Journalists Cheering On Censorship Is A Form Of Hate Speech

from the if-you-have-to-ban-hate-speech dept

We already wrote a little about a French politician’s support for the idea that Twitter should help the French government censor speech it doesn’t like. I learned about it because of a post by Glenn Greenwald, which is absolutely worth reading. Greenwald’s piece, though, focuses much of his anger not towards the French politician, but his colleague at The Guardian, Jason Farago, who wrote a column praising Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and her idea that free speech has somehow gone too far. Farago pulls out the typical arguments against free speech — slapping the US for “fetishizing” free speech, and then arguing that in this digital age where the riff raff can speak, it shows that the First Amendment goes too far. I’m not joking:

If only this were still the 18th century! We can’t delude ourselves any longer that free speech is the privilege of pure citizens in some perfect Enlightenment salon, where all sides of an argument are heard and the most noble view will naturally rise to the top. Speech now takes place in a digital mixing chamber, in which the most outrageous messages are instantly amplified, with sometimes violent effects.

This is, to put it mildly, both wrong and ridiculous in one shot. First off, it’s arguing against a total strawman. No one has ever claimed that free speech leads to a “perfect Enlightenment salon.” Quite the opposite. Defenders of free speech argue that you do get a lot of bad speech mixed in with the good — and that said speech has consequences, sometimes significant. Yet, we recognize that cutting back on that right to free speech is so fraught with problems that it inevitably leads to bad outcomes, in which speech that actually is reasonable gets stifled. Greenwald’s response to Farago is an absolute must read, but a few of my favorite quotes:

Nowhere in Farago’s pro-censorship argument does he address, or even fleetingly consider, the possibility that the ideas that the state will forcibly suppress will be ideas that he likes, rather than ideas that he dislikes. People who want the state to punish the expression of certain ideas are so convinced of their core goodness, the unchallengeable rightness of their views, that they cannot even conceive that the ideas they like will, at some point, end up on the Prohibited List.

That’s what always astounds and bothers me most about censorship advocates: their unbelievable hubris. There are all sorts of views I hold that I am absolutely convinced I am right about, and even many that I believe cannot be reasonably challenged.

Greenwald points out that supporting pro-censorship rules is more of a support for “mob rule” than Farago’s conception of the rabble speaking out and lowest common denominator speech having too much power:

Ultimately, the only way to determine what is and is not “hate speech” is majority belief – in other words, mob rule. Right now, minister Vallaud-Belkacem and Farago are happy to criminalize “hate speech” because majorities – at least European ones – happen to agree with their views on gay people and women’s equality. But just a couple decades ago, majorities believed exactly the opposite: that it was “hateful” and destructive to say positive things about homosexuality or women’s equality. And it’s certainly possible that, tomorrow, majorities will again believe this, or believe something equally bad or worse.

In other words, it’s very possible that at some point in the future, majorities will come to hate rather than like the personal beliefs of minister Vallaud-Belkacem and Farago. And when that happens, when those majorities go to criminalize the views which minister Vallaud-Belkacem and Farago hold rather than condemn, they’ll have no basis whatsoever for objecting, other than to say: “oh no, it’s only fair to criminalize the ideas I hate, not the ones I like.”

Greenwald then makes the claim that if we’re defining “hate speech” we might want to start with “pro-censorship” arguments as being the ultimate in hate speech:

Personally, I regard the pro-censorship case – the call for the state to put people in cages for expressing prohibited ideas – as quite hateful. I genuinely consider pro-censorship arguments to be its own form of hate speech. In fact, if I were forced to vote on which ideas should go on the Prohibited List of Hateful Thoughts, I would put the desire for state censorship – the desire to imprison one’s fellow citizens for expressing ideas one dislikes – at the top of that list.

Nothing has been more destructive or dangerous throughout history – nothing – than the power of the state to suppress and criminalize opinions it dislikes. I regard calls for suppression of ideas as far more menacing than – and at least just as hateful as – bigoted Twitter hashtags and online homophobic jokes.

There’s a lot more in Greenwald’s piece, which is absolutely worth reading. Farago makes a weak response in which he tries to argue that certain forms of speech are not about “ideas” but “violence” (as if violence isn’t an idea) and therefore should be banned. For what it’s worth, this both over- and under-estimates the power of speech. First it assumes that hateful speech automatically leads to negative actions — as if hateful speech, by itself, automatically is so convincing that people are moved to action.

