Incitement to violence and freedom of speech online

speechJulien Blanc, alleged member of the human species, has been ejected from Australia where he was conducting a series of paid seminars teaching young men how to pick up women with abusive and borderline criminal tactics. The reason given by Australian authorities was that he exceeded the terms of his visa and therefore it could be revoked.

This case is not really about technology law as such, but it has a couple of interesting regulatory angles. Firstly, Mr Blanc has been organising so-called Pick Up Artist seminars around the world, using videos and Internet forums to promote his “techniques”. He was popular in the same Internet undergrowth that is the breeding ground of misogynists and creeps. By allowing recording of some of his events, he left quite a damning amount of evidence on YouTube of incitement to practices that could be called criminal, including sexual assault and rape. In one of the videos he brags that “if you are a white male in Japan you can get away with anything”, and then goes on to record a troubling mishmash of racism, orientalism and downright physical assault against Japanese girls. In many countries what he does would be easily classed as sexual assault (see the definition of sexual assault in s3 of the UK Sexual Offences Act 2003 and then watch one of the videos).

There was also plenty of social media evidence of condoning rape and domestic abuse. After his exploits were highlighted in social media, Mr Blanc went on a deleting spree, but thankfully many people saved some of the more damning evidence. Once more, the power of the Internet to record misconduct amazes me.

The second interesting aspect is the power of social media to highlight this type of abuse. While it is true that Twitter can often behave like a lynch mob, it can also be used to organise boycotts and protests against reprehensible and potentially criminal practices.

The third interesting aspect is that this case has unearthed again the very different approach that we have to freedom of speech online. I have read quite a strong reaction online against the Australian authorities on the basis that it violates freedom of speech. The argument goes that Mr Blanc might be a deluded misogynistic person selling a product to gullible and lonely young men, but that he has the right to say reprehensible things. The problem is that this is a very US-centric vision of what constitutes free speech, in most other countries it is not held in the highest possible regard, and many of us understand that there are very good reasons to try to curb some types of speech, particularly those who incite others to commit violence. Inciting people to commit a crime makes one accountable, and Mr Blanc’s videos are not only reprehensible, they really are borderline criminal abuse.

One hopes that this will be the end of abuse being sold as pick up artistry.

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