Blocked!: UVA kicked off local discussion
After a flurry of obscene postings on his website, gonzo free speech advocate Waldo Jaquith found himself facing an usual charge: censorship.
Someone (or someones) had been littering the usually civil and often cerebral discussions on cvillenews.com with multiple mentions of body fluids, functions, and even Waldo's own beloved mother.
So on Wednesday, July 10, Jaquith filed a complaint with UVA and then did the deed: he disabled access to his site from any computer tied into the UVA network.
"I couldn't take it anymore," says Jaquith, saying he intended to preserve the quality of communications at cvillenews and to conserve his own time and energy.
But the decision raised questions. Waldo, after all, has long championed unfettered speech– going so far as to create an online version, tjcenter.org/monument.html, of the community chalkboard slated for construction in front of City Hall.
Quashing UVA access raised questions not only about the nature of censorship and the right of free speech, but about excluding a university of 18,000+ people for the deeds of one miscreant.
"What happens to a community discussion board when its largest participant is out of the game?" a user called dsewell wrote. "Is this censorship? Or is it more accurate to label as de facto censors the idiots that are causing problems?"
Jaquith says that while his move could appear to be censorship to some, it falls short of the legal definition. And Richmond-based lawyer Kris Keeney, an expert in internet law, agrees with Jaquith's assessment.
Jaquith has no obligation to keep any posts visible on his site, Keeney says, particularly those from internet "trolls" like the one on Jaquith's site.
Regular users of internet posting boards and chat rooms know "trolls" as the ants of the internet picnic. According to AOL, "An Internet 'troll' is a person who delights in sowing discord on the internet. He (and it is usually he) tries to start arguments and upset people... Trolls are utterly impervious to criticism (constructive or otherwise). You cannot negotiate with them; you cannot cause them to feel shame or compassion; you cannot reason with them."
Fortunately for Jaquith, in this case the troll 'fessed up (though anonymously), acknowledging that the offensive postings were designed to get Waldo's goat.
"I have just been responding with a truly-felt umbrage to a crude and insensitive treatment at the hands of Waldo and one particular other user," wrote the troll. Jaquith dismisses the accusation as "justification" for irrational behavior.
"We never were going to continue this indefinitely," the troll continued. "Even we, with apparently little going on, were going to get bored eventually. I'm not sure if this particular UVA blockade would have been the end, but the end was surely coming one way or the other.
In closing, the troll admits, "If what I wanted was Waldo's attention, it seems I've won. And if [what] Waldo wanted was for me to stop, as I said earlier, he will eventually win if he hasn't already. So, it looks like everybody is a winner!"
After several back and forths between Jaquith and the troll, it seemed that the fury might have cooled. But nonetheless there will be some changes on the site that could go on for some time. Though UVA users' rights to cvillenews have been restored, to prevent further "trolling," Jaquith says anonymous posting– the most common form of communication on the site– will no longer be allowed. Although users won't be forced to reveal their identities to the world, they will have to reveal them to Waldo. They'll have to create accounts on the site in order to post.
As for dealing with future trolls on the site, Jaquith, like the three Billy Goats Gruff, says he'll have to cross that bridge when he comes to it.