Atanu Dey On India's Development

Comments on this blog and the Freedom of Expression

| 12 Comments

Recently someone posted a few comments to a post on this blog which were held in moderation. I decide which comments get approved as this my blog and I reserve the right to do so. The person was unhappy that his comments did not get approved and took his quarrel with me to another site which posted his comments. This matter touches on an issue that is broader than the trivial matter of comments on a blog. It’s the distinction between rights and freedoms, a distinction that appears to be lost on too many people, and indeed tragically on some people who make policies that affect millions of people. I address the trivial matter in this post and the important matter in the next post.

The post in question was about government censorship, and one person posted a comment that was abusive to me and far off the mark. It did not advance the discussion and I justifiably decided to ignore it. It began with an idiotic objection (that I had misspelled the URL of my blog — and therefore I did not know Hindi.[1]) Then it went off on a tangent. The writer later posted his comment to Rajesh Akkineni’s blog where it was published.

The guy posted a few more comments (not approved) to my blog claiming that I was censoring him. I absolutely did that. He feels that I have somehow violated his right to say whatever he wants to say on my blog. That is not so. I believe the freedom of expression is absolute[2] but that does not automatically confer any rights to anyone to say what they want on my blog.

Freedom of speech means that you are free to say whatever you want but it does not give you the right to a forum or an audience. You can choose to exercise it on your blog or your radio station or your newspaper or on your soapbox in the public square. But you cannot demand that the New York Times publish your gibberish just because you have freedom of speech. You have the right to speak or write but demanding to be heard or read is ridiculously stupid. Your freedom of expression does not confer a right on you to come into my living room and abuse me, nor does it impose a corresponding obligation on me to allow you to disturb the peace in my home with your rants. I will defend your freedom of speech but I will be damned if I let you violate my property rights. I will politely tell you to get the foxtrot off my property. Which is what I did by not approving that idiot’s (yes, he has to be an idiot if he has not figured out this simple truth) comment.

NOTES:

[1] The URL of this blog “deeshaa.org” is a compromise. You take what is available and cannot choose what is already registered by others.

[2] I have written at length on the freedom of expression and speech on this blog. See these posts.

  • J Pallipad

    While you’re free do what you wish with your own blog, I feel the criticisms put forth by said idiot don’t merit being being censored. So long as your policy is to moderate your posts, nobody can be sure whether you’ve allowed a genuine dissenting opinion or not. And that makes for very one-sided debate on your blog. This assumes of course, that you’re open to debate ideas. Which, like most people, you’re probably not. Aside from posts which reveal personal information, I fail to see what your problem is with someone who personally attacks you. Get over yourself and grow a thicker skin. You can trust the other visitors to your blog (and I assume you do want some visitors), to ignore comments and speech which they and/or you consider moronic. By reacting this way to said idiot, you only give the idiot – and his/her argument more credibility. Had you actually published his comment on your website, and ignored it, I wager everybody else would have too. But you didn’t – which leads one to believe that clearly the person hit some kind of a raw nerve – and then starts lending some credibility to his views – maybe he’s telling the truth about you? One would wish the Indian Government would do the same and stop acting like someone who knows better than the rest of us and let us all decide what we want and don’t want to read. Rights or no rights be damned.

  • Rajesh Akkineni

    I apologize for trying to bring sense to his mind. I thought his comments in my blog will be safe from others view.(no one actually read my posts, let alone comments).

    I never thought you will read them :-)

    Once again, my apologizes for his rant on my blog.

  • http://rexzilla.livejournal.com Rex

    @J Pallipad – Would you like to revise your own views after taking a look at the actual comment on Rajesh’s blog?
    Just because one has a blog doesn’t mean one has to put up with every mouth-breathing troll that shows up to make ad hominem attacks and cannot even construct a logical argument.

    Also consider that you wouldn’t have even come to know about this commenter if Atanu hadn’t mentioned it.

    If you ask me- anyone who makes an ad hominem (personal) attack on the author rather than responding factually to his/her arguments instantly loses any credibility, and is not worth wasting time over.

  • J Pallipad

    “Just because one has a blog doesn’t mean one has to put up with every mouth-breathing troll that shows up to make ad hominem attacks and cannot even construct a logical argument.”

    Rex – I have read the comments that weren’t allowed to go through. And my point is – by deciding to block them, instead of letting the world see just how low some people can go, we give the troll more credit than is due. Let people make fools of themselves in public – and face the consequences.

    Why should Atanu shield us from them, or them from us? It is not about freedom of speech, but the fundamental principle of mutual respect for the individual. The Government wants to Nanny us too – it censors personal attacks/attacks against religion ‘for our benefit’. Because apparently, we aren’t smart enough to ignore morons, or may even get incited by them. The Internet remembers.

    And this is the same issue I pose to Atanu – so long as the comment is not revealing credit card numbers, your home address or Death to your family, let stay where it is. Have faith in the maturity and intelligence of the bulk of your audience to ignore these attacks – and grow a thick skin yourself. Because frankly if these attacks are the best somebody can muster against your arguments, you’ve already won the debate!

  • Kaffir

    Looks like you’ve run into Anuraag of 2ndlook blog. He seems to think that the western countries are the most evil ones in this world, and while he rants against the two desert death-cults, he seems to have a soft spot for religion of peace.

