A few weeks ago I wrote a fairly innocuous article about online discography sites, and in particular Rate Your Music and Discogs. I happened to mention that I’d encountered homphobic, misogynist and borderline racist comments on the former site. I wasn’t implying that these were endorsed by the site, or the work of more than a few obnoxious posters who probably thought themselves rebellious and controversial. Even so, it seems I sparked up quite a debate judging from the number of linked hits I got. I’ve not bothered to read it – I’m guessing that there was a fair amount of invective aimed my way, before everybody got bored and moved on to the next poor sap who said something they didn’t like.
Since then, I’ve discovered something far more disturbing about the Rate Your Music. In my trawls I’d discovered a couple of albums by obnoxious white supremacist skinheads Skrewdriver cropping up in lists. What I didn’t realise was this was just the tip of the iceberg, and that there are things on the site that make (the late and very much unlamented) Ian Stewart’s mob look like Guardianistas. Neo-nazi and National Socialist bands? Check. Bands whose very name advocates racial violence? Check. Bands who use images and descriptions of misogynist violence and rape as their ‘selling point’? Check. It’s all there.
So how do the site’s moderators justify it?. It’s the old freedom of speech cliché. “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death to defend your right to say it” as Voltaire famously never said. This, coupled with the even less convincing “we are simply compiling a database of what exists – you don’t expect a dictionary to be censorous”.
Now I’m no prig (a prick, maybe, but not a prig). I’ve always been against censorship, and pro-freedom of speech. Censorship is a thorny issue, because it always ends up having faceless people determine what others can or cannot see / do / say. There are people offended by a nipple exposed in a photograph, a mild swearword, or any less than hallowed reference to Jesus/Mohammed/Diana or whoever else they are scared might be fatally tarnished by someone telling a joke about them, or drawing a cartoon of them (OK, better not go there). If we were that frightened of upsetting anyone’s delicate sensibilities, than there would probably be no art at all.
There is a line. It’s one thing to be offended by something – another to live in fear of violence, or even death, because of it. There is a reason that Germany and other countries have rigorously enforced laws against the advocation of ‘hate-crimes’. Much of the material I’m describing on RYM breaks these laws. I’m no expert on legal matters – indeed, I have no idea how the laws in England and Scotland work in these areas. But even if having this material on show is not illegal, it is still morally reprehensible. And inexcusable. The claim that these things will be ostracised for what they are, thus creating a community-based rejection of what they stand for is naïve beyond belief. RYM has in fact created a one-stop shop for information on all your neo-Nazi (and other) needs. “Oh, I didn’t know they had another three records as well – must track those down”. In other words, it’s unwittingly acting as a propagandist site.
I’m not for one minute suggesting that anyone who works on the site endorses any of this crap. But their naïve, idealistic libertarianism helps no one but those who seek to destroy the liberty (and lives) of all who don’t fit into their own warped and sick world view.