Balticon’s speech code

This week I learned that Balticon is among the science fiction conventions that restricts speech in the name of prohibiting “harassment.” Its “Harassment Policy” states: “Do not use slurs or derogatory comments about a person, group or category of people.” With a presidential election coming up, this could put a real damper on discussions.

As usual, we can expect selective enforcement. I doubt that anyone would get into trouble for saying derogatory things about Orson Scott Card, the Sad Puppies, or conservatives. Speech codes operate to enforce conformity to views that are popular within the group or with the administrators, rarely to enforce a consistent embargo on discussion.

I wasn’t planning on going to Balticon, but it’s still sad to see how many cons are going in this direction, and how few people care.

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2 Responses to “Balticon’s speech code”

  1. Eyal Mozes Says:

    As usual, we can expect selective enforcement. I doubt that anyone would get into trouble for saying derogatory things about Orson Scott Card, the Sad Puppies, or conservatives. Speech codes operate to enforce conformity to views that are popular within the group or with the administrators,

    What are your reasons for thinking that’s how the harassment policy will be used? Do you know of incidents from other cons in which similar policies were used in this way?

    Consider two hypothetical cases:

    1. A member sitting in the con suite, in conversation with several others, goes into a rant about Obama’s dishonesty and power-lust, and about the stupidity and hypocrisy of progressives who continue to defend him. Some of the people he’s talking to quietly walk away and join other conversations; some find what he’s saying interesting enough to keep listening; but one takes offense, finds a member of con security, and reports “harassment”.

    2. A member walking in the hallway, carrying several books by Larry Correia, is accosted by another member who starts haranguing him about the Sad Puppies, how evil they are and the harm they’re doing to fandom. The first member says he’s not interested in hearing this and tries to walk away, but the second one follows him and continues the anti-Sad-Puppy lecture. After a couple more unsuccessful requests to be left alone, the victim finds a member of con security and reports harassment.

    To me it seems clear that in case 1, members of the con-com will do a quick investigation to figure out what happened, and then dismiss the matter, probably also warning the member who reported “harassment” not to waste the con-com’s time in this way again; while in case 2, they’ll take action against the harasser. Do you believe I’m mistaken, and that it will be the other way around? If so, what are your reasons for thinking so?

    This is not to defend Balticon’s approach to writing their harassment policy. I believe they worded it to cover as much as possible, in order to give con-com members as much discretion as possible in using common sense to determine when intervention is actually appropriate. That’s not a good solution. There’s lots of experience from other contexts – most notably from university speech codes – demonstrating that general prohibitions on “derogatory comments” can be used through selective enforcement to enforce conformity in exactly the way you’re warning about; just because that hasn’t been done yet at cons (as far as I know) doesn’t mean it’s OK to create the potential for it. I think you’re doing an important service to fandom by pointing out the problems with these policies, and by making sure cons you’re involved in running have better ones.

    But all that said, we should not overstate the problem. Most cons, as far as I know, do use common sense in enforcement of their harassment policies, even if they don’t use it in writing them. We shouldn’t accuse Balticon in advance of doing otherwise without specific reason.

    • Gary McGath Says:

      The enforcement has to be selective. They can’t kick people out for every derogatory comment without emptying the convention. I don’t know how they’d enforce it, but I’d feel safer taking some positions than others.


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