but who is a sincere person with respect for others. I don't know James H that well, but his dissent seems civil to me also, and should be - and is - welcomed.

That's exactly right. Paul writes well and engages in debate fairly and respectfully. Lee was simply an arrogant ass and no one at Wizbang needs to justify disinfecting the site of him.

I agree with Jim Addison. J... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

I agree with Jim Addison. James H., Paul Hooson and for a short time Hyperbolist offer contrasting opinions that I seldom agree but appreciate and respect the respect they give us. ww

"Go ahead and give me a neg... (Below threshold)
retired military:

"Go ahead and give me a negative vote there lee. "

"21. Posted by retired military | July 22, 2010 12:00 PM | Score: 4 (8 votes cast)"


You never fail to disappoint me there Rev Lee Ward Wright.

Lee who?... (Below threshold)
LiberalNitemare:

Lee who?

HEY I'm NOT BANNED!!... (Below threshold)
Knightbrigade:

HEY I'm NOT BANNED!!

LiberalNightmare - "L... (Below threshold)
Marc:

LiberalNightmare - "Lee who?"

Easy to say but not so much in practice. That nitwit is like a infected puss sore on your ass. No matter what you do you forever remember the pain sitting and laying down.

Geez, DJ. If I'd known you ... (Below threshold)

Geez, DJ. If I'd known you were the owner of a Lux-o-Dream Ecstasy Collection, I'd have offered to leave and take it with me ages ago.

But "Invader Zim?" "Your daughter's?" I ain't buying that.

J.

Sorry Jay, I couldn't let y... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Sorry Jay, I couldn't let you find out about her "Invader Zim" backpack. After hearing you play the theme song as your ringtone and seeing your box of "Invader Zim" waffles in the frezer, I knew it wouldn't be safe if I mentioned it.

I never realized LW was into "Invader Zim" as well. The show is aimed at 10-12 years olds (my daughter Jagan is 10), so I figured it was beyond his level. Maybe he has an older sibling who forced LW to grab the backpack for him.

As for the Lux-O-Dream Ecstasy Collection, I should have known better. While LW is not able to appreciate the subtle luxuries it offers, the side-pocket walk-in kitchen (alternate universe upgrade, available from Hitch-hiker Universe Inc.) would definitely appeal to him and the runway model does have that mix of early-Vanna-White-and-artificial-suburban-mom appeal, which we all know is irresistable to trolls, since they are easily distracted by mom-images, the promise of fresh cookies, and access to cold carbonated beverages. I can only hope that the model lured LW into the pocket universe kitchen and locked him inside.

Which reminds me, I can probably get it back since I had a Lo-Jack installed ... there, activated. If the next episode of America's Most Annoying features a chase scene and capture of a mobile quantum anomaly, we'll know the Lo-jack worked.




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