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Is there a limit to free speech?


SpursRiot2012

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I ask this question because I'm in the middle of a couple of books in the issue of free speech and freedom of expression. One in particular makes the argument for absolute free speech. Words are not deeds, after all, so a Twitter mob descending on a person for saying something that goes against the prevailing opinion of society, no matter how crass or offensive or beyond the pail that comment might be, is a group of people trampling on a hard won right that we are all entitled to. That goes beyond calling this fictional person a fucking idiot or whatever. In fact, we should feel free to do that - free speech works both ways.

 

And what about the criminalisation of speech? There are countless laws that in some way impinge on free speech. For instance, a public order offence of words or behaviour likely to cause alarm, harassment or distress.

 

And what about private thoughts made public? The authors cites the examples of Donald Sterling, Richard Scudamore and Malky Mackay where those men were crucified for statements made in private - text messages, private telephone conversations etc - that were later leaked to the public. Do you agree that it is wrong for comments made in private to be used in very public destructions?

 

This authors main argument is that the fear of being offensive is killing free speech. And I'm inclined to agree.

 

Kinda rambling. Any thoughts on this particular issue?

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Just for reference (as I covered it in an article recently), the EU defined hate speech in 2008, with all the member states agreeing to make it illegal via domestic laws. The threshold was:

 

"the public incitement to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, color, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin,"

 

The decision also specifically said that negative comments based on those factors are legal (and making them is a right) as long as you don't have the incitement.

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My view is that you have the right to say whatever you like, but if you're going to say something deliberately provocative or designed to offend, then you don't have the right to bitch that people reacted adversely for it.

I'd agree with this. Except, how far should an adverse reaction go? Because if the reaction is too adverse (say, getting someone sacked because of something they said on Twitter that could be called offensive), it means people start editing everything they say and think.

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In my experience most of the time people complain about their ‘free speech’ being restricted it isn’t in the slightest. What’s actually happened is they’ve made a statement that’s no longer deemed socially acceptable, haven’t liked the reaction they got & have decided that this undesired reaction is because of some stifling, overbearing higher power rather than a simple shift in social attitudes…’It’s PC gone mad’.

 

We’re living in a bit of a strange, transitional time. Social media is relatively new in the grand scheme of things & I think collectively we’re still trying to figure it all out. We can all voice our opinions & register our complaints immediately and directly, but in no way does this mean such opinions & complaints should be given any credence. When you had to put pen to paper, buy a stamp & send off your complaint to whatever body had ‘offended’ you it took much more effort. Sending a tweet or email can be done in the heat of the moment with little consideration required. I’d wager if the aforementioned effort were still required people would care a lot less.

 

This is all before you even take into account the fact that now peoples complaints are public! Again, previously if you complained it was between you & the offending party. Now you have people getting offended on behalf of others, for something they weren’t even party to in order to demonstrate to their ‘followers’ how considerate & sensitive they are. This is because we’ve access to material we would’ve previously been oblivious to. I can watch footage of a rapper being misogynistic or Jim Davidson telling a racist joke & publicly complain about it. The rappers lyrics & Davidsons joke might have gone down perfectly well with their respective audiences & everyone involved had a great time but me, sat in my living room who never had the intention of buying a ticket to either of these shows can shout from the rooftops how horrendous it is. By doing this & people giving my opinion credit it starts to stifle these people. Just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean it should be banned & if I don’t like laddish rappers or racist comedians I should simply just ignore them rather than telling people who do like this they shouldn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

Edit:  Maybe a bit ranty but me having a drunk moaning at me about how a joke was offensive & 'not funny' (despite the other 299 people in the room all laughing) is becoming an increasingly tiresome prospect after shows.

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You get the usual outcry about free speech whenever there's cases like Blinks of Bicester when the owner got arrested after posting this and other related messages.

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However the same rabble are unusually quiet when, say, someone is arrested for inciting support for so-called Islamic State. So it would appear that free speech is only for far-right, white Islamophobes, and thus not free at all.

