Free speech is the new buzzword. From defending controversial statements from public figures to defending your right to use any racial slurs to five page think pieces discussing the rise of PC culture, the term is used so often and so loosely I get genuinely surprised when I don’t see it plastered over every single politically affiliated article on my Facebook timeline.
However, there is a paradox here.
It’s something I noticed in the comment section of Facebook and YouTube (I know you’re not supposed to read them but sometimes I get bored and that’s my only form of in-house entertainment). Comments will find their way on to an article/video/thinkpiece/personal post about the hottest and latest social issue: ranging from trans right to refugees. There will always be those hateful trolls, and to their credit, some of them might not even be trolls but actual people who have nothing better to do but to spread hate. Here’s how it goes down: they say something controversial/hateful/whatever and a wave of people start biting back, accusing them of this and that, you get the picture. And then, amidst the cesspool of a mess, there goes that one holier-than-thou person who comes riding in on their high horse and demands everyone leaves the poor troll alone, simply because all they were doing is exercising their freedom of speech.
Here’s where the paradox kicks in: If anyone has the freedom of speech to say whatever they want, even if their statement is controversial or hurts someone’s feelings, then shouldn’t everyone else also have the freedom of speech to criticise said person?
It seems like it’s not always that way since “I have the freedom to say whatever I want!” is not applicable to everyone, especially those who are being labeled as ‘leftists’ or ‘social justice warriors’. Sure, you can say whatever you want, but so can your critics. If you’re quick to point out your own ‘right’ to say whatever you want, you should also defend people’s right to say whatever they want about you.
You see, freedom of speech is a two-way street.
What frustrates me so much about the apparent “take over of PC culture and the slow eradication of free speech” (cue furious right-wing conservative pundits foaming at their mouths) is that they’ve completely hijacked the conversation to protect far more than their freedom to espouse their opinions. What they’ve seemed to miss is the very concept of free speech. And this is something they should’ve looked at carefully before they started printing it on stickers and handing out flyers warning about the scary left-wing fascists hunting people down for exercising their rights: Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences.
During the painful 2017 sam sex marriage plebiscite, every single “I’m not a homophobe but Jesus said so!” homophobe came out of the miserable woodwork and campaigned against something that had literally nothing to do with them. When they were met with criticism and anger from people, they played the victim, and cried and whined spending literally no time pulling out the “freedom of speech” card.
“The bully at the Yes campaign is censoring my personal free speech! How dare they! I am allowed to say whatever I want!”
If you created this, you deserve all the bullying
First of all, sure you can. But when people (rightfully) campaign against your hateful views and voice their concern, and in some certain extreme cases, label you a homophobe, because, you know, you’re acting like one, they’re not censoring you just because you felt attacked.
They’re exercising their own right to free speech as well.
The same goes for companies or public figures. They’re not being censored because they receive backlash for their poorly worded comments or promoting a certain view. People reacting to their behavior through choosing to boycott them isn’t the same as silencing and masking their right to free speech, they’re receiving consequences because words have consequences. Just because you have the right to say so doesn’t mean people can’t react to it. It’s everyone else exercising their own freedom of speech to condemn them.
Milo Yiannopoulus is infamous for wanting to exercise his free speech without actually facing the consequences that come with his (extremely vile) words. Most famously, when some of the nutjobs of the right side of the political spectrum began packing their bags for their metaphorical doomsday- when the PC police will come around and apparently duct tape anyone that doesn’t peddle their agenda. The conspiracy theories and the heightened sense of danger reached its peak during the school protest against Milo’s scheduled talk at the University of Berkley.
So, long story short: Milo was scheduled to talk about whatever he likes to talk about that can keep him in the media spotlight, some students absolutely think he has no right to do that on their campus, violence erupted, yadda-yadda. The media slurped it up.
Most articles describe and frame the Berkley student as standing against “free speech” (x,x,x,) and in their defence, it seems some students have taken up that slogan, most of these articles seemed to omit the fact that the students’ protest was apart of their own free speech. Sure, it’s undignified to scream at a person in public no matter how hateful and how evil his rhetoric, but it doesn’t omit the fact that demonstrating against something you don’t like is exercising freedom.
I would just like to point out that freedom of speech was originally created to protect citizens from being persecuted by the government for criticizing them. For those foaming at the mouth once again about their first amendment (even though Australia doesn’t have one), here’s a very handy list of what constitutes free speech from the United States court. Spoiler alert: being criticised doesn’t count as censorship.