Free Speech in the Digital World

This seems like a really odd place to be writing about free speech. It’s a kink blog. What could kink possibly have to do with free speech, right?

Well, there have been some controversies involving Fetlife.com and free speech over the years. This is something that I have given a lot of thought to. I used to be a journalist, and so the first amendment has always held a special place in my heart, right next to dark chocolate and my favorite flogger.

The first controversy about free speech on fetlife came up after a girl was raped, and she wanted to out her rapist on her own page.

I get all the conflicting issues there. I realize that if the guy was not guilty then it could be considered defamation. I get that social media isn’t like sitting around a table getting coffee, because a third party (the platform) could be held responsible. I took enough law classes in college to see all the conflicts.

However, I was shocked at how unapologetic fetlife was about banning her without even finding out if charges had been filed or if her rapist had been convicted. They (the men running the site) were very quick to punish the victim without even a second thought.

The second free speech controversy that came up was when fetlife started deleting groups. For example, they decided that adult baby play was simply too risky for the site. Of course they cited reasons like legal risk and financial risk, but there is certainly a question as to how anything consenting adults agree to could be illegal.

Again, I know that people have said that it doesn’t matter because the groups can just use codes and only trade pictures/ideas/etc in person. I know people will say that we should all be terrified of the government and therefore censor ourselves before anyone tells us to. And, I know what everyone chants “better safe than sorry” because I remember what the community was like before we had the Internet and it sucked. I don’t want to go back to fliers in some scummy shop and walks down random alleys looking for secret clubs.

So I guess this brings me to the central question: How much freedom of speech do you ever really have right now as kinky people?

To be honest, it seems like we don’t have much.

And, if we want to protect ourselves in an environment where our browser history can now be sold and the President tried to find the address of people who mock him on Twitter, do we even want to speak freely?

My professor in Media Law was extremely insistent that no one should ever write anything down. As soon as you write it down, there is proof that you wrote it. It could be misconstrued and come back to haunt you, and so you shouldn’t do it.

The government is always watching, he said. And, you never know when they are going to decide that whatever you are into is no longer acceptable.

On the other hand, when I was in college, everyone I knew had a LiveJournal account where they poured out their hearts to no one every night when they went home. Friends posted pictures of their children doing embarrassing things with no thought to how those children would feel with those pictures online forever. And, sites like Myspace and Facebook were luring everyone into putting their entire lives online. Some people argue that when everyone’s entire life is online, it takes a whole lot to stand out.

An old woman once told me that society swings from conservative to liberal, and back again. The 1950’s were conservative and rigid, so the 1960’s were wild, she said.

So, I guess I have to wonder if data and freedom of speech online will be the same. Perhaps we were in our 1960’s just now with data, having virtual orgies in a time when the Internet was still the wild west and the government couldn’t track everything you did to an IP address and then arrest you.

Perhaps things are swinging back around to conservative now, and it really is a good time to be careful until we all get better at encrypting our computers.

The obvious solution is to push harder for mainstream acceptance of kink. We all deserve the right to talk about this stuff openly as part of our lives, just like someone would talk about any other aspect of their personality. We shouldn’t have to worry that it will be criminalized, or that someone will put people with a certain fetish on a watchlist.

I would encourage you to write to your Congressional Representatives advocating for protection of Internet browsing, freedom on Internet forums, and laws protecting our community. You don’t have to sign the letter or use your own return address. I understand the desire to be careful. But, put the request out into the universe even if it is anonymous. And if you are in a position to do so, maybe use your real name and address.

When censorship pushes, we should do our best to push back.