Corona Virus Diaries – May 13, 2020: Freedom of Speech and Becoming a Better Person

We’re steady at 37 confirmed cases in the county, despite increased testing. There’s now a drive-thru testing site about 20 minutes south of us. I just wonder what the count would be if we’d had better access to testing since the beginning of March. I want to go for an anti-body test, but I read that some of those tests are not accurate and to be sure to get one that is, so I’ll wait to talk to my primary care physician about it. Many places are starting to reopen, slowly. I’m not sure yet whether that’s good or bad. I wish to God we had a better social safety net in this country and then, maybe, we could stay with limited access to each other until we had a better idea just how widespread this virus has been. It is what it is right now, though, and people have to be able to take care of themselves in the long run.

One thing social media has done has let us see a side of people we knew, but we didn’t know completely. Some people don’t post much about themselves, but for many it’s opened their personalities for the world to see, warts and all. Sometimes it surprised me, sometimes it didn’t. Some of those surprises have been good, and others….

I once wrote for a site called Epinions. It was a lot of fun. I had thousands of product and media reviews there and made some nice money. Many of the media reviews I’ve been posting have been my work from that site, since it’s gone and the content isn’t up on the internet anymore. I made a lot of friends there. Some have been very good friends who I met in real life and I still like very much and keep in contact with. Some I only know from the site and on Facebook. Some are people I decided I just don’t like and want nothing to do with.

People like to throw around the concept of “freedom of speech” quite a bit these days. If you’re talking about the Constitutional right to freedom of speech, all it means is the government can’t stop you from saying almost anything you want. You can have the most reprehensible opinion, and the government can’t stop you from having it and talking about it. That is, until it bleeds over into harming other people. You can’t shout “Fire” in a movie theater is the popular example, but it’s also advocating harm to groups of people.

That said, there’s no right to say what you want on the internet and not suffer consequences from it. There’s also no right to spew venom and other people to have to listen to it.

One person I’m acquainted with I’ll call “Tim” was someone I once liked in a friendly manner. I thought he was funny and quirky and we had some fun exchanges on Epinions. As time went on, though, I found out he wasn’t really a very nice person; at least in my book. This was especially true once many of us became friends on Facebook. He was someone I blocked and unfriended a few times, always swayed to give him another chance. I finally had enough and blocked him completely.

Blocking someone on Facebook has nothing to do with “freedom of speech”. I’m not doing anything to prevent Tim from saying whatever he wants. I’m just choosing not to hear it. I considered his posts for a long time and made my own judgment of the subject. Most of it it right-wing fascist trash. It was actually another Epinions friend who once told me that no one has the right to demand anything of you – that includes listening to their drivel and answering them.

I blocked many people like Tim who I once knew very well, or was somewhat acquainted with. It’s not a matter of I can’t “handle the truth” (in their eyes). It’s a matter of they bring out a visceral reaction in me that brings out a side of my personality I don’t like. Blocking them and not reading what they have to say makes me a better person. There are a few people in real life like that as well. The former commissioners of the Village District where I live come to mind.

Why has this come up today? I share my blog posts on my Facebook page and my Twitter feed. I have Tim blocked on Facebook, and there’s zero chance I’ll unblock him. There are no more “chances” for him. I checked out my Twitter feed this morning and got a notice that he had started following me there. I swiftly blocked him on Twitter. If he happens to post anywhere on my blog, I’ll block him here too.

I don’t understand the need to have a connection to me when I’ve made it clear I want nothing to do with him, and it’s been that way for years. I’m not doing anything to stop his “freedom of speech” – I just refuse to be a sounding board for his brand of hatred. I think I’ve done an admirable job of making it clear I want nothing to do with him, yet he keeps trying to be in my life.

No matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, you don’t owe it to anyone to be their sounding board. You don’t owe anyone an explanation or a debate. You don’t owe anyone the time it takes to research something when they say “do your research.” If they can support their position they can cite their research, otherwise they aren’t looking for a discussion and they’re just giving you busy-work. If blocking someone makes your life better, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it.

I just have to wonder, though, how someone like Tim doesn’t ever think about why so many people feel the need to block him. I mean, I’d start to wonder what was wrong with me if a lot of people whose opinions I valued suddenly started blocking me. But then, I’m not Tim (thank God!)

6 replies »

  1. I, too, know “Tim” from our days writing for Epinions. He seemed like a nice guy THEN, but that’s because our interactions were restricted to the content on that late and lamented website. On Facebook (or “evilbook,” as he likes to call it), that’s another matter, especially since 2009 or so, which is when I started noticing the more political side of people I liked at Epinions.

    Anyway, although “Tim” is smart and has a sharp wit, he does have a nasty fascistic side to him.

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