Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

On Fighting with Words

Apologies for the lack of updates lately.  There’s work, then I served on a jury for the better part of a week (yay civic duties!), and now it’s work again.

That said, I have had this article open in a tab on my work computer for over two weeks because I couldn’t figure out what to say about it, or where to say it.  Thus, in lieu of a longer post, or a HuffPost, I offer you this bit of wisdom…

USA Today’s article entitled “Online hate speech: Difficult to police…and define” profiles a mother whose daughter is cognitively impaired.  The woman, Hannah Jacobs, says she spends about 20 hours each week “combing the Web” for sites which use the word “retard” negatively.  The article states that,

When she finds them, she tries to contact the organizers to ask them to take the site down or change the name. Her group members write letters to government officials and to media companies that operate the sites.

It also states that Jacobs is doing this in order to “make the world a better place for [her daughter] Molly.”

While it’s certainly lovely in many ways to see a mother who cares so much about her daughter’s well-being, it’s also frustrating to think that she wastes so much time policing sites, time that she could be spending with her daughter.  And since use of the word “retard” alone is typically not considered hate speech (nor, in my humble opinion, should it be), Jacobs efforts are largely in vain, as it’s highly unlikely a site will permanently ban a group that simply uses the word.

I’m personally of the opinion that, if Jacobs is going to spend her time fighting this online, that time would be best spent fighting words with words.  Rather than lobbying sites to get rid of groups that use the word “retard,” Jacobs should focus her efforts on combating such speech with positive speech.

2 Comments

  1. Just a good piece on why hate speech laws are ridiculous (it’s not new): http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/01/13/hate_speech_laws/index.html

  2. I can understand the mother’s passion and concern however I think if she spent half of this time in rasing up her daughter on good manners and the ability to make choices, when this girl grow up, she will be able to see the difference between what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’ and thus she can fight bad-speech with the good one but this way is not the solution in my opinion.

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