My Social Media Engagement Rules

RulesI am an active user of social media, and maintain a presence on a range of platforms*.

I am an avid thinker, and blogger. My comments and writing unavoidably reflect my life experiences, and philosophical and political leanings.

However, I always aim to explore the relevant facts and numbers, from reputable sources, before commenting on issues, and the skills I developed during my legal and business education, and professional career, strongly inform my research and in-depth analysis of issues.

There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.

I am more than happy to hear views that challenge my positions and offer alternative points of view, and engage in discussions, time permitting and subject to the below.

The rules

If you choose to follow or engage me on social media, you will need to be aware of the following:

  • I grew up in a communist dictatorship, and I was an anti-communist dissident;
  • I defected in the 80s, and subsequently sought and was granted political asylum;
  • I have bachelor degrees in law and business;
  • I adhere to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding through science, research, and education;
  • I am a socially liberal progressive;
  • I am a fearless and uncompromising advocate of universal and unalienable civil and human rights, and social justice;
  • I deplore fascism, neo-Nazism, white nationalism and supremacism, communism, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, racism, and all other extremist ‘isms’ – but I don’t automatically condemn people who hold such views as they are merely the tragic product of their upbringing, cultural environment, and social conditioning;
  • I will not engage with internet trolls;
  • where a troll’s conduct appears to be in breach of the policies of the relevant platform I will lodge a formal report, and let the platform sort it out; and
  • in certain circumstance I will block trolls, but when I do so, no, it does not infringe on their freedom of speech.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
Desmond Tutu (1931-)

I will not engage with internet trolls; will block and report them

If you are a troll I will never engage with you.

A person who makes a deliberately offensive or provocative online post
Source: Oxford Dictionary

I will never engage with you, because learned mental health professionals agree that the best, and perhaps only, response for social media trolling is to ignore the trolls. At most you will receive the following in reply:

Thank you for your comment @[User Name]. Please note, I never engage with faceless, nameless trolls on social media. Have a lovely day 🤗

How do I know you are a troll? There are some helpful hints in your profile, and post history, such as:

  • you are not using your real name;
  • you are not using a real picture of yourself as your profile photo;
  • you have a fake account and profile;
  • your profile description includes bigoted, homophobic, misogynistic, or racist statements;
  • your comment or post to me is inflammatory, uses bad language, or includes personal insults; and
  • your earlier comments or posts to others were inflammatory, used bad language, or included personal insults.

How do I know you have a fake account and profile? These days, the most rudimentary internet research will confirm in minutes if you are using a fake name, or someone else’s name and profile photo.

If you won’t put your real name and face to your opinions on social media, that indicates to me that you don’t have the conviction to be associated with your own opinions, and in such circumstances I am highly unlikely to engage with you.

You will notice that I have my full name and recent photo associated with all my social media accounts – that’s because I stand proudly behind my comments and opinions, and putting my name and image to my opinions makes me accountable. If I am going to engage with someone on social media, I expect nothing less from them in return.

In the age of trolls I am often asked if I fear becoming the victim of a social media lynch mob due to my unapologetically unfashionable liberal and progressive tone.

I have already been the target of fascist neo-Nazi trolls before, and no doubt will be again, but my answer to that question is this: I survived 18+ years of a communist dictatorship, 4+ years of being an anti-communist dissident, a defection from behind the Iron Curtain, a year as a refugee, time in a refugee camp, and starting from zero in a country where I arrived without money, understanding the culture, or speaking the language.

After that life experience, a bunch of anonymous narcissists, psychopaths, and sadists hiding behind their keyboards leave me largely unimpressed and unaffected.

Having experienced and witnessed first hand human suffering beyond the comprehension of anonymous internet trolls, I have the conviction of my principles and strength of character beyond their comprehension to shield me from their churlish, often ignorant, and misguided hate.

When I block you, no, your freedom of speech is not infringed

What is freedom of speech?

In popular culture the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America encapsulates our understanding of what free speech is.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

However, when you take a closer look at the First Amendment, it immediately becomes clear that it only guarantees freedom of speech for the citizens and the press of the United States vis-à-vis their government. The First Amendment also only protects your right to speak, not necessarily what you say. If others disagree with you, they are free to respond.

