Earlier today, someone on Facebook created a page called, “Should Miri Mogilevsky be Murdered?” If you don’t know, Miri writes at Brute Reason over at FTB, and is a really awesome person. Fortunately, the page was taken down a little while ago, and Miri seems to be okay. However, this shit is completely unacceptable. Whoever created that page did so with the excuse that it was “an exercise in free speech”, so it’s about fucking time I explain exactly what free speech is and is not, because apparently some people are completely clueless.
Some people (including, apparently, the person who created that page) are under the impression that “free speech” means “I get to say anything I want, up to and including advocating for someone’s murder.” Other people (and I have had conversations with them, so they do exist) think free speech means “I get to say anything I want, and I get to force you to listen to me.” It should go without saying that these positions are completely wrong. But apparently, it does not.
Free speech is a right. But it is not an absolute right. There are limits. Specifically, having a right does not guarantee the freedom to harm another person. That is a right that nobody has. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, “Your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose”? Your right to free speech ends when that speech begins to harm other people. This means that abuse, harassment, and incitement to violence (or murder) are not “free speech.”
Furthermore, having the right to free speech does not guarantee the right to a platform. Just because you’re speaking does not mean that other people have to listen to you. Similarly, other people do not have to give you their space for your speech. This means that blocking on Facebook or Twitter or banning from forums, comment sections, or social media sites is not infringing on anyone’s “free speech.”
Free speech is also not freedom from criticism. If you express an idea, others are free to disagree with and criticize it. In fact, the right to hold a dissenting opinion is protected under the same freedom that allows you to express your idea in the first place. Again, you’d think all this was obvious, but clearly some people still need a lesson.
Free speech is the right to express and advocate for ideas without fear of censorship or forceful retaliation. It’s a complex and nuanced concept that draws on issues of power, privilege, and free expression. For people to throw all that out in favor of “I can say whatever I want hurr durr” is extremely insulting. It’s an absurd, childish act that does nothing but undermine the concept these people claim to worship, and misunderstand so completely.
Free speech is also not the only right. It’s not even the most important right out there. I can think of a few right now: the right to life, the right to freedom, the right to not have assholes threatening to kill you on Facebook. I’m sure there are more. The point is, when your “free speech” gets in the way of other people being able to live their lives free from abuse and harassment, you’ve crossed a line. In your overzealous desire to “protect” a right that you don’t even understand, you end up infringing on the far more important rights of others.
Free speech does not give you the right to take away someone’s right to feel safe. Free speech does not give you the right to take away someone’s right to feel happy. Free speech does not give you the right to take away someone’s right to be free. Free speech does not give you the right to advocate murder. Free speech is not a license to kill.