The Wiltshire Police in the United Kingdom posted a tweet promising to go after people for “spewing abuse” on the Internet — then, when people criticized it, promised to ban any account that had posted anything “offensive.” The initial tweet, posted on Monday, stated:
You can't hide from us if your spewing abuse from behind a computer screen. Our boys & gals in blue will find you 💻 👀#999WhatsYourEmergency
— Wiltshire Police (@wiltshirepolice) July 24, 2017
Now, some people would look at all of this and see a police force that’s making the Internet a better place, one that’s free from the unhinged hatred of those mouth-breathing, neckbeard-sporting, basement-dwelling trolls. Personally, though, I find it to be pretty scary — yes, even more scary than the trolls themselves.
Don’t get me wrong: I am absolutely not trying to minimize the psychological impact that the work of Internet trolls can have on the people they target, if those people choose to read what the trolls write. The things that some of these freaks feel the need to say to complete strangers behind their keyboards are nothing short of horrific, and I know this from experience. (If you don’t believe me, just take a look at my mentions.)
Yes, an Internet without trolls certainly would be more comfortable, and a policy like this may seem tempting — but the truth is, there’s just no comfort that’s worth giving the government the power to ban “offensive” speech. Why? Because what is or is not “offensive” is an entirely subjective matter; something that one person finds offensive, another person might find funny, or even virtuous. The only criteria for deciding whether or not something is “offensive” is the personal sensibilities of the individual or individuals making that decision — and no one should ever give their government the power to block speech based on the feelings of its members.
A better solution to dealing with Internet abuse is to either make fun of it or ignore it. I know that this can be tough to do. As a television host, my mentions are routinely flooded with horrific garbage. There have been milder things, such as “she adds nothing to this show” or “what is that blond chick supposed to be a specialist in? Being an idiot????” and, of course, more intense ones, like this person who told me that my mom died because I’m such a terrible person. With the exception of actual, credible death threats, though — with very specific, strict criteria outlined in United States law — I’d never want the government to get involved to stop any of it. It’s tough to look and, and it can be even harder to ignore, but I’d much rather do my best to block abuse myself than give the government greater power to limit what I should be allowed to say.