Free Speech and Public Trust: What Blip Can Do / by Nate Westheimer

If you haven't read up on the issue brewing at Blip.tv in regards to Loren Feldman's ignorant, worthless, racist, garbage, then check out this post on their company blog. I've been thinking about issues of hate-speech and publisher rights for some time. These aren't easy issues, so I want to commend Blip off the bat for putting everything out there. This is what solving important problems needs to start with: transparency and honesty.

I also want to point out that the solution to this problem may not be easy for everyone, especially Blip, which finds itself poised to lead on an important issue. Lucky for them, what they can do is something they've already suggested. Now it's a matter of acting.

When I was first-year at Brandeis, a few dumb kids got on our college radio station and made-up a hateful song about Asian Women (count that as two offenses, not one). The song was sung in freestyle, so there was no plan behind the attack, just piss-poor judgement rooted in obliviousness (or ignorance -- pick your favorite). The result was outrage, pain, unwavering support of the radio station in some cases and absolute incrimination in other cases. Excuses were made for offensives which had no excuses, and benefit of the doubt was revoked when that benefit was dearly needed. It was an ugly time around campus and more friends were lost than made in the process.

Looking back on that event, dubbed "the WBRS incident" at the time, I produced a documentary about campus racism during my sophomore year which dug into the issues behind what happened, the aftermath, and what could be done about it. The Prologue won the Karpf Peace Award that year and got a good crowd in the campus auditorium at its debut. Not only does it remain as a resource on campus, but it's given me and others the experience necessary to step back from these situations, find a common lessons and encourage progress.

So, given the situation Blip is in, what can they do besides hide behind the beautiful cloak of "Free Speech?" Isn't there a middle ground between their convenient interpretation of their own TOS and absolute censorship, which they correctly argue will cause more harm than good?

Yes. I call it the "Do the Right Thing" approach.

The Do the Right Thing approach recognizes that when remedying issues of race and bigotry our first reaction is usually to take sides, lay judgement, and protect ourselves. However, most of the time the "right thing" to do is sitting right in front you of, ripe for the taking, and completely ignored. Doing the right thing usually brings heaping rewards to those who do it. The "right thing" is unselfish and progressive.

So what's the right thing for Blip to do? Blip R&D Director Charles Hope points to it in his blog post:

I think that a remix or response video would be more effective a refutation than censorship.

...

Loren’s video should inspire works which outlive it by decades, which look forward to the future instead of the past, which give us a glimpse of the glorious potential of humankind. Works which send shivers down the spine and trigger paradigm shifts, which children remember the rest of their adult lives.

He's right. Among other things, my film, The Prologue, came out of the "WBRS incident." It's used now in several academic departments, during first-year orientation, and by several cultural groups at Brandeis. The pain of those events have slowly melted away, but the lessons live.

Blip can take Charles Hope's advice seriously and help this process transpire on their own online video network. They have deep creative resources, amazing distribution reach, and a potential held by few to facilitating the organization of lessons in video format from Loren Feldman's "simply offensive" work.

While this move may seem reactive, no one needs an excuse to do the right thing and take these important issues on. Current.tv co-sponsored the Seeds of Tolerance contest with the Third Millennium Foundation and granted $100,000 to Lucas Krost for his "One Nation Under Guard" documentary (posted below). The contest had over 350 entrants. That's over 350 "Works which send shivers down the spine and trigger paradigm shifts" (in the words of Hope).

So, my hope is that the lesson is now clear. Blip does not have to take down Feldman's work, but their use of the neutral bandwidth of our Internet does come with a certain debt owed to the public trust (don't take net neutrality for granted, Charles!). This responsibility is to do the right thing with the power they have -- it's a responsibility we all have, actually -- and in the case of Blip, the right thing is right before them. I look forward to seeing what comes of it!