People who don’t like the way I run my writers’ group on Facebook often cite “free speech” as a reason for leaving.
I suppose they have a point. The group has a very narrow niche — discussions about the craft of writing and the sharing of tips and techniques. Nothing else. All the crap that destroys the value of other writing groups, such as promotion and discourtesy, is simply not allowed. The offending posts are deleted, and often the violators are banned. Making matters worse (from my detractors’ point of view), I don’t keep many posts permanently. Too often, the discussions are repetitions of those that have already gone before, and how many times can you pay attention to the same people claiming the same bad writing techniques are acceptable? Once is too many, in my opinion. Still, I don’t police the comments for good information. (In fact, I seldom police comments, though sometimes someone will contact me to point out a nasty remark, and sometimes I stumble upon an inappropriate remark, such as one member trying to discourage another from writing.)
But it does make me wonder at times if I have the right to delete disrespectful comments and posts that have overstayed their welcome. Maybe it’s just me who finds them repetitive and offensive. But . . . (There’s always a but in my posts, isn’t there?)
Offline conversations have an expiration date. They only hang around as long as one person remembers what was said, and sometimes the conversations are so unmemorable no one remembers them an hour or two later. We don’t walk around like cartoon characters with permanent dialogue bubbles over our heads, making our words available for everyone to see ad nauseam. (Literally, to the point of nausea. Who could deal with all that vomitus?)
That’s all I try to do — keep the discussions fresh.
I’m not really a fan of free speech anyway, at least not the way most people use the term. The USA First Amendment gives us and the press the right to express our opinions without government interference, which is important. According to Cornell Law School, however, the Supreme Court recognizes that the government may prohibit some speech that may cause a breach of the peace or cause violence. Also, the level of protection any speech receives depends on the forum in which it takes place.
So basically, freedom of speech is whatever the Supreme Court says it is. Pornography. Bullying. The right to fling insults. That’s what they protect at all costs. But say something against the government or mention God in certain venues, and wham. The gates of free speech close.
Despite what people seem to think, there is nothing in the constitution about all of us being able to say whatever we want whenever we want. The only concern here for me is that free speech in no way pertains to insignificant venues such as my group. We’re on our own. And in my world, kindness and generosity trump free speech anytime.
If you are concerned about comments you left here on this blog, don’t worry. Only spam is deleted. I’ve kept even the insulting comments, though my first impulse was to delete them. But here, I only have my own sensibilities to worry about. When it comes to a group, especially a long-standing online writers group, it’s more important to create a safe environment where incipient writers as well as professionals feel free to talk about their writing woes.
Oh, heck. Maybe that’s all rhetoric and I’m just a petty despot exerting whatever power I can.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.