The Paradox of Tolerance In Online Spaces

Author’s Note: I have never felt uncomfortable contributing to GNOME. This is a more general post about online communities, and targeted at some of the other FOSS communities I’ve been interested in contributing to or have contributed to in the past.

In certain online spaces, the idea that not including people who are intolerant of others is itself a form of negative intolerance has gained traction. This would be excluding those who post white supremacist content, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, etc. A common argument against excluding these people is the “slippery slope” – if you exclude these people for hate speech, soon you’ll try to exclude any people for anything.

In reality, this slope does not exist. In healthy online communities, these people are kept out and the community continues to move forward. How? Well, it’s because these communities could not be healthy and safe without the exclusion of harmful elements. This is where we hit the paradox of tolerance.

What Is The Paradox of Tolerance?

…if a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized or destroyed by the intolerant.

In online spaces, “tolerance” refers to who you allow in the community. To be tolerant means to allow people from all walks of life into your space, regardless of race, sexual or gender identity, or other factors used to marginalize people within society. To go further, a good community should do more than tolerate them, but let them know that they are welcome and that they will not be marginalized within the community.

A person is marginalized when they are abused for their identity, or made to feel less important because of it. In real life, this manifests as workforce discrimination, housing discrimination, police brutality, and many other forms of oppression that make it so that the value of a victim’s life and livelihood are less important than the oppressor’s. In an online space, marginalization is more subtle. It would be if a black person saw someone use the “n word” – or worse, is called one – without reprucussion. It would be if a trans woman had to deal with someone saying that they are “men trying to invade women’s spaces”. It would be if a woman in general had to deal with men making sexual remarks and unwanted advances. These things all make the victims uncomfortable, and the lack of action taken can make them feel unimportant.

Some communities like to think of themselves as “perfectly tolerant”. This means that they would tolerate people that take actions to make marginalized people uncomfortable. When a community does this, they are actually being intolerant, and enabling abusers.

Isn’t It Intolerance To Keep Out The Intolerant?

Yes. In a very literal sense, it is intolerance to keep these people out of communities. However, the effect of this intolerance is that people who face real intolerance in their day-to-day lives feel safer in those communities. So it comes down to what you think is important. Do you think it’s more important to let people abuse others, or to have a safe and productive community? If you want to run a community, you have to make that choice.

44 Replies to “The Paradox of Tolerance In Online Spaces”

  1. “This would be excluding those who post white supremacist content, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, etc. ”

    And such accusations have very little meaning anymore given the absolute joke that modern identity politics and feminism are these days. Simply not accepting the extreme narrative will get you slapped with any one of these labels which effectively allows far-left freaks to banish whomever they wish from wherever they wish for disagreeing or even getting on their wrong side.

    1. I mean, I give pretty clear examples of some those things in the post, but here you are trying to dismiss the concerns of marginalized people. So let me add an example: not listening to the experience of the oppressed. Not believing oppressed people when they let you know they are harmed by something perpetuates the abuse that excludes them.

      1. Well said, and this is absolutely true. Also:
        “Simply not accepting the extreme narrative will get you slapped with any one of these labels which effectively allows far-left freaks to banish whomever they wish from wherever they wish for disagreeing or even getting on their wrong side.”

        This makes absolutely no sense. I’m supposed to accept the “extreme narrative” because otherwise far left freaks will stop everyone? Lunacy.

    2. “And such accusations have very little meaning anymore given the absolute joke that modern identity politics and feminism are these days.”

      … and the first comment had to be precisely from one of the deplorables the article is talking about.

      Sigh.

      1. Deplorable… for rejecting movements that actively do more harm to what they claim to protect. The intolerance and hypocrisy is astounding. You’ll eventually find yourself on the wrong end of it and you’ll have absolutely no defence because you’ll face unreasonable intolerance and excuses like this article. Safe space freaks eat each other when it really matters. My only hope is that tech communities survive it.

    3. I guess here we have case in point. Fortunately, our community is not tolerant of opinions like this. If it were, I certainly wouldn’t want to be a part of it.

    4. > “effectively allows far-left freaks to banish whomever they wish from wherever they wish for disagreeing or even getting on their wrong side”

      You have provided zero evidence that this is the case. What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. The comments on this post (incl this) are evidence that people cry “slippery slope” at the drop of a hat.

