Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Guanajuato, Mex -- Free Speech?

I ran into this issue with the Gringolandians a few years ago when I was writing a series of articles that basically disagreed with the Gringo image that living in Mexico, in Guanajuato particularly, was like living in heaven itself. You know the sort of clap-trap I mean: Guanajuato is heaven on Earth, a Nirvana, a literal Shangri-la.

What "some" individuals in the Gringolandians in San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato would do is send me the most vitriolic responses one can possibly imagine. I have mentioned this often in the blog and keep mentioning it for the reason that as of 7 years living and writing in this town and country, none of these alleged detractors have taken me to task on the issues. What they've chosen instead is to threaten me in all manner of imaginative ways. And the point is, they call what they've done free speech.

I am bringing this up again because on the gto_list, not to be confused with Mr. Bill's new list, www.gtolist.com, there is a raging saga over the fact the list owner has been removing certain posts from the list and this has earned her the "you are denying me free speech" hue and cry.

Years and years ago before the epoch of Microsoft Windows, I was online with something called Unix. This was a programming language that you had to use if you want to work on the fledging internet. There was AOL and others like Compuserve, but if you wanted on the hard-core internet you used Unix to get on something that was called The Internet Relay Chat. This was the then Internet's chat room format.

In this live format, where you "talked" live with folks trying to type at the speed of light, it was free-for-all mess. There were multiple channels or networks to which you could logon and thousands of chat rooms you could enter. Once inside one you could talk or chat.

This thing had to be monitored and upon occasion had to be censored. If this wasn't done, if there wasn't an authority to enforce the rules of the chat room, it devolved into anarchy.

For example I ran a room called "church". I, of course, didn't allow cursing or any generally offensive speech. If someone was sincere (an almost never situation) to learn about Christianity, they could stay and debate us. If someone was a troll and just wanted to stir up trouble, they were unceremoniously banned from the chat room.

Yahoo.com used to have a free-for-all chat. It was at the end of their news stories and you could, or at least was suppose to, give your "opinion" about the story to which this chat feature was attaches (this was not live but more like a forum format than a chat room). It was unfettered, unmonitored, and it turned into total anarchy. It had to be shut down after one too many death threats were made on this forum format. I heard the Feds got involved.

What the Gringolandians on the gto_list don't seem to understand is that "free speech" does not mean "unfettered" speech. You cannot threaten someone with death. This is something I've had happen to me more than once for writing on expat issues. Nor can you walk into a movie theater and scream "fire" when there is no fire. You cannot phone in bomb threats. You cannot on a Yahoo.com chat forum threaten to kill the President of the United States (I think that's what finally got Yahoo.com news forums shut down).

Free speech is not the right to say something with the intention of inciting harm to someone else. You can hate what someone believes but you cannot utter a threat to kill them for it.

"The right to freedom of speech is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ICCPR recognizes the right to freedom of speech as "the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression" -- Source
In the case of chat rooms, or forums like gto_list, the person who starts up the list is responsible to the business that allows such a thing. The gto_list is under the umbrella of Google.com and the list owner has to enforce the rules Google sets or its curtains!

The owner of gto_list is responsible to follow Google's guidelines and to set and enforce her own list rules and regulations. This is not only sensible it is how it has been in these forum/chat setups since they began. Monitoring and censoring is how its been done.

If you don't like this, start up your own chat/forum and tell everyone it is a free-for-all, every man or woman for his or herself. Even if you do, history shows this always devolves into an anarchical absurdity and Google, or whoever, will have to step in and put an end to the nonsense and remove your chat/forum because of your lack of management and plethora of complaints.

In my case, my death threats came in response to me expressing a difference of opinion as to whether or not Guanajuato was a heaven on earth or just a place with hordes of problems within its provincial culture.

Do you get that? I was expressing a "difference of opinion" as to the status expat quo and for all my efforts I get verbal abuse aimed toward me and my wife and threats to kill us.

Tell me, was it wrong that I removed these comments from the forum on which these nut-cases posted them?

I think not!

(Was it a violation to kick someone out of a George Bush speech because they had an anti-Bush bumper sticker on their car?)



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