What do Pol Pot, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and certain LinkedIn group managers have in common? a love of censorship. This week I got an LinkedIn message from Kathleen Hurley, manager of the Environmental, Health & Safety Compliance Network 10,000 +, telling me that in response to my having posted four items in a single day that hence forth all my comments and posts would be moderated and that I would be limited to two links a week.
Anyone who is a LinkedIn contact of mine knows that I am very active; to an irritating degree. I post daily, and between press releases, blog posts, tweets, and articles the home page of my poor contacts will almost certainly have my face emblazoned across it. I feel your pain, and I know a little of me goes a long, long way. I am also active in answering questions and in the discussion portion of the 50 (49 after dumping Environmental, Health & Safety Compliance Network 10,000 +). So I can understand why many of you may be thinking, well I can sympathize with poor, poor Kathleen. I won’t apologize for my shameless self-promotion. After all, it has resulted in my writing being published in about a dozen or so places, me speaking at numerous international venues, being published in respected scientific and academic journals, and being named to the ISHN Power 101 (a list of the powerful and influential people in worker safety) a fact that I seem to manage to work into every conversation.
For the record, I believe that if one starts a blog, LinkedIn group, or social club it is their inalienable right to restrict or prohibit whoever and whatever they want. But as Director, Corporate Communications at Actio Corporation, whose president is listed as the group’s owner I am, I admit, a bit alarmed. I find it disquieting that a group founded and moderated by a safety vendor is not forth coming about the fact that they aren’t exactly without ulterior motive (or at least could be perceived as having said motive) or bias when it comes to the topics discussed in the group. Even this isn’t a problem if one isn’t actively tampering with the discussions—after all, aren’t the founders of any organizations likely to shout down opposing points of view?
But hapless Ms. Hurley didn’t oppose a point of view, she decided that she had ought have a look at the dangerous, dangerous posts of this dangerous, dangerous man. She never got the chance. I took my ball and went home shared her email with the 300 or so contacts who were also group members. She didn’t want to read my stuff and I didn’t want her deciding whether or not it would post; so I voted with my feet.
Let me say that I am pretty thick skinned about my writing. It’s not for everyone. I the majority of the feedback is positive, but I always get a stream of simpletons who post hate mail on my work. I publish any comment I get and I try to answer each and every response to my work. I am more puzzled by the responses than anything. I’ve always believed that if you didn’t like what I wrote you were under no obligation to read it. I have never understood the imbecile who posts rambling, borderline psychotic frothy rants about something I said. The first time I was censored was an article I wrote for the college newspaper where I was a reporter and columnist. The paper wasn’t very good, even by college standards (it was riddled with typos and grammatical errors, sloppy journalism, and hastily produced and sophomoric articles) and I wrote a piece, “Who Writes This Rag?” The article was a tongue-in-cheek look at how the staff (mainly me and my friend and fellow goof off editor) did the bare minimum was sloppy writers and editors who seldom bothered to proofread. My fellow staff members, including the faculty adviser, all enjoyed the article immensely and we all had a good laugh at ourselves. The mirth was short lived however. When the article was sent off to be typesetter who refused to typeset it. He apparently thought the article was directed at him and took offense to it. (If he is reading this I sincerely hope he is roasting in Hell.) The faculty adviser tried to talk reason but eventually acquiesced and apologized so that the paper could be produced.
I learned many important lessons from that experience. First, I learned that one closed-minded, power-crazed anus of a person can censor even the most innocuous work. This censorship, or that of a certain group manager are not the work of an international conspiracy, this isn’t the work of a cadre of master criminals; this is the work of a few (usually one) twisted little people driven mad with the sad little power given to them.
Next, I learned that there are people in this world who see their own frailties in every bit of written work. People who decry as fraud that which is critical of a population are usually the guiltiest or secretly think they might be. These people are bigots and bullies who should never EVER be left in a position where they can censor the ideas of others. Small minds don’t leave much room for new ideas. This may smack of hypocrisy given my penchant for publicly telling people to shut up. But telling people to shut up is a far cry from silencing them; ii’s small distinction, but an important one.
I also learned that there are a fair amount of people who go through life waiting to take offense. These are neither the glass is half empty nor half full people, these are “the who the hell drank half of my drink?” people. These people are deeply dysfunctional people who can only find happiness in misery. They can’t read the paper, listen to the news, or see a movie without taking everything as a personal affront. I provide them a service. If you can’t be offended reading something I wrote you probably don’t have very good reading comprehension skills.
Finally, I learned that words are power and unpopular words are the most powerful. Words and ideas outside our comfort zone force us to question whether or not our most deeply held beliefs. When someone says something that upsets us, the courageous among us reflect and grow, sometimes this causes us to change our minds while other times it strengthens and deepens our beliefs. In either case, we continue to evolve as intellectuals. But the cowards among us try to silence criticism and mute debate. Somewhere deep inside them they know how fragile their bigotry is and they are afraid that if they look within themselves they may have to hold themselves accountable. What’s worse, is their fear that others may also be convinced and that will further isolate them.
Pol Pot, Hitler, and Stalin all knew that the unfettered flow of ideas and words was the cornerstone of freedom and democracy; they would make poor LinkedIn group owners and managers. (For one they are all dead, and for another I doubt they have the computer skills.) So to all you group managers, and bloggers, and angry dissocials pining to take offense know that censorship is on the same continuum as rape; it is you asserting your sick power over another just because you can. And power is addictive and censorship is habit forming, if you aren’t careful you may find yourself the intellectual equivalent of a serial killer.