I’ve said things like this many times in different venues, but I’ve never put it together here in a single place I can link to — so I’m doing that now.
If you don’t respect my basic right to moderate my own online spaces — don’t bother to comment in any of them.
If you think I’m obligated to listen to anyone say whatever they want, for as long as they want to talk to me — don’t bother to comment.
If you think free speech means people have the right to force me to listen to whatever they want to say, whenever they want, for as long as they want, in whatever space they want, in as ugly a manner as they want, and that I’m obligated to listen, forever — don’t bother to comment.
If you think blocking, muting, unfriending, or banning people in my online spaces means I hate free speech, am not interested in constructive dialog, and am only interested in listening to an echo chamber — don’t bother to comment.
I love arguing. I’ve been arguing online for years, and I’ve been following other people’s online arguments for years. And I know when arguments are going nowhere — and I know the arguments that signal, “I’m not actually listening to you or thinking about what you’re saying.” My time on Earth is limited, and you do not have a right to that time. I will decide for myself who I do and don’t want to engage with. I will decide for myself which conversations are worth my time, and which ones are not.
And this trope of “You are a terrible person if you block or ban or mute people” is one of the most common forms of Internet harassment — especially for women. It’s extra insidious because, to people who aren’t clued in to the reality of being a feminist woman on the Internet, it can sound very reasonable. The mere fact of having boundaries, the mere fact of making decisions about who we are and aren’t willing to engage with, gets us framed as close-minded, non-skeptical, censorious, fascist bitches. When it’s aimed at women, this “How dare you block or ban or mute!” trope basically means, “You have no right to have boundaries. It is your job to listen, patiently and politely, for as long as people want to talk. Men have the floor, and women are the audience. You are a woman, and that means you’re a public commodity, and you have to give access to yourself to anyone who wants it. Quit whining, and engage with every asshole who wants to engage with you.”
Don’t do that. If you want to engage with me, understand that I have the right to leave that engagement at any time. If you want to engage with me in my space, understand that I am not obligated to give that space to you. You have that right, too. You can opt out of conversations with me at any time. You can stop following me on Twitter or Facebook; you can stop reading my blog; you can block me or mute me or unfriend me or unfollow me. And of course, you have the right to say what you want in your own spaces. But if you can’t accept that I have a right to walk away from conversations, don’t start a conversation with me. Thanks.