Yet, at the same time, it assumes, that contrary speech — speech that rejects hateful notions and incitement to violence — is somehow powerless to compete with the hate speech.

This doesn’t make sense to me. It seems to put too much weight on hate speech. Yes, you can understand how speech that results in an emotional reaction — in that you don’t like it — makes you think that everyone reacts emotionally to the comments, and those who agree with it might be galvanized into action — but that’s reading way too much into one’s own emotions concerning the power of speech. If the power of simple speech can galvanize people into action, why can’t it also calm the storm, educate the ignorant, and convince the world of the wrongness of bad ideas? How can someone believe that only hate speech has power, but speech pushing back against it is powerless?

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Comments on “Journalists Cheering On Censorship Is A Form Of Hate Speech”

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PRMan (profile) says:

Re: "Too Far" - they always say that.

The KKK?
Westboro Baptist Church?
Creationists (how about in a science classroom if they have repeatable experiments that challenge evolution)?

Don’t just list your favorites. You’re being just like the article. I am sure there is some speech somewhere you would just LOVE to censor.

S. T. Stone says:

Re: Re: "Too Far" - they always say that.

Do I dislike the ideas wrought forth by the Klan, the Phelps family, the Xenu worshippers, and the anti-science crowd?

Yes, I do.

Do I dislike them enough to tell people that they must silence such ideas permanently under threat of consequences, either lawful or otherwise?

No, I don?t.

When people quote the old saying about not liking what others say but defending their right to say it, they mean situations exactly like this one. I don?t like the messages spread by the groups you mentioned, but I would never dare say that they don?t have the right to either believe them or express them.

People want to hide behind calls for censorship by calling such speech ?offensive?. Fine, sure, you feel offended by racism, homophobia, and the like. I understand that.

But you forget one important fact: you don?t have the right to never feel offended.

I watched the recent redband trailer for The Evil Dead and felt disgusted by its content — but my disgust does not warrant the censorship of content that breaks no laws.

In case you need a tl;dr version of my post: Personal tastes should never act as an arbiter of what ideas or content deserve censorship.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: "Too Far" - they always say that.

No need to censor that sort of stuff..

If there actually is any speech I would like to censor, it would have to be something I inately dissagree with very much that I cannot easily dismiss or refute…

IE: basically the most important sort of speech for me to hear, whether I want to or not.

jameshogg says:

Re: Re: "Too Far" - they always say that.

and nope – also, the science classroom issue is a straw man since it has nothing to do with free speech (the First Amendment forbids religious nonsense being taught in science in the same way it forbids alchemy being taught in science, or Flat Earth theories, or witchcraft: religion does not get a free pass to waste teachers’ time in science class and neither does anything else so stupid).

And on the contrary, the more I am insulted by speech the less I want to censor it. This goes as far as things even as vile as Holocaust denial. We still benefit from the speech because we end up knowing who our enemies are, where they are located and what their mentalities consist off.

Allowing offensive speech to flow also means we are educated to the evils of the world – hearing about a Holocaust denying scumbag just makes us that more primed to helping to fight much more serious anti-Semitism in other countries that consists of violence and oppression – countries that no doubt have many more censorship laws than the United States.

If there is a spread of hatred occurring within my community, I have a right to know about it. And the government has no right to keep me ignorant of it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: "Too Far" - they always say that.

??the First Amendment forbids religious nonsense being taught in science?? WRONG

?Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, OR prohibiting the free exercise thereof;? (nothing about pseudo-scientific in school)

There are plenty of Catholic schools in the US that teach whatever they want to teach in science class.

Public schools teach ?global warming? in science class, which James Lovelock, who is considered the ?godfather? of the global warming hysteria admits they (he & Al Gore) had been unduly ?alarmist? about climate change.

The real reason Al Gore is pushing the Global Warming agenda.
?The New York Times has lifted the lid on how Al Gore stands to benefit to the tune of billions of dollars if the carbon tax proposals he is pushing come to fruition in the United States, while documenting how he has already lined his pockets on the back of exaggerated fearmongering about global warming.?

