Jeff Attwood on Censorship v Free Speech

Interesting perspectives from the founder of StackExchange & Discourse (the software we use for this forum).


Huh, super interesting. Good point after good point. His criticism of block/mute features in small communities is really smart.

It does not address the problematic behavior. A mute is invisible to everyone. So the person who is getting muted by 10 other users is getting zero feedback that their behavior is causing problems. It’s also giving zero feedback to moderators that this person should probably get an intervention at the very least, if not outright suspended. It’s so bad that people are building their own crowdsourced block lists for Twitter.

Great observation. People should know when they’re being awful. We should be free to do what we want, but aware when our actions are bothering everyone.

This is your house, with your rules, and your community. If someone can’t behave themselves to the point that they are consistently rude and obnoxious and unkind to others, you don’t ask the other people in the house to please ignore it – you ask them to leave your house.

Nailed it.

That XKCD cartoon is gold as well.


I think that this is a good point as applied to community forums, and is something that should be carefully considered when we get to the point of having private groups.

However I do think that an essential utility, like the safe network aspires to be must be agnostic on these issues. If you are a conservative or a liberal, a radical fundamentalist or an atheist freethinker, the network should neither know nor care.

This is, as I understand it, fundamental to the SAFE concept. Not so?

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Unless I’m missing the point of this post?

Also, let’s not kid ourselves, Facebook and Twitter don’t allow hateful people and statements because of some theoretical interest in free speech. They do it because their revenue is derived from ads, based on views and click-throughs, and ad companies don’t care if you are the Devil himself.

Those are the arguments that need to be applied to ads and sponsorship and censorship behavior and people who wan to push enclosure (info enclosure in particular) and no value added profit and extraction.
Also, expressed opinions are not behavior, even if their existence inconveniences someone’s pile of BS.
The best forums are probably not going to have the stupidity of “my house,” about them, once again the useless nonsense of a privilege veto. Open free forums that the unimpeded flow of information are not just an idea but a necessity.

Part of the problem with getting rid of the free speech red light zone (areas like Off Topic) is that the same themes just get woven into the actual on topic material. is a free speech green light zone

There is no lack of free speech in this place, just the understanding that when a post is made on a certain topic, the discussion should be relevant to that topic…without exception.

We become aware of each others viewpoints here over time, there is absolutely no reason to continue injecting those viewpoints at every opportunity that presents.


You may have misread the article. The issue was that Facebook and Twitter don’t block (the vast majority) of speech, or when they do its miscalculated and usually brings on The Wrath.

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Question? Is this thread on how this principle (communal values) should work on the safe network, this forum, or something else?

It seems general and of use to this forum. Intersting though as in the SAFE network this ignoring spammers etc. is to be available. I think though for apps like this forum the information is valid and a distinction should be made.

If you do invite people to your house perhaps you should not silently ignore them, but confront any issue head on. Although in the case of uninvited solicitation then I think silently ignoring/blocking is valid. Interesting though and again this forum keeps me on track to be warned to watch out for the limitations of the networks responsibilities.

I see the SAFE network really being agnostic to many things, like forcing payments for reading content and blocking etc, but able to provide the ability for users and app developers to make the choice themselves. This is a careful and fine line the network should never cross AFAIK.


The book on neutral open source Linux hasn’t been written yet, buts its been made complicit in a world of locked down Android cell phone trackers. Seems like neutral isnt enough.

Will it be a world made of open code where every opening is impeded in both directions by a camera lock under someone else’s control? Every window and door in your home will be watching you and someone else will decide when and if you can come and go and how much you should be charged for doing so? That is the way our info tech has been headed.

Its the idea that its unwise for the company to be put it a postition where it is seen to be intentionally limiting commercial purposes or is somehow hostile to them? Its the stakeholder model again. Is business a stakeholder? Is the state? Is MaidSafe itself a stakeholder in ProjectSAFE? I think the only stake holder is the end user. The end user’s interests should never be compromised to enable say banking. Was Westinghaus a stakeholder in the bomb? in the end it might be better for the company to be anti business (even as a business) if thats the cost of being pro person in this case.

The vision is Privacy Security and Freedom for all the people on the planet. Each of those is a stakeholder as far as I am concerned, everything else is philosophy semantics and distractions.

