A recent comment on one of this blog’s posts, The Philosophy of Anita Sarkeesian, really pushed one of my buttons. The commenter tried to defend the ridiculous level of backlash against cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian by comparing her to Jack Thompson, the infamous pro-censorship lawyer.
No. That is not a comparison.
Sarkeesian’s criticism is in places objectionable, as discussed in the original article, but it’s not censorship. She’s not trying to ban any specific games or anything like Thompson is; she’s voicing her opinions. And no, choosing to shut off comments on her YouTube videos is not equivalent to banning Grand Theft Auto or whatever Thompson’s current anti-First Amendment crusade is; she can do what she wants with her own YouTube channel and there’s millions of ways you can still share your thoughts and respond to her points (ideally with more intelligence than the typical YouTube comment contains).
Freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism. Criticism is a component of free speech, one a surprising number of people on the internet seem to object to. No, Gamespot giving GTA5 a (GASP) 9 out of 10 instead of a 10 out of 10 is not any reason to send them death and rape threats, especially when the review’s out before the people sending the threats even played the game. Similar threats of violence toward movie critics on Rotten Tomatoes reached a crescendo when some of the press dared to gave mixed advanced reviews to The Dark Knight Rises, causing the site to choose to remove the comments sections on individual reviews (I actually loved the movie, but find it ironic how the nerdrage groupthink seemed to turn against it after they actually saw it).
On a related note, boycotts are also part of freedom of speech. I’m not a paid critic, so everything I see I see on my own time with my own money (unless I manage to get into a free screening on occasion), and I figured my money wasn’t worth going toward Ender’s Game even before it came out to mediocre reviews, due to not wanting to contribute to Orson Scott Card’s hate group-funding cash cow. Now, if I had no interest in the movie in the first place or hadn’t even heard of it and didn’t pay to see it, would that be censorship? No. So why is it “censorship” if my reason for not seeing it is partially political?
And yes, as they always like to inform us, the critic-bashing trolls are also protected by freedom of speech (at least until they start violating harassment laws, I’d think). But just as you’re free to think we critics are evil, we’re allowed to think you’re idiots.