I am, as has been stated many, many times elsewhere, personally a hard-liner on the First Amendment. Nazis do, unfortunately, have the same right to speech and assembly as everyone else, and that is as it should be. It is, as the saying goes, the high price of freedom — because any effort to legally stifle hate speech will inevitably be exploited to harm the people it seeks to protect.
However, there is a time and a place to argue for free speech. If you are the ACLU, maybe that time is “always.” If, however, you are a decent human being seeking to engage with other human beings on the Internet, the time to argue for free speech may not be the immediate aftermath of a Nazi rally that killed three people. Sometimes it’s good to say “Yeah, Nazis are bad.”
You may not sound like the greatest intellectual in the room, but you will also avoid sounding like a complete asshole.
I’m slightly hesitant to publicly criticize an undergraduate for misunderstanding history and civil rights, but since Nathan McLendon (pictured at left, without what I assume is his customary fedora) is apparently a guest columnist at the Albany (Georgia) Herald, and therefore popped up among the Google alerts in my inbox, I’m going to make an exception.
First, I invite you to read the jumble of accreted right-wing talking points the Albany Herald, an esteemed publication with a 125-year history and a 29-word Wikipedia entry,* thinks qualifies as a guest column. Following the thetical headline “Political Correctness Threatens Free Speech,” McLendon asserts the following:
- That activists seeking to remove the Confederate Flag from popular use are attacking free speech. Which is counter to reality, because those activists are employing free speech in advocating for the removal of a government-sanctioned symbol. It’s McLendon who opposes free speech by suggesting that those raising complaints are somehow committing an offense against public discourse.
- That public outcry against unpopular opinions attacks free speech. This is a right-wing canard: “If I express my opinion, that’s free speech. If you express criticism of my opinion, that’s oppression.” McLendon backs it up with another deceptive canard, the “bakery owner fined for refusing to participate in a gay wedding.” In fact the fines in question resulted from the bakery owner encouraging harassment and violence against the gay couple in violation of court instructions.
- That “it’s easier to call someone a racist than to think for yourself.” This follows a lengthy repetition of farcical Civil War history, which I’ll get to in a moment. In the minds of many right-wingers (especially racists), one of the worst things anyone can do is call someone a racist. I just find it so bizarre and slightly amusing that so many Americans frame their opposition to free speech as a defense thereof.
Most everyone agrees that online harassment is a major problem in need of an immediate solution, but in the hunt for trolls, some are too quick to dismiss legitimate concerns about free speech.
(Cross-posted at Medium)
In the wake of the GamerGate blowup, most of America is aware of our epidemic of online harassment. Unrepentant trolls on Twitter, Facebook, and similar services exploit anonymity and the ease of creating sockpuppet accounts to stalk, threaten, dox, and torment victims, even driving some to the point of suicide. But while activists rightly raise alarms about the problem, their proposed solutions often carry the risk of limiting the free speech and expression that make the Internet so powerful.
Writing at Boing Boing, for example, Glenn Fleishman explores Twitter’s problem with serial offenders, known trolls who have been banned but then return thanks to Twitter’s failure to enforce their own policy against serial accounts. Roughly two-thirds through the piece, Fleishman leaps abruptly to a rather dramatic conclusion: “the fight for anonymous speech ends when promotion of it is inexorably and demonstrably linked to enabling harassers.” Continue Reading
I haven’t done one of these in a while, but if Europe can land a robot on a comet then by God I can read my Google alerts and present my little Constitutional digest. As we end a week in which TIME magazine suggests banning the word “feminist” and a celebrated emerging sci-fi author is revealed as one of the Internet’s most nefarious trolls, it seems appropriate to take a look at what’s happening worldwide with the rights to speech, assembly, and expression:
- Writing at CNN, Rupert Abbott of Amnesty International raised an alarm about troubling restrictions on free speech he says are sweeping southeast Asia.
- Following the swift response to his racist and misogynist Twitter screed, comedian Artie Lange has found few defenders. Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon and Katie McDonough at Slate wrote particularly strong takedowns of those who would defend Lange. Continue Reading