Private entities and persons are not obliged to protect freedom of speech under the First Amendment, and may impose terms and conditions to limit that right – the policies of social media companies that prohibit certain behaviours is an example of this, and gives them the right to delete your comments, and even suspend you, if you breach their terms and conditions.

The United States takes freedom of speech very seriously though, and the Supreme Court of the United States had held that ‘to justify suppression of free speech, there must be reasonable ground to fear that serious evil will result if free speech is practiced’ and ‘there must be reasonable ground to believe that the danger apprehended is imminent’: Whitney v. California (No. 3) 274 U.S. 357. This means that in the United States most hate speech is protected by the First Amendment.

If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

In Australia, the situation is quite different from the United States, because Australians do not have an express constitutional right to freedom of speech. In Australia all we have is a limited, implied Constitutional right to free speech in regards to governmental and political affairs, established by the High Court of Australian in Nationwide News Pty Ltd v Wills and Australian Capital Television Pty Ltd v Commonwealth (1992) 177 CLR 106.

Despite the significantly different constitutional and legal frameworks, it is worth noting that Australia, with its implied freedom of political speech, still features higher (19th place in 2017) on the World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders, than the United States (43rd place in 2017), despite its constitutional ‘guarantee.’ This is because freedom of speech and press are deeply affected by matters other than constitutions and legislative frameworks, such as pluralism, judiciary and media independence, cultural, political, and social environment, self-censorship, transparency, infrastructure, and more.

However, in practice we have long enjoyed relatively unfettered freedom of speech and press in Western democracies. Thus, you may say just about anything you like, and I also have the freedom to make comments and respond on social media, and express my views on my blog, subject of course to defamation, discrimination, and other relevant laws which may apply.

I also have the freedom not to listen to you, and even block you on social media. And, if I block you, that is not an attack on your freedom of speech. You can still say whatever you want, but I won’t be listening.

Your right to free speech does not extend to a right to an audience. An audience for your opinions is not a ‘right’, it’s a privilege that you earn through expressing yourself in a considered, logical, and polite manner that makes others want to listen to what you have to say.

Informed debates, the discussion of ideas and concepts and challenging the status quo without fear, are indispensable to human existence and progress.

However, any speech that calls for, incites, or supports physical violence, or reasonable fear of physical violence, especially in response to someone else exercising their right of free speech, is unacceptable. Such speech is inherently antithetical to the very concept of freedom of speech.

Whether speech calling for discrimination or exclusion, infused with bigotry, hatred and prejudice, such as homophobia, misogyny or racism (but falling short of calling for, inciting, or supporting physical violence, or reasonable fear of physical violence), should be allowed is a vexed issue.

I stand firm for ‘informed debates’ on issues, but would submit that bigotry, hatred and prejudice by their nature lack the ‘informed’ component. The same applies to name calling, personal insults, and swear words.

An ‘opinion’ in the absence of evidence and facts to support it is usually nothing more than bigotry, hatred, and prejudice. Consequently it is arguable that no one is entitled to an opinion, especially when the opinion in question has no foundation in facts, or has been conclusively and inarguably debunked.

In my view, you are only ‘entitled’ to what you can coherently argue and factually support.

Some mediums are more suited for informed debates than others. For example, Twitter’s 140-character limit per post arguably makes it less than a suitable platform for informed debates. This means that if I do engage in a conversation with you on Twitter, occasionally I may send you a link to an article I had written, or found informative, on the subject matter of our conversation.

However, if it becomes clear that you do not offer me the courtesy of reading what I send you, I will take that as a sign that you are not interested in an informed debate.

I am happy for you to do the same, provided your writing has comparable referencing to mine, and your third-party sources are reputable. By ‘reputable’ I mean I will never accept supporting materials from fake or propaganda news sites, fake professional associations, conspiracy sites, or religious texts.

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.
Gloria Steinem, et al. (1934-)

Please note:

  • my social media posts will often be delayed for privacy, and personal security reasons; and
  • I do not participate in commercial arrangements in respect of my social media posts.