      And I’ll bet you’re OK with blocking spam, and I bet you can’t define that.

      Chris, thanks for posting this, you’re totally right.

  2. The entire premise behind freedom of expression is throughout human history making certain opinions illegal, banning books, killing skeptics & jailing people with minority opinions hasnt worked.

    If facebook existed back the 60’s MLK would have been suspended for “hate speech” since at that time, what he was saying was unpopular and “offended people” – we’re past that. Censorship is what nazis, radical christians & fascist governments do. When you support banning an app, or blocking an entire server you’re on the wrong side.

    If someone says stuff online you dont like, block them, dont block everyone in their group – thats what bigots do.

    1. MLK was fighting for the marginalized people I talk about in this post. The “unpopular opinions” you refer to come from those that killed him. He had his life taken away because he stood up against oppression. A mere ban on FB doesn’t compare.

      People do not operate in vacuums. If a group is pals with someone who espouses hate, they probably share the same opinions, and will probably work to target others. Sort of like you’ve been working to target me on other platforms today, David Bond.

      You think you can get away with this, but your behavior is transparent. We weren’t born yesterday, and we know your type.
      For those who want to look into it, here’s some evidence:

      https://imgur.com/a/2Fho53g

      You say that it’s “funny & sad” that we think you’re targeting us, but it’s pretty clear when you’re watching our profiles, our blogs, etc. Your sockpuppet accounts have been trying to follow me all day. I think that’s the real funny thing here, and I find it sad that you seek validation from others by trying to put us down. Also, I haven’t blocked mastodon.social.

      1. “Guilt by association, that’s our motto!”
        You freaks are a dime a dozen and the biggest threat to freedom of expression this generation has ever faced, more than any religious prude or fascist could ever hope to match in ability to censor. I hope the internet can move beyond your insane degenerate agenda with technology alone… less we all be damned to a twitterverse whose users are only legally allowed to post by the officially sanctioned state-approved blue checkmark committee.

        1. I mean, thanks for proving me right. Your comments are super hateful and their only purpose is to attack my integrity. Yes, guilty by association is a thing when
          the people you associate want to harm others. If you do nothing you are guilty. Take a page from Spider-Man: “With great power comes great responisbility”. When you know
          someone wants to cause harm, you have the power to stop it. If you don’t, you are responsible.

          1. I’m not responsible for anyone else’s actions.
            I’m constantly surrounded by people of different opinions, ethnicity and sexual orientations and I never discriminate. I actively challenge anyone who has discriminating attitudes which happens to be a large majority of the muslims in my country but oh wait they’re a protected class that can’t be criticised so now I’m a bigot for that somehow. See how the perpetually offended are the most intolerant whackos around who do nothing to actually protect people at risk of harm from hate?

            But now everyone and their bloody mum gets labeled with “racist”, “nazi” or whatever else is trending among the regressive lefitsts; then this symbolic mark of the beast after being slapped onto whoever doesn’t agree with the victim narrative is a calling card for degenerate culturally destructive nutjobs to to lynch them for wrongthink. Ever sat down with a muslim and gotten them to talk honestly? I have. The stuff they say about homosexuals made my stomach churn and worry for the future. And yet I don’t ask to banish them from coding projects. And people like you will never actually have the balls to face tough issues like this. Instead just keep writing your censorship apologist blogs for blue checkmark brownie points while sipping starbucks as the freedoms of expression that generations fought very hard to gain are destroyed by cultural marxists.

          2. You’re proving right here that those labels apply to you. You have spouted Islamophobic nonsense unprompted. You keep showing your hand here.
            You’ve made assumptions about me that are completely correct, and I really don’t have time to keep responding to your nonsense. So I’ll leave you with some info:

            * I’ve made good friends with muslims in the past. I have had no reason to assume that they were not genuine. To assume that every follower of islam is ingenuine is to be a bigot.

            * “homosexuals” is another way you’re showing your hand. Very few people other than bigots that express the exact same talking points you express use it. I’d think you might be
            reading from a guidebook or something, with how your arguments are the exact same things. It’s tired. Learn some new tactics.

            * I don’t use Twitter, and I don’t give a shit about social capital. I write to make people think, and to work to solve issues.

            * “cultural marxism” doesn’t exist.

