I hate your Face(book)

5 May 2009 | Columns, Tales of a journalist

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

Just how ‘free’ is free speech? Pay a visit to any internet chatroom, and you’ll see. In the first column of a new series called ‘Journalist’s tales’, the media critic Jyrki Lehtola investigates intolerance on the internet

First there was utopia. Then came people, and utopia suffered.

As with all new inventions, from electricity to the atom bomb, internet social networks were supposed to make our lives better. They were supposed to give us license to network, to participate, to get to know each other, to get reacquainted, to flirt, to find an extramarital lover and to be connected to as many people as possible in as many inconsequential ways as possible.

If only it would have ended with adults being able to feel like children on Facebook. But then these children were forced to face the real world, and listening to their blubbering has been less than pleasant.

Even in social networks we’ve been forced to face the unfortunate fact that freedom of speech also applies to those with whom we do not agree.

Because of this, internet social networks are slowly becoming more politically correct, turning into increasingly more aggressive tea rooms where pitched battles are fought for one’s freedom of speech against others who are using their free speech to disagree about the world.

This is understandable. Facebook freedom of speech easily gives rise to the misconception that the I, the expresser of the opinion, am always right simply because I expressed an opinion, which due to a technological accident, is available for the whole world to read.

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Social networks became problematic when instead of flirting on them, people started taking positions on societal problems.

When someone notices something wrong with the world, he/she starts a group on Facebook to oppose this error. These groups sprout up daily because in a Facebook group it’s easy to take a stand and express one’s social conscience. It requires no responsibility, no argumentation, no acknowledgement of the complexity of the world. Just an unfortunate name for a group that has only one idea.

And there are enough of these ideas: in under a minute you can join a group named ‘Stand up for Humanity’ and a group agitating for better grub in the greasy spoon next door. Not long ago there were news reports on the influence of Facebook on daily school life in the U.S.. People over there were throwing their hands in the air because over-eager parents had been creating vociferous Facebook groups to protest school starting times, the size of schoolyards and the style of teaching maths.

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And the more people who join utopia, the more surely utopia will be destroyed.

The wrong kind of people moved in next door on Facebook, and they are raising such a racket that it’s becoming hard to be at peace with one’s own docile thoughts anymore.

Utopia became a place where instead of creating friendships we started to found hate groups. Hate groups hate many things, and often the wrong things, like sexual minorities and immigrants.

What should good people do about things like that? In normal, everyday life, we cross to the other side of the street, but on Facebook we show more backbone and found hate groups that hate the hate groups. And thus the reality of Facebook began to change: the bastion of friendship and networking became a hotbed of inflamed emotions, where the anger we restrain in the real world is allowed to run amok. Early this year a new group appeared on Finnish Facebook that publishes the names of criminal informants, and not in the spirit of forgiveness.

And thus utopia has been forced to face the problem of the real world: that freedom of speech also means freedom for words other than yours.

Translated by Owen Witesman

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