  • Aditya

    I find it disturbing that the logic you have given to censor his comments can be (and is) extended by Governments to censor personal attacks on individuals.
    I completely agree with J Pallipad view’s. You have given that individual far more importance than deserved and by doing so may have exposed (this is my view) a trait of your personality which is contrary to the spirit you purport on the blog.

    • http://www.deeshaa.org Atanu Dey

      Aditya,

      You need to understand the distinction between an individual and a government. An individual does not have the coercive power of a government. If he says something that I don’t like, I cannot actually imprison him or send him to the gallows. An individual cannot prevent another from speaking or writing. The only thing that I have is my property right — the right to decide what I do with my property.

      Muddy thinking is not doing us much good.

  • Aditya

    Atanu,
    I have read your blog on and off and have always enjoyed your views on the freedom of speech.
    However, In this scenario, from where I stand, it seems you purposefully did not allow a dissenting view (albeit which had traits of personal attack)and exercised your right to property at the fullest by censoring him/her.

    The Govt’s extend this. They force Facebook/Google to censor posts they do not like. In theory, I could open up a blog and posts the same dissenting view but would never have an audience as big as facebook. I understand that I do not have a right to an audience but without an audience, an idea would just die.

    The Govt’s understand this and therefore they would not bother if I put the same up on puny little blog.

    That’s the end of my rant. I know what you have done is within your rights but reading what I have read on this blog I was put off by this.

    • http://www.deeshaa.org Atanu Dey

      Aditya,

      This is in response to your comment above.

      You write, “it seems you purposefully did not allow a dissenting view.” Yes, I did it purposely. It was not accidental or mindless. Let me repeat: it is my property. I decide who gets to add his opinion to this blog.

      Then you go on to bring up the Indian government’s forcing of social media sites to take down stuff it feels is objectionable. I find it hard to fathom how these two things are even remotely comparable.

      I stand for freedom of expression which means that I believe that everyone is free to write or speak whatever they feel like. That means that others may not prevent a person from speaking or writing. More generally, it means the absence of coercion or force. Keep that in mind — no coercion.

      The other point that should be kept in mind is the distinction between the liberty to do something and the ability to do something. They are not the same thing. I am at liberty to buy a $300 million yacht, but I don’t have the ability to do that. That distinction is important because it helps us think properly about rights and freedoms.

      Just because you have the liberty to do something does not impose an obligation on another to provide you with the ability to do it. Smoke ‘em if you have ‘em, as the old expression goes.

      Now back to the distinction between what the government of India does and what I did. The government can rightfully decide what it wants to publish on its website. I cannot complain to my mommy that the government refuses to carry my rants against it on its website. Where the government steps out of its bounds is when it prevents some site from publishing whatever it wants to publish, or when it bans some book or some movie. Note that it involves coercion. If the site does not bend to the government’s demands, the government can use force against the people and put them in jail.

      To make the distinction clear, let me put it this way. Suppose you run a blog and Mr Joshi demands that you take down a specific post — or else he will come and break your kneecaps for you. That would be an infringement of the freedom that I argue for — to be free from coercion and to be able to express yourself freely.

      I don’t want others to dictate what I read, write, speak or listen to; and I don’t want to dictate to others either what how and where they should exercise their similar freedom. The government, however, does want to dictate to others what they may or may not say or hear.

      Conflating the cases — government’s coercive power to dictate to Facebook/Google and my refusal to approve of a comment on my blog — is not a good thing.

  • moodys

    Disclaimer to all readers including blog owner: This comment is not annoying or insulting to any nation or to any education company or any other company named or not named in this comment or to you, the reader. Please stop reading now if you are prone to be offended.
    ……………………………………….

    More than your blog post that you write yourself, the blog comments from your readers can put you into serious trouble. For example, I point out a Singapore – India blog defamation case triggered by comments by blog visitors. I understand this case is now filed in India (Delhi) through affiliated education company represented by Singhvi group against Google (USA) represented by Poovayya & co.

    I will be falling short if I do not point out that, in India (IT outsourcing destination!) the Information Technology Act (IT Act) makes it very risky to blog. That is India’s problem. But more than that, India has become a “libel tourism” destination because blogs hosted in other countries can be legally threatened using Indian court, which is very convenient.

    For some details of the Singapore case
    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100718/20510110255.shtml

    The India case
    http://www.techgoss.com/Story/406S11-CERT-refused-to-ban-3-school-blogs.aspx

    Criminal case quoshed by Singapore judge
    http://forabettergiis.blogspot.com/2010/03/update-on-legal-proceedings.html

    (The last link on blogspot.com link may be blocked if you are using BSNL).

  • https://adityaathalye.wordpress.com/ Aditya Athalye

    To the other Aditya: In simpler terms, I have the right to throw out annoying people from my home. But I don’t have the right to further go after them and evict them from theirs.

  • Gouri

    I usually follow two simple rules for comment moderation:
    Too illogical rant from an anonymous account (fictitious email and no website) is not allowed;
    Abusive or too harsh language even from a genuine reader is not allowed.

    This ensures that dissent (if any) is presented and reacted to in an amicable manner without creating any hard feeling.