Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
Don’t freak out about what I’m about to tell you. Are you ready? Russia just banned memes.
Well — not all memes. Specifically, they banned macro images of real people where the caption “has nothing to do with the subject’s personality.” In other words, if you post a picture of someone with some bolded Impact text over it, that text darn well better say something that person would actually say.
I don’t want to overreact or anything, but I can’t help but wonder: what are the Russian people supposed to do on the Internet from now on? I mean, I guess they can still put philosophical thoughts into the minds of velociraptors, and they can still imply that penguins are socially awkward (at least until the velociraptors or penguins take them to court), but apparently even lighthearted ribbing of public figures is out of the question — to say nothing of the celebrated American pastime, cyberbullying.
It all started when Russian crooner Valeri Syutkin filed a lawsuit. The singer — in case you’re unfamiliar (I mean who hasn’t heard of that guy, right?) — is known for his refined “ladies’ man” persona, kind of like Frank Sinatra, or Michael Bublé, or your mom. Someone — someone — thought it would be hilarious to post a picture of him with a caption that translates roughly, “smack the b— in the face.” Despite that someone being precisely in the right, Syutkin wasn’t amused, for reasons I can’t possibly fathom. So he sued, and a court decision declared that now no one, anywhere in Russia, was allowed to use the images of real people for memes from now on.
And it probably goes without saying that this would never happen in ‘Merica. But it’s a reminder that the freedom of speech we take for granted here isn’t a given. It fills my generally cold heart with a swelling patriotism, stirring in me the desire to strap on an assault rifle, mount a bald eagle, fly it through the McDonald’s drive-thru, and order up a FREEDOM combo meal with a steaming side of INALIENABLE RIGHTS.
At least, until I give it another thought.
Because, the thing is, our American values, like the freedom of speech and all that, are pretty freaking arbitrary. We all take for granted that they’re the “right” values to hold, but I tend to think we do so mainly because they’re the ones we’ve grown up with. But if we think about it, they run up against some other seriously important values.
Like, say, the right to privacy.
I know that sounds a little icky, being that it was the catchphrase from the Roe v. Wade decision, but bear with me. Forget celebrities beloved by old Russian ladies for a second (difficult, I know), and consider that most private citizens who inadvertently go viral end up royally messed up: they lose jobs, friends, and even suffer severe PTSD. I have yet to hear of someone who died from becoming a meme, but it’s hardly outside the realm of possibility. Freedom of speech, at least insofar as it applies to viral Internet content, by nature privileges the rights of a cruel, capricious mob over the rights of a private individual.
So is it really hard to understand why Russian courts would side with the individual?
I‘m not saying freedom of speech isn’t valuable, but what I am saying is that it’s not readily apparent to me that it trumps everything else. It seems to me that the well-being of a human being — one, y’know, made in the image of God, and all that — is a valid concern, and perhaps one even more valid than the ability of a 13-year-old boy in his parents’ basement to launch puerile attacks against random strangers.
And, well — get ready to be shocked — the Bible never promises anyone free speech, either. As it turns out, the Bible is not at all concerned with “rights.” What it is concerned with is duties — your duty to God and your duty to man. The greatest commandment is this: Love the Lord your God with all your soul and all your strength and all your mind. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Rights may be a useful construct that help us to fulfill those duties, but I’m not convinced that they exist on a metaphysical level.
The typical red-blooded American will likely read this and say, “Well, yeah, but we don’t need to get the gubmint involved in it!” — and I might agree, depending on my mood. Around here, we’re allowed all sorts of legal leeway to do what we want, which in practice just means we really need to let the truth of Scripture govern our hearts. You may have the right to say something about Person X, but is it loving to do so? Is it wise? Will it glorify God?
If not, maybe you should keep your freedom of speech to yourself, broham.