??the NY Times? John M. Broder does reveal how one of the companies Gore invested in, Silver Spring Networks, recently received a contract worth $560 million dollars from the Energy Department to install ?smart meters? in people?s homes that record (and critics fear could eventually regulate) energy usage.?

?The Times report notes how Gore ?has a stake in the world?s pre-eminent carbon credit trading market.??

John Doe says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "Too Far" - they always say that.


I love how people bash religion and creationism and they don’t even realize that evolution has never advanced past the theory stage. Evolutionists now use the fact that they can find no missing link to prove evolution. Yes, you read that right, the lack of proof is proof itself. They say that sudden changes in the environment force rapid evolution so there is no record of the change in the fossil record. Belief in something you can’t prove is called faith.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 "Too Far" - they always say that.

When have I ever claimed otherwise? There is some compelling evidence – notably the net energy density of the universe being zero – look up physicist Victor Stenger for more info – but not sufficient proof, even for one such as myself who is reasonably confident that there is no god or gods.

Thanks for proving the point that you don’t understand how science works, though.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:9 "Too Far" - they always say that.

You are attempting to play word games. I apolgize for being somewhat flippant in my first foray into this thread. Could we have a real honest discussion now?

Science can certainly prove that evolution is true. There are many completely independent lines of evidence supporting it. There’s fossil evidence, geographical distribution of species, genetics and others that all point to the same conclusions. There is more direct evidence for the theory of evolution through natural selection than for the theory of gravity, yet I don’t see you attacking Newton’s theory.

There is also evidence against the typical god that is preached from the pulpit and taught in Sunday school class, yet because the term ‘god’ is rarely defined in specific terms and means different things to different people, I cannot disprove all forms of a ‘god’ – I can only disprove some.

For example, a god that intercedes in the world based on intercessory prayer for the sick to be healed is a form of god where there have been significantly controlled studies. Those studies have proven that either such a god does not exist, or has chosen not to intercede when someone is attempting to prove it. This is a result where the absence of evidence where it should be present is evidence of absence.

There are some forms of a god that are consistently described that cannot be completely disproven. There is the deist form of a god, in which this god creates the universe and then lets it be for the rest of eternity, never looking into or altering it. While there is some evidence against this, as I previously mentioned the net energy density, it is not conclusively disproven. There is also a god sometimes referred to as a Cartesian demon – one in which actively interferes in every observation to keep itself hidden – and since science is based upon observation, this god cannot be disproven conclusively. Both of those types of god are extremely different from the typical answer you would get if you asked the average person to describe their god. Both also require explanations significantly more complicated than science’s current understanding of the universe, so although I cannot conclusively disprove them, I am reasonably confident that they do not exist.

John Doe says:

Re: Re: Re:10 "Too Far" - they always say that.

So using your own logic against you is a word game?

Sorry, but science has never proven it at any level. There are no missing links, it has never been observed and every effort to make it happen has failed. All that is left are only theories. So belief in something you can’t prove is faith.

Gothenem (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 "Too Far" - they always say that.

Apparently you do not understand what theory means in science. It is not the same as the ‘layman’s’ definition of theory. Making a statement like that shows people that you have not actually made any effort to learn the material which you speak out against.

Yes, that makes your argument and argument from ingnorance, which, while allowed, puts you in a weak position.

However, science class is about science. I do not have a problem with a religion class, or a philosophy class talking about these sorts of points. I do have a problem with a science class discussing it, because there is no science involved. If there was science involved, then there can be a point made, but there is not.

For the record, in science, a theory is scientific hypothosis which is supported by evidence.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "Too Far" - they always say that.

There are plenty of Catholic schools in the US that teach whatever they want to teach in science class.

And that’s fine, however much I dislike it.

The First Amendment does prevent religion from being taught in public school science classes – since the public schools are run by the government. The same would apply for any type of standards that the government would implement regarding creationism that would apply to private schools.

I don’t want any speech or religion censored or suppressed. I want discussion and debates about them. It is much easier to change the minds of people holding irrational beliefs if they are forced to confront them through discussion and open debate.

And I’ve said it before – but the only way I know to insure that I can say what I want, is to insure that everyone else can also say what they want. The only way to insure that I have the option to not believe in any form of god or gods is to make sure that everyone else has the option to believe or not beleive in whatever god or gods they want.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 "Too Far" - they always say that.

