When I first heard of Atheismplus.com, I was intrigued that such a thing existed. Their mandate seemed pretty straight forward. They weren’t attempting to turn Atheism into an ideology; they just wanted those who are atheists to engage in social justice. Not a bad premise, if you ask me.
Then I started to hear stories from the Twitterverse about them and their followers. Then I witnessed them first hand. More and more it became apparent that this group was trying to turn Atheism into a Dogma, and attempting to apply a doctrine to it. Finally, I was introduced to their entity known as The Block Bot (@The_Block_Bot). Here’s a snippet of its mandate:
“Twitter is polluted by a number of anti-feminist obsessives, who viciously harass those who don’t support their warped views. The Block Bot is a Twitter application to automatically block the nastiest of these people.” (http://www.theblockbot.com)
Okay, sounds alright. No one really likes these sorts of people. But there is something very sinister about the whole thing.
First of all, I understand and support blocking people who viciously harass, regardless of their ideologies. If someone starts trolling me, or attacks me with personal insults, I will block them. This however, is not what block bot sets about to do.
It seeks out Twitter accounts that it deems to be unfit for communication with it’s subscribers, even if these supposed harassers have never made any attempt to contact anyone on the subscriber list, and preemptively block them. This is kind of like me, as an Atheist, blocking the Pope for being a Theist. What motivation do I have to do this? None. I might not like the pope and his church does some pretty nasty shit to people, but I have no reason to block the man. It’s not as if it’s a statement to the world about my feelings for the pope. No one will know I blocked the pope. And to be quite honest, sometimes I like reading the Pope’s twitter because I like to be informed about the ideology of the church.
I have always been a firm believer that surrounding yourself with people whom only believe the same things as you is not conducive to progress. If I were an outspoken Feminist, like many Atheism Plus folks are, I would not seek to block misogynists. I would instead engage with them, in a polite and rational way. I can’t control if they change their views, but it’s a start. Blocking them and ignoring them does nothing to fix anything. In order to end misogny or racism or inequality, you have to change the minds of those perpetuating these things. You can only do this by engaging them with rational and intellectual discourse. If they respond with insulting attacks, block them. But don’t make a preemptive strike. Those who remember the Cold War will know how much tension and fear a preemptive strike can cause.
But that isnt the only problem with The Block Bot. Its supporters seem to be as viciously abusive as those who the Block Bot wishes to moderate. I questioned the block bot for blocking someone that I, in my opinion, was guilty of no wrong doing. I was hoping they would elaborate and end my ignorance. Instead, this is the response I received:
A policy of Misandry (cf Misogyny). Simply put, man hating. Not very conducive to equality among the sexes.
Then I recieved these rude and insulting responses from one of its supporters (Update: I recently learned that this person mentioned below is not only a supporter but one of the creators of Block Bot and one of 10 people who operate the @The_Block_Bot Twitter account):
This is one of my personal favourites. This person said they weren’t viciously harassing me and then called me a clueless privileged arse:
Was this person blocked for their insulting remarks? Of course not, they’re supporters of Block Bot. It’s okay for them to use insulting and rude remarks.
I was then blocked. I cant produce the entire conversation here since I’ve been blocked. These are the tweets I was able to save before it happened. You can view the entire conservation yourself by going to my twitter feed. Assuming you also haven’t been preemptively blocked. You might even get blocked for reading this blog post.
In addition to this, several supporters of the Block Bot have claimed that those who disagree with the Block Bot are “dudebros” who are upset that their “freeze peach” is being taken away. This was one of the comments on the Block Bot Twitter Timeline:
So, according to these folks, we privileged ‘dudebros’ are claiming that our right to free speech has not been taken away and we don’t have the right to an audience. I agree with both of these. Twitter is a public forum where people are free to engage with other people and espouse their views. Some are guilty of harassing people, so we block them. That makes sense. What the Block Bot is trying to do is make a semi-private place on Twitter where a certain group of people can say whatever they want and anyone who would normally disagree with them are not able to do so because they’ve been blocked. So apparently they not only have the right to an audience but they can say whatever they want without being accountable. If you want a place where you can espouse your views in this way, make your own forum where only people who think like you can signup. But you won’t, because you want everyone to be able to see what you’re saying, just not be able to present counter arguments. What you’ve done is say, “We want to be a part of this public forum so we can say whatever we want but we want a system in place so that no one can disagree with our views.” Free Speech does not involve the right to an audience nor does it involve espousing your views without someone getting on their own soapbox and attempting to refute you. You can’t go into a public park and stand there with a megaphone so everyone in the park can hear you but then build a wall so that no one aside from those you choose can come in and debate you.
I would never attempt to silence someone for having an opposing view. If you read my ‘About’ section, you will clearly see that I endorse people debating my opinions. I am guided by objective thought, logic, inference to best explanation and the force of the better argument. I do not feel threatened by those who have opposing views because I am willing to change mine, if I am presented with an objective, logical argument that is better supported and can be ethically defended. These are the reasons I support Atheism, Gender equality, racial equality, marriage equality and other aspects of social justice. I do not, however, follow the crowd and defend them unconditionally. If an Atheist says something I do not agree with, I don’t just agree with them or support them because I identify as an Atheist as well, I debate with them. Questioning your own ideologies is just as important as questioning those you disagree with. It is the only way to not let things like Atheism become dogmatic and totalitarian.
The Block Bot blocking people who might have opposing views is borderline totalitarian. They are unwilling to hear people who have even slightest resistance to their views. Even those who are supporters of social justice but do not agree with the same specific ideals can and have been blocked. @secularbloke and I were blocked not for opposing Feminism or social justice or atheism, but for opposing the Block Bot itself and their version of Atheism. If this is not totalitarian, what is?
So if you come across Atheism Plus or The Block Bot, be mindful of its militant stance and hypocrisy. It has not yet proven itself to be a welcoming or peaceful place to discuss social justice in light of Atheism, as I hoped it would. It’s more like an exclusive club that rejects anyone who doesn’t hold the same views as them and insults and trolls those who question their practices or dont fall in line as one of the sheep.