As people become free they will evolve in a natural way and that will be inspiring to see, but trying to fortell what it will look like or achieve is beyond me. All I know is this is something many are driven to allow. Then hopefully people can flourish in a real community with real info and hopefully very balanced in all ways, education, wealth, security etc.


Ok I’ve read the article and I can possitively say I absolutely loath this guy, or at least his position. It’s more statist nonsense. Here I’ll outline rebuttles as I come across them in no order whatsover.

"It allows you to ignore bad behavior. If someone is
hateful or harassing, why complain? Just mute. No more problem. Except
everyone else still gets to see a person being hateful or harassing to
another human being in public. Which means you are now sending a message
to all other readers that this is behavior that is OK and accepted in
your house. " Bad behaviour is subjective and everyone has different tolerance levels. Therefore if the indivual has a problem then the onus is on them to mute not for the community to enforce the individual’s subjective viewpoint. Of course you say what if the majority believe the same thing? So what? This only highlights using force to coerce complience. If 80% believe x and 20% believe y and the 80% force the 20% to comply with their belief system by putting in a rule that states you can’t post anything that isn’t “offensive” towards it that’s discrimination against a minority. In real life you can IGNORE people. You can either mentally ignore them, or walk away from them or tune them out with music or whatever you like. It’s called shunning, cultures have been doing it for eons, it’s perhaps one of the most painful things that can be done to a person. How is hitting the ignore button different?

It puts the burden on the user. A kind of victim
blaming — if someone is rude to you, then “why didn’t you just mute /
block them?” The solution is right there in front of you, why didn’t you
learn to use the software right? Why don’t you take some responsibility
and take action to stop the person abusing you? Every single time it
happens, over and over again?

Exactly. This is not “victim blaming” this is taking personal responsibility. If someone is being an ass just hit the ignore button and move on. Stop whining and trying to force the whole world to live by your values. You’re the only one affected by this person so just hit ignore and take responsibility. Stop being a victim in the first place. Stop running to mommy and Daddy admin to save you. “Oh please save me from the mean old troll. Oh please save me from that annoying and offensive person that just keeps swearing and posting content I don’t like. Oh please save me from all thiss tuff that offends my delicate sensibilities and I’m too much of a pansy to press a button. Waaa!” This here basically sums up why this article pisses me off so much: The author is not honoring the individual, personal responsibility or integrity and is instead deferring to top down mentality of an authority based hiarical system.

It does not address the problematic behavior. A mute is invisible to everyone. So the person who is getting muted by 10 other users is getting zero feedback that their behavior is causing problems. It’s also giving zero
feedback to moderators that this person should probably get an
intervention at the very least, if not outright suspended. It’s so bad
that people are building their own crowdsourced block lists for Twitter.

If you post something and no one replies to it it becomes fairly obvious you’re being socially isolated. Tho perhaps having some kind of social corrective criticism board would be good so people would know if and why they’re being muted. Why do we even need admins? Again wit hthe hiarchy. Why do we need this centralized top down mentality? Are we not in fact trying to build a decentralized system here?

It causes discussions to break down. Fine, you mute
someone, so you “never” see that person’s posts. But then another user
you like quotes the muted user in their post, or references their @name,
or replies to their post. Do you then suppress just the quoted section?
Suppress the @name? Suppress all replies to their posts, too? This
leaves big holes in the conversation and presents many hairy technical
challenges. Given enough personal mutes and blocks and ignores, all
conversation becomes a weird patchwork of partially visible statements.

Blah blah blah bitch bitch bitch whine whine whine. This author is such a child. You’re the one who decided to mute so live with it. Either unmute and endure the undesirable behavour and engage in the conversation or mute and don’t get to read the posts but don’t complain when others have higher tolerances than you and choose to continue talking to the person and you’re not involved. You made your bed now sleep in it. Didn’t this author post something at the beginning of his article about having to live with consequences? Seems he doesn’t want to live with the consequences of his own decisions.

This is your house and your rules. This isn’t Twitter
or Facebook or some other giant public website with an expectation that
“everyone” will be welcome. This is your house, with your rules, and
your community. If someone can’t behave themselves to the point that
they are consistently rude and obnoxious and unkind to others, you don’t
ask the other people in the house to please ignore it – you ask them to leave your house.
Engendering some weird expectation of “everyone is allowed here” sends
the wrong message. Otherwise your house no longer belongs to you, and
that’s a very bad place to be.