Read the constitution. Here is what it says regarding religion: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. See that first word? Congress. It is a restriction on the power of Congress. It has nothing to do with prayer or intelligent design in school, a cross on public land, the 10 Commandments posted in a courthouse, or anything of the sort. Anybody with any kind of reading comprehension ability can see that, as I said, it is a restriction on the power of Congress.

TheLastCzarnian (profile) says:

Re: Re: "Too Far" - they always say that.

I love what these groups have to say!
The KKK? – Makes people disgusted by racism.
Westboro Baptist Church? – Makes people question their values and religion.
Scientologists? – Can anyone really take them seriously?
Creationists – Makes people more interested in GOOD science.

In short, crazies make sanity more obvious and fun!

David Muir (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "Too Far" - they always say that.

Please re-read the comment. My interpretation of it was that the commenter was trying to get us to use examples of speech that we really disagree with… that we personally would love to censor… but in making the argument against censorship that we STILL wouldn’t censor.

You introduced an ad hominem criticism of something that I think AGREES with your viewpoint.

Misinterpretation and misunderstandings are MAIN reasons I disagree with censorship. Sometimes (as with the famous Swift piece “A Modest Proposal”) horrendous ideas are actually presented as an argument AGAINST those very ideas. Allowing people to discuss and figure out the sarcasm or metaphor or parody is all part of communicating and it simply can’t happen if part of the communication is censored.

(Of course, yes, exposing idiots is another reason we don’t want censorship.)

Beech says:

Hate Speech

I got dragged into my college’s administration office once because “someone” posted a very negative review of one of my professors anonymously on a “rate your professors” type website. The lady who called me in had a copy of my “anonymous” course evaluation sheet, which I marked very negatively. The lady tried all kinds of threats to force me to take the review down, despite not having proof I wrote anything. She subtly hinted defamation because the reviewer mentioned people dropping the class because of the professor (which a few of my friends did), because there was no “proof” of that. She also accused me of “hate speech” because at some point in the review the word “hate” appeared in the context of “I hated this class” or “I hate this professor.”

LADY: “Well, this is kind of like hate speech.”
ME: “No it isn’t.”
LADY: “It’s kind of like saying, ‘I hate the Jews.'”
ME: “No, it really isn’t.”
LADY: “Well…no, it isn’t. But kind of?”

Long story short, I went to the site in question and flagged the offending comment then sent the lady a highly snarky email suggesting that she or the offended professor could have just as easily done the same and avoided wasting everyone’s time. Now that I have my diploma I still occasionally visit the site and leave scathing reviews about the professor, including details about how she apparently identifies people’s anonymous course evaluations and makes baseless accusations of defamation and hate speech.

TL;DR, It’s too easy to classify anything you don’t like as hate speech to stifle an unpopular opinion, I hate censorship.

Digitari says:

Free Speech

This reminds me a lot of Piers Morgan and his anti-gun rants. Now that there is a petition to deport him he claims “gun nuts are trying to stifle my speech” Which is NOT true at all, He is welcome to express himself all he likes, Just like you are allowed to yell “Fire” in a crowded theater, No one will stop you before the fact, but you WILL have consequences for your actions,,

Funny how so many folks abdicate personal responsibility when it suits them.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Free Speech

I think you are bit confused in your fire in a crowded theater metaphor.. Censorship can most definately be through intimidation and the legal consequences of yelling fire in a crowded theater are an example of restrictions on free speech that have been deemed neccessary. They are certainly still free speech restrictions.

The decision there was very limited, basically to speech which would temporarily incite panic / anarchy..

Some gov’t could as easily say they will throw you in prison, deport you, kill you, whatever if you criticize the gov’t and use your argument to say this is not a restriction on free speech.

Nigel (profile) says:

Once again.. human nature

I certainly subscribe to the notion of free speech.

One curious thought I had is, how does one define the moral barometer in the first place?

Its quite similar to the whole “is porn.. art argument”

I am just sorta vexed as to how one defines “good” in the absence of say the westboro baptist church(no caps for a reason there FYI)

See what I did there? My position is no more accurate than theirs is at the end of the day. Its just the consensus I would hope lol..