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Heading back to the origins of this thread, Tumblr feminists are among the worst for this.

 

"Kill all men" is freedom of expression. "Hang on a minute, I thought you were about equality?" is shaming them for having an opinion. "Your kill all men hashtag is stupid" is hate speech.

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And what about private thoughts made public? The authors cites the examples of Donald Sterling, Richard Scudamore and Malky Mackay where those men were crucified for statements made in private - text messages, private telephone conversations etc - that were later leaked to the public. Do you agree that it is wrong for comments made in private to be used in very public destructions?

 

Look at it from the converse side of things, though. Those private comments were leaked by people who were offended by them. Should they have just suppressed them and let the people who made them just carry on?

 

The problem is that you risk taking these comments in isolation, rather than how they relate to the wider picture. Take Mackay's, for example. The reason why people are offended by comments like his aren't because he made a solitary, racist joke - it's because, through his comments, he's shown that he holds a hateful worldview. This, in turn, can't be taken in isolation: this is a man whose job at the time was to be in charge of or to work with a number of people, a lot of whom would either be non-white, female or gay. His views could have had real, material impact. I don't blame whomever it was for leaking said comments; I personally would not want to work with such an individual, and I would not quit my job because someone else thinks it's OK to treat other people like crap.

 

That people get sacked for things they've said is less to do with freedom of speech and more to do with how the organisations they were sacked from want to be perceived by the public. If it's a public organisation, it is an extension of the governmental establishment, and the government cannot be seen to approve of offensive views - offensiveness almost by definition is because they are not only views that are not shared by the majority, they are views that are opposed by the majority and are therefore not part of the values of the society that the government claims to represent.

 

If it's a private organisation, it's even simpler: said organisation realises that being seen to approve of offensive views will affect their profit, and therefore their survival as an entity. Indeed, if they're seen to be doing something pro-active and drastic about it, it will affect them positively as an organisation that has values that its customers, both current and potential, also share.

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Heading back to the origins of this thread, Tumblr feminists are among the worst for this.

 

"Kill all men" is freedom of expression. "Hang on a minute, I thought you were about equality?" is shaming them for having an opinion. "Your kill all men hashtag is stupid" is hate speech.

A woman I know says she doesn't believe in feminism but gender equality. Where obviously there are many ways in society where women are treated as lower there are parts of society that men are lower and she believes they should all be adressed.

The kill all men sort of thing is bad as it is a minority view, but the minority are often the most vocal, and the sort of thing from making gender equality happen. This is a reason why freedom of speech can be negative. Sadly you cannot stop it because if you stop that then other things can be stopped.

 

Is fear of offending stopping free speach? I would say no, there have to be boundaries and inciting violence and hate is not correct and should not be viewed as ok because "I have my right to freedom of speach". People should not have a right to be offensive for no reason. I have offended people when I did not mean to, I appologise if I find out they were insulted and have often discussed why they were insulted and how I can learn from that or discuss what I meant if they took it wrong. Do I have the right to insult someone, of course I do, Pete Burns is a weird looking fucker, I think Chris Evans is a shit tv and radio presenter and Josh Widdicombe is a shit comedian, actor and sitcom writer. This is based on what they have done (be it in their career or paid their plastic surgeon to do). I do not have the right to discriminate against them for this such as Malky McKay's comments sounded as if they were based on discrimination which football is trying to get rid of and should not be disliking players because they are not white.

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Heading back to the origins of this thread, Tumblr feminists are among the worst for this.

 

"Kill all men" is freedom of expression. "Hang on a minute, I thought you were about equality?" is shaming them for having an opinion. "Your kill all men hashtag is stupid" is hate speech.

Or on the same line, people who identify as daft shit. "Foxkin" "Wolfkin" or all that demisexual genderfluid non binary stuff. Obviously there are sensible ones, but there's often a line crossed where it becomes a competition of who can be defined as the dumbest thing and then fanny fit about it when someone disagrees on tumblr.

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