If someone came into my house and started acting like a complete ass yes I’d either ignore it until it got beyond my tolerance level and then I’d tell them so and smack them (either literally or metaphorically) upside the head. I would not however prevent them from expressing themselves. On the net you have 2 easy options you can ignore or you can engage. If someone is being obnoxious or offensive or whatever just come out and say it and give them a peiece of your mind, or debate with them, or yell at them, or do whatever you like, in short smack them upside the head. OR hit the ignore buttton and move on. If a community of 10 people had 1 obnoxious person and 9 of them ignored that person then it would be the same as banning them. Frankly I think the crowdsourced ban lists are a good idea, I wouldn’t personally subscribe to such a thing because I’m not that judgemental or have that much of an issue with people, but it’s a solution.

Their hands are tied because they aspire to be these global communities
where free speech trumps basic human decency and empathy.

Basic human decency and empathy are subjective definitions, especially the decency part. If you aren’t free to be offensive or to mock something you aren’t free. And empathy requies you feel what the other person is feeling: while most empathize with the majority no one empathizes wit h everyone and while most empathise with most in SOME way it’s nt usaually always the same way. Good god we’ve got ansty teenagers who are determined not to be understood and battles between genders and races and this guy is talking about global empathy?

The greatest power of online discussion communities, in my experience, is that they don’t aspire to be global. You set up a clubhouse with reasonable rules your community agrees upon, and anyone who can’t abide by those rules needs to be gently shown the door.

Now here he’s talking about something I can agree with. You set up a set of values that your community orients around. Here he’s not talking about free speech but rather values. Shared values are important when building a community. If you’re of the opposing view to that of the community’s values then why are you there? But this brings us back to the original question which is ow much does the comunity value free speech?

I subscribe to the Voltairian idea of “I may not like what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

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I completely disagree with all but the last thing you said.

His point is that you have free speech to express yourself in public. But forums aren’t “public” as we know it.

We currently equate forums to public squares. His argument seems to be we need to expand our definition. Facebook is a public square. The knitting forum by Jeremy G. is a private place with an open-door policy. Come on in. But there are rules that we agreed on. If you’re being a douche, gtfo.

Every place can’t be treated as a public space or nothing, literally nothing, will ever get done.

Man. Yeah. I just completely disagree with you, you’re entire philosophy on this pretty much. I very much prefer to live in his online world instead of yours.


Your house is your castle, it’s your kingdom. Ok so are you saying that in your kingdom you have censorship and insist on conforming to the status quo? Basically you’re saying in a private setting you believe in creaing a totalitatian dictatorship and censoring dissent and playing enforcer of your own ethos. Yet in public you campaign for individual freedom, decentralization and ability to express. Am i missing something here because what you claim to create in private within your own control seems to be the complete oposite of what you claim to want in public. There’s a bit of a lack of continuity here.

Let’s not forget counties are corporations and corporations consider themselves private spaces. To follow your logic there is no such thing as public space just circles of private space and so I’m wondering acording to this belief system of yours: are you then arguing in favor of the government’s and various corporation’s right to censor and spy on us?

I disagree with this:

He assumes that muted posts are causing “problems”.
What if I want to mute a person who every day posts about all the good things he did for stray cats? It’s nothing bad and it’s certainly not problematic, but why shouldn’t I be able to mute him if I want to?
I remember he (or the team there) also refused to add the (User) “Ignore” feature. Thankfully someone came up with a simple client-side hack to help us ignore others (you can find the script somewhere on their site).

But that’s simply not true. What the lack of “mute” and “ignore” does is it socializes the suffering and annoys forum participants into doing a moderator’s job or ratting on others.
While it’s certainly the site owner’s right to take whichever approach he likes, Discourse authors specifically refuse to implement a feature that would truly give site owners the ability to do that - if someone annoys users, they have no way to avoid it without causing friction and discomfort to others. I find that really annoying.

Even if you pay to participate on the site (or pay for the site’s service and then participate in its closed forums, you still have to read stuff that annoys you).

