TECH & SCI­ENCE

Wangaratta Chronicle - North East Regional Extra - - Front Page - WITH CHRIS

SEX­IST, racist, fas­cist, ho­mo­phobe, xeno­phobe, misog­y­nist.

These are just a few of the de­light­ful terms be­ing thrown about in a tor­ren­tial del­uge on so­cial me­dia, these days.

As hu­mans, we’ve al­ways had a propen­sity to com­plain about things - it’s one of our favourite past­times - but with the ad­vent of so­cial me­dia, ‘out­rage cul­ture’ has be­come deeply em­bed­ded into many peo­ple’s psy­che.

For a fright­en­ing num­ber of peo­ple, the art of be­ing of­fended by every­thing and loudly pro­claim­ing their out­rage on Face­book, Twit­ter, or any and all other so­cial me­dia plat­forms is pur­sued with alarm­ing de­ter­mi­na­tion.

As fem­i­nist critic and Twit­ter ‘Trust and Safety’ coun­cil mem­ber Anita Sar­keesian put it, ‘Every­thing is sex­ist, every­thing is racist, every­thing is ho­mo­pho­bic, and you have to point it all out to ev­ery­one all the time.’

And if you think the com­ment is hy­per­bole, or not in­dica­tive of many peo­ple’s tol­er­ance for their fel­low hu­man be­ings, con­sider that men have been filmed and pub­licly shamed for the crime of sit­ting with their legs too far apart on pub­lic trans­port so of­ten that there’s ac­tu­ally a word for it - ‘manspread­ing’.

And such an act is not sim­ply a demon­stra­tion of thought­less­ness or in­con­sid­er­a­tion, but a sym­bolic act of op­pres­sion against women.

I wish I was jok­ing, I also wish it was the most egre­gious ex­am­ple of this non­sense.

At­tend a univer­sity cam­pus these days and you’ll find them re­plete with trig­ger warn­ings and safe spa­ces de­signed with the spe­cific pur­pose of pre­vent­ing our dear lit­tle trea­sures from ever wit­ness­ing or hear­ing any­thing that might pos­si­bly cause of­fence.

Of course, it also pre­vents them from ever en­coun­ter­ing opin­ions or points of view that might chal­lenge their pre­con­cep­tions as well, but in this brave new world of echo-cham­bers, that’s pre­cisely the point of the ex­er­cise.

And so, civil dis­course has de­volved to name call­ing and brand­ing the ‘oth­ers’, then declar­ing moral vic­tory - all with­out ac­tu­ally lis­ten­ing to what the other per­son had to say.

Af­ter all, what pos­si­ble ben­e­fit would it be to lis­ten to the ar­gu­ments of a racist, sex­ist ho­mo­phobe?

Far bet­ter to de­plat­form such a per­son, ban them from so­cial me­dia, riot and at­tempt to shut down their speak­ing events, never, ever let them es­pouse their views to the pub­lic, and then, iron­i­cally, call them a fas­cist.

In­evitably, all of this has come at a heavy cost to free speech and free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

In Aus­tralia, we’re yet to see the worst of it, and we may re­main some­what in­su­lated from it, at least for a time, but in the rest of the west­ern world, peo­ple’s civil lib­er­ties are be­ing eroded.

One re­cent ex­am­ple of this is Scot­tish man Mar­cus Meechan who was ar­rested, charged, and found guilty of be­ing ‘ grossly of­fen­sive af­ter he posted a joke Youtube video of his pet pug do­ing a Nazi salute.

Mr Meechan never in­tended for his video to go vi­ral, went to lengths to ex­plain the video was a joke at the ex­pense of his girl­friend at the be­gin­ning of the video, not to men­tion that the en­tire premise of the joke was that ‘ Nazis are bad’, yet it didn’t stop the court find­ing the con­tent anti-Semitic and of­fen­sive.

Mr Meechan’s sen­tence will be handed down later this month and he could face up to six months in jail.

But re­gard­less of the sen­tence, his life has been turned up­side down, hav­ing been fired from his job, and be­ing un­able to find new em­ploy­ment.

All over a joke that was no more of­fen­sive than Mel Brook’s movie ‘The Pro­duc­ers’, or the episode about the Ger­mans in John Cleese’s ‘Fawlty Tow­ers’. Co­me­di­ans, you are on no­tice. It’s more than a lit­tle ironic that the in­ter­net - the great­est tool for global com­mu­ni­ca­tion ever in­vented - is be­ing used as a tool for thought polic­ing and the sti­fling of free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

And for the per­pet­u­ally of­fended who are quick to de­mand the si­lenc­ing of those they are of­fended by, take stock and con­sider this point.

Caus­ing of­fense is pre­cisely what built our demo­cratic na­tions and the free­doms we now en­joy.

Not so long ago, it was con­sid­ered of­fen­sive by many peo­ple to make the sug­ges­tion that be­ing gay was ac­cept­able, or that women should be able to work or vote, or that slav­ery might not be such a great idea af­ter all.

Aren’t we glad we of­fended those peo­ple?

OUT­RA­GEOUS: For some, be­ing per­ma­nently of­fended on so­cial me­dia has be­come a way of life.

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