I think my point here is that if it involves human nature, its an inherently untenable situation in the first place.

Or perhaps as my grandfather put it, if it ain’t broke, don’t fuck with it.

And lastly, no I don’t believe you can yell fire in a crowded building. If you wittingly endanger others, the free speech bit goes out said window but feel free to correct me on that as IANAL.

Off to go re-read some Nietzsche lol.

Anonymous Coward says:

I find it incredible that some people still think it works to sweep it under the rug.
First of all; It is so very important that people get to see all sides of an argument. If we disagree, then we respond with a good argument! We can take it. This whole idea, that we, the public, somehow are too fragile and weak to resist aggressive speech or extreme opinions is quite frankly very insulting.
These “leaders” of our countries must take us for complete naive brittle fools who will jump at the chance to do wrong if we are ever exposed to an opinion in that direction.

If they start this, we all know where it ends. Excessive censoring of everything “inappropriate” in the opinion of the majority. What happens when that opinion is that the current biggest religion is the only one that is “right”? Or that the current leader is the best?

We will undo so many years of freedom it is painful to even think about.

nospacesorspecialcharacters (profile) says:

In a nutshell

This is what the debate over any free speech boils down to:

In other words, it’s very possible that at some point in the future, majorities will come to hate rather than like the personal beliefs of minister Vallaud-Belkacem and Farago. And when that happens, when those majorities go to criminalize the views which minister Vallaud-Belkacem and Farago hold rather than condemn, they’ll have no basis whatsoever for objecting, other than to say: “oh no, it’s only fair to criminalize the ideas I hate, not the ones I like.”

Like it or not, the people living in the current zeitgeist like to delude themselves that they’ve reached the pinnacle of enlightenment and thought. That the ‘freedoms’ they believe in are universally accepted and unchallenged – that their children and their children’s children will continue to hold their views.

The reality is that the world is still very full of prejudice, hate and backwards thinking that the children of tomorrow will look back on, shaking their heads…

“How could the people of the early 21st Century have been so ignorant and stupid about [insert future socially-accepted-moral-value-that-is-probably-currently-outlawed]?”

I’ve got a feeling that there are a number of things we find perfectly acceptable today – are going to be considered morally repugnant by future generations. Likewise, many things we find morally repugnant now, will become the ‘freedoms’ that future generations will enjoy and defend as righteous causes.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Dear “journalists”,
I would at this time like to point out at some point in your career someone will be mad that you reported the truth. They will in turn then use your own stupid policies to have you taken down for your hate speech against them.
The circle will then be complete and you will understand why your ignorant view of the “problem” has you sitting in jail.

Ninja (profile) says:

A while back I read an interview with one of the people responsible for filtering content (was it China?) and if memory serves it was here. They display an incredibly sense of entitlement and “divinity”. It is as if they are the only ones that can say what is good or bad content and as if their views are universal. You see, I consider such people so have some sort of mental disorder (and I include Farago and whatever fundamentalist and intolerant person here).

In my point of view Farago simply can’t accept different ideas. I consider cannibalism to be atrocious but there were some South American indians that would be outraged if they lost a battle and the other tribe didn’t eat them.

And ultimately, the weight most of those moronic moralists like Farago give to what they call hate speech is what give it power and awareness. If it’s not harming people anywhere other than their egos then just ignore it.

John Doe says:

I dislike the term "hate speech" as well as "hate crimes"

Why is “hate speech” or “hate crimes” any worse than regular speech or crimes? If you kill someone out of hate or love, they are still dead. Why does the reason behind the crime require a stiffer sentence? Same with speech. You can see people here labeling Christianity as hate speech. These very same people hate Christianity as bad as they claim Christianity hates others. That is the very reason “hate” should have nothing to do with whether speech is or isn’t allowed.

Isaac the K (profile) says:

My newest printout

“If the power of simple speech can galvanize people into action, why can’t it also calm the storm, educate the ignorant, and convince the world of the wrongness of bad ideas? How can someone believe that only hate speech has power, but speech pushing back against it is powerless?”

I found this so inspiring in this age of internet accelerated virtriol that immediately printed this out to post next to my monitor.

When the fight against darkness seems hopeless, I now have a source for inspiration.

Thank you.

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