          3. * “cultural marxism” doesn’t exist.
            Say cultural marxists.

            * “homosexuals” is another way you’re showing your hand.
            Oh yeah, I’m such a bigot for worrying about my homosexual friends and family because a homophobic religion is gaining protected class status and being untouchable because of the state enforcing hate speech laws.

            >You have spouted Islamophobic nonsense
            Find me a majority Islamic country that doesn’t heavily discriminate against homosexuals in law and culture. I challenge anyone who spouts homophobic or any bigoted behavior – but now thanks to people like yourself people cannot defend themselves or their beloved peers anymore because it MIGHT offend someone. You’ll destroy yourself with this nonsense because someday it’ll turn on you. You kind bloody eat each other. And you’ll deserve it for your cowardice and intolerance.
            “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. Benjamin Franklin”

        2. “You freaks are a dime a dozen ”

          Then seems to indicate that there seems to be a lot of us here by your own admission. Looks like we’re winning.

    2. “If facebook existed back the 60’s MLK would have been suspended for “hate speech” since at that time, what he was saying was unpopular and “offended people”

      You mean the “hate speech” of unity and brotherhood that Dr. King espoused in just about all his speeches? That hate speech? Have you actually listened to his speeches?

      > If someone says stuff online you dont like, block them, dont block everyone in their group – thats what bigots do.
      Should I also allow anyone into my home? Even people who do not like me because not anyone into my home is me being a bigot? Please.

  3. Everyone must be welcome as long as he or she behaves according to the rules inside that community. Whatever they do outside this community, is their own damn business. That’s basically it.

    1. Not really. If someone says they want to see black people lynched on their personal profiles, no black person will want to be in a community that harbors them. Do you see where communities with your attitude lose people?

      1. Sorry, I don’t. If his or her attitude is not harmful inside my community and his contribution is valuable, I don’t see any reason to kick somebody out. He (or she, I think you got it XD) will probably never be my friend and we will probably never hang out in other circumstances, but that’s outside the scope of my community and it will just be personal grudge.

        Maybe my interpretation of online communities is a bit old fashioned (the ’90s where simpler times…), but I believe we are there because of what we have in common, not what we disagree about, and that’s what we should value most. It doesn’t concern me what members do on their own time outside because that’s not why we are together within the community.

        1. Nah. If someone says they’d rather see me dead then in their space, why should I be in their space? Why should I allow them into my space?

          1. If he personally attacked me in his space, of course I have no reason to be there, he already disagrees with my initial comment so I’m not interested in his community. If the same guy comes to my community, I’ll probably tell him to shut the f**k up and behave or that’s the door. I don’t want to be like him, I want to give everyone an opportunity.

          2. That’s the thing, though: if a person has a history of being hurtful, why give them the opportunity to cause more harm? That’s irresponsible,
            and only someone who wouldn’t be harmed by them has the privilege to take that risk.

          3. > Nah. If someone says they’d rather see me dead then in their space, why should I be in their space? Why should I allow them into my space?

            But where is the proof? Such level of aggression is definetely not tolerated.
            Which community (with proof, of course)? By keeping it silent, covered, you don’t help.
            But by spreading such “everyday threat”, you are damaging the community.

            I don’t say that jerks don’t exist but you are in FOSS for less than a year and you are creating a lot of fuss.
            Hergert said that you will attracked people marginalizing you, this is pure intellectual dishonesty.

            Until now. There is no data, no proof of such “everyday threat” in FOSS. This is quite bad for computer scientists and technologists audience.

            Now Chrisopher if you don’t mind and if you are really interested by Gnome and FOSS, we – I – would really love to see your code/doc/assets contributions, if someone is preventing you to contribute, share her/his name publicly with PROOFs on the place! We might be able to do something… if he is not Trump. :)

            Best regards,
            Malik

          4. As stated in the beginning, this is nothing that has happened within GNOME. But, I can provide
            some examples of things that have made me as a black person feel uncomfortable:

            In the Pleroma community, some of the people participating have made racist remarks and harassed
            me or other black people. Others have defended those who make those remarks. People within the Pleroma
            community like it’s chat room are allowed to hold hateful opinions as long as they don’t express them.
            Why would I want to contribute to a community that harbors those who hate me?

