I grew up under the impression that there was some sort of “right to privacy” floating among the penumbras and emanations of the Constitution. I guess those penumbras were more like a Constitutional solar flare that has died down dramatically over the past few years. Freedom of speech, and even thought, are under active and sustained assault in America; we are being made comfortable with the idea of punishing people for saying things the purported cultural “majority” doesn’t like. This punishment has been mostly meted out by private-sector mob actions thus far, but the more comfortable society becomes with the idea, the closer we get to government stepping in. Once Constitutional restraints have been abandoned, political power opportunistically flows through the channels “popular” sentiment has carved for it.
Case in point: the Donald Sterling affair. This whole thing has played out in a very disturbing fashion, as a man is made to suffer the loss of income, and maybe even property, because of something offensive he said during a private conversation, which might have been illegally recorded. (I’ve heard many claims that Sterling asked for the recordings to be made, but funny thing – every such claim in the media appears to be based on the say-so of the angry ex-girlfriend who made the recording. At this point, the strongest evidence to support her claims is Sterling’s failure to press charges against her for wiretapping.) And even if the recording wasn’t illegal, it was meant to be a private conversation. But it gets leaked to a gossip site, and with blinding speed, a process is in motion that might end up forcing the sale of the L.A. Clippers.
In a healthy society, it should be possible to express reservations about the damage to Sterling’s privacy – and, perhaps, his fundamental right to be an eccentric old jerk behind closed doors – without being accused of supporting what he said. Freedom of speech is a habit of mind, not just a body of laws, and as mentioned above, if we lose the habit of mind in our private dealings, we’ll lose the legal protections soon enough. Part of that habit involves robust defense of free speech and privacy especially for unpopular statements and unlikable people.
Instead, we’ve reached the point where merely expressing concerns for Sterling’s privacy, on his Twitter account, just got someone fired. Josh Olin was the community manager for the Turtle Rock videogame company (which created the excellent Left4Dead zombie games) until he said this on Wednesday evening:
By Thursday afternoon he was gone, as reported by gaming website Gamespot:
This afternoon, Turtle Rock apologized for Olin’s tweets, saying they don’t represent the company’s values and calling Olin a “former” community manager for the studio.
“The comments made by our former community manager stand in stark contrast to our values as a game development studio,” Turtle Rock said on Twitter. “We sincerely apologize for his remarks and in no way endorse or support those views.”
For his part, Olin responded with a statement of his own.
“Anyone who follows me knows my tweets were not in support of Sterling’s actions. Rather, they were promoting three core tenets I believe in: 1) The harm sensational media presents to society. 2) The importance and sanctity of your privacy within your own home. And 3) The right to be whatever you want to be as an American, as long as it isn’t hurting anyone else. That last point not to be confused with condoning Sterling’s actions, which I don’t,” Olin told Kotaku.
“That said, it’s disappointing to see that a select few in Turtle Rock and 2K Games management bought into this hysteria without even having a conversation with me–or even thoroughly reviewing the context of the tweets themselves,” he added. “Ironically, it serves as a great example of why I hold tenet #1 above so close to heart. That said, everyone should totally still buy Evolve. The guys and gals making that game know their ***, and are making it good.”
That’s his personal Twitter account, by the way – he wasn’t speaking for the company. He has some more thoughts about freedom of speech, privacy, and media sensationalism in his most recent series of Tweets, which you can read here.
“Evolve” is the latest game under production by the company. It’s very classy of Olin to put in such a good word for the organization after the way they treated him – I would imagine becoming known as “the guy who got fired because of that Tweet” is going to deal some lasting damage to his career. Everyone else should be creeped right the hell out by this.