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Well, I think there is a difference between things which the community takes a position on, and things which the community per se does not take a position on.

For example, this community is built around the idea of MAID SAFE. If you disagree with the idea that MAID SAFE is desirable, and you constantly come around pushing that idea, and derailing profitable discussions, then you are a troll and should be banned.

But when get for example, into the tricky idea of what motivates peoples to believe that MAID SAFE is desirable, then you are getting into personal motivations. A community does not have personal motivations, its experience is nothing more and nothing less than the aggregate of the experience of its members. At that point it becomes really difficult to say which experiences are more or less valid without running into the problems that @Blindsite2k is concerned about. There is a fundamental difference between saying I believe X (even if X implies that Y is wrong) and saying X is true, therefore you are NOT PERMITTED to believe Y.

The point of this community is to support the SAFE network and to develop the associated ideas. If someone wants to attack those goals, then the community can and should stop them. But if people want to voice personal opinions particularly about their reasons for supporting the SAFE network, that should be encouraged, even if it makes certain others uncomfortable. Because see if someone says I support the SAFE network because I believe X, and the other person says, I support the SAFE network because I believe Y, great. Both parties are united in their support of the goal of this particular community.

But if someone says, I support SAFE because I believe X, and therefore you can’t support SAFE and believe Y, you are undercutting the other persons reasons for supporting SAFE. That sort of behavior impinges on the goals of the community and should be pushed back on. And if the people’s behavior is totally off-topic, well thats why Off-Topic exists.

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@kirkion both as moderator and OP I’d like to understand where your comments are directed, but I can’t tell without you being explicit about who you are referring to, which of their posts or which particular words they’ve written.


I didn’t have a particular comment in mind, I haven’t been on the forum long and nothing like that has ever been directed at me.

My point was more to think about the ideas that we are talking about, and advocate the role that I think the Mods should take. If people want to get in a fight about what they can and can’t believe in the abstract, banishing that to Off-Topic seems enough to me.

Having people talk and even fight about unrelated things, in a section devoted to unrelated things, does not, in my experience cause a problem for the community.

What does cause a problem is when the mods, either do to little that is, in the name of free speech allow things which harm the goals of the community to go on. Or do to much, “this mindset, or values” are not allowed, which is really just the scenario I suggested above, but done by a mod.

I think that the mods should, in general, restrict their actions to things which harm the goals of the community. If you are attacking the goals of the community, either directly, or by imposing a political correctness which says “the only valid way to reach this conclusions is by this means” and thus removing otherwise valuable members of the community then the mods should take action.

Thats not to say that the mods here don’t do this, in fact in my, admittedly limited, experience they have. But when we are talking abut the theoretical basis for when action should or should not be taken, I think that the mods should try to confine themselves to enforcing the explicit norms of the community, that is its stated purpose or goal, not some amorphous standard of “acceptable” conduct.

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Sort of a goofy way to word that, but yeah, that’s almost definitely true. In my home, you’re welcome to say things I disagree with, and I’m welcome to ask you to leave.

EDIT: When we’re talking about “kingdoms” and you’re referring to it as “mine,” I’m assuming you’re talking about MY space. Governments shouldn’t be kingdoms. My home is a kingdom.

This is why there are no hard lines. There’s no binary answer to anything, and everything is fluid. You can’t “implement code” for these sort of things because they’re constantly in flux. They need constant re-evaluation. It sounds like you want a simple black-and-white answer. You’ll never get one because that’s exactly what society isn’t.

IMO, Your government depends on the government type imposed on you. Ideally, governments are just a representation of the will of the people, so ideally they’re completely transparent and public to begin with. Ideally. Ideally.

Public spaces are where the majority congregate. Facebook seems to be majority. Twitter. Main Street. The local park. My house is not public. My sandwich shop is revolving door, but private.

I think he’s saying that muting posts isn’t a solution. It’s a bandaid, not a solution. Society is a mixture of how we see ourselves as well as how others see us. As much as many people hattteee this idea here, we SHOULD be influenced by other people. It’s the base of culture. I do something, people tell me I shouldn’t do it, eventually I realize that I’m being problematic.

To quote My So-Called Life’s Angela:

It’s such a lie that you should do what’s in your heart. If we all did what was in our hearts, the world would grind to a halt.