            In the Godot community, the lead developer complained about “sjws” when the discussion
            of master/slave terminology came up regarding the project. While my first work in open
            source was on Godot, I don’t feel like contributing anymore, since my experiences might
            be disregarded.

            Then you get into all the other things that make other classes of people feel unwelcome
            in certain project spaces.

            you are in FOSS for less than a year and you are creating a lot of fuss

            I’ve been around since 2017 :) I’ve just started speaking up now.
            That genie’s not going back in the bottle, because people need to speak about issues
            in order to solve them.

            If you want to see my contributions, look at my GitLab: https://gitlab.gnome.org/BrainBlasted

          5. Because from my point of view I believe that even someone whom I strongly disagree with on major life topics could still be able to give me an important contribution in the right context. It’s not that I don’t understand your reasons for being defensive and I’m sure I can’t imagine what experiences led you to that, but it’s a dangerous road and I’ll tell you a story about it.

            Just yesterday on Mastodon, for sharing my point of view with you on this page, someone called me a “dickhead” and told me to “fuck off”. Fortunately uneducated people always meant so little to me and I admit I occasionally seize the opportunity and toy with them a bit (nobody is perfect XD), but I never verbally abuse anyone. Sure, nobody threatened to kill me, but the moral of this story is that intolerance one way or another always ends up inciting hatred.

            I don’t think I can change your mind on this topic, but I hope I can at least soften you a bit. I’d like to be part of a community of people who share what they love, not whom they hate. I enjoyed chatting with you, best regards!

        2. The 90s were simpler times because your (and my) bubble of privilege hadn’t burst yet.

          They definitely weren’t simpler times for marginalized people. And they weren’t in part because we accepted in our midst people who would harm them.

          1. I meant simpler times for online communities. Maybe the expectations were just way lower, dunno.

        3. > If his or her attitude is not harmful inside my community and his contribution is valuable, I don’t see any reason to kick somebody out.

          If they are harmful outside the community chances are that they are harmful inside the community, but not harmful to you, so you’re just going to overlook their harm because it doesn’t impact you.

          No amount of contribution is going to offset the harm done.

          1. >but not harmful to you, so you’re just going to overlook their harm because it doesn’t impact you.
            That’s kinda unlikely, especially because before we were talking about some pretty heavy comments.

            Anyway “chances are”: if they actually are we all agree on everything that comes next.

  4. Chris, thank you for writing this.

    To some of some the rest of y’all responding here though…

    Blocking messages from one source in a discussion ignores that basic social feature of what a community is. An online community is a set of broadcasts, not a sack of private messages. A single receiver blocking messages from one sender in this context makes no sense.

    Arguments that equate limitations of the scope of a community’s rules of conduct to those of a country’s government make no sense.

    These types of arguments fail to refute any Chris’s actual points. It leads me to believe that it’s because you don’t actually have any relevant counterarguments.

  5. Thanks for putting yourself out there. Especially knowing that standing up attracts those who would seek to marginalize you.

  6. When you exclude all behavior by someone who does something you dislike, you deny them the chance to do something good, and deprive the community of the chance to learn from them.
    Is replacing one bigotry with another an improvement?

  7. to your message of July 22, 2019 at 6:44 pm

    Still not one proof and even worse, the *not proven* attacks are ridiculous.
    The part about Godot’s lead is not even an argument.

    Come on, Chris!

    About your gitlab subscription: forking does not mean you are contributing. I looked at the Gimp’s git history and I didn’t find one commit from you.

    1. It wasn’t an argument, but me providing examples of intolerance that made me feel uncomfortable in project spaces. I could provide proof for each of those claims, but that would involve going through the chat logs of the Godot IRC room, every post from the various Pleroma community members, etc. I’m not obligated to do that for a random stranger on the internet.

      You’ve shown pretty clearly you haven’t taken a good look at my GitLab history. Otherwise, you’d have seen my numerous commits across GNOME, my work on Fractal, and each commit I’ve pushed in the last few days.

    2. In addition, shouldn’t it be clear that I’m a contributor to GNOME if I have a blog on blogs.gnome.org that’s published on planet.gnome.org? That should be obvious to you, but since you want to invalidate my points with an appeal to my merit, you cannot see what’s right in front of you.

    1. Thanks. The site design isn’t mine, but rather a WordPress theme. The posts are all original content, though :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *