I follow some people on Twitter because I have respect for them, such as @declanm. I follow others because they are idiots -- but iconic idiots. That's why I follow @JPBarlow: he keeps me up to date with the idiocy in the world. A good example is a recent retweet of his:
That links to this "petition" at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/2/stop-attacking-silencing-people-online/:
I'm bemused by this, because it's a petition against free speech, not for free speech. The petition says "Stop Attacking People Online". They think I should not be able to insult @JPBarlow by (rightly) calling him an idiot.
Like most people, I'm against physical threats, those things that make reasonable people afraid for their lives, but that's not what this petition is about. It against making people "threatened with being the target of abuse, harassment or lies". It's about making discourse "civil".
But healthy discourse isn't civil.
Indeed, making discourse civil is how despotic countries suppress it. China, like many governments in the world, claims to support speech, but it outlaws speech that would "disrupt the public order". It also doesn't allow "insults" of politicians. The thing is, if you have a corrupt government ruthlessly clinging to power, there is no way to challenge it that doesn't insult politicians and disrupt the public order.
Even in our otherwise "free" country, much speech is suppressed due to uncivil "political correctness", especially on college campuses. An excellent example of this was the recent "Asians in the Library" video controversy. This video by a UCLA student criticized, among other things, Asians talking on their phones in the library. It was a bit racist and a bit offensive -- but that doesn't mean it was invalid speech. It is indeed irritating when foreigners are ignorant of native social conventions, like when I go to Japan and jabber on my phone while on the subway (they really really hate that). The student got death threats. UCLA investigated -- not the death threats, but whether they could kick her out of school for the content of her speech.
I dislike a lot about former US presidential candidate John McCain, but I admired him in the last election. One reason was his staking his career on an unpopular "surge". But a second reason was his uncivil speech. George Bush had said of Putin "I looked the man in the eye; I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy", but McCain said "I looked into Mr. Putin's eyes and I saw three things -- a K and a G and a B". Putin is a despot and there is no civil way of saying so.
I work in an industry (cybersecurity) where groupthink and flawed critical thinking are pervasive. A lot of beliefs in our industry have no rational basis. When the opposing side is just a bunch of inane platitudes ("You can't have too much security"), you can't rationally debate them. The best way is to mock them.
So, in conclusion, I urge you to oppose the attacks on free speech by @JPBarlow and his friends. We need vigorous, healthy, and free speech, not "civil" speech.
To be fair, JPBarlow isn't an idiot -- it's just that sometimes he says idiotic things because nobody challenges him.