It’s Not About Free Speech
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Politics and Activism

It’s Not About Free Speech

Calling out the those who try to block criticism by false claims of free speech

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It’s Not About Free Speech
Jonathan Makeley

Paying attention to public discourse, one can see this happen many times. Someone says and or in some other way expresses something objectionable or controversial, which draws a significant amount criticism toward them. Then they or someone defending them will cry freedom of speech, in a bid to defend it. And this is a bad thing for the culture of our public discourse.

Now before anyone makes the mistake of misunderstanding this, I am not attacking freedom of speech, I am criticizing people who draw up claims of free speech, where it is irrelevant to the matters at hand, and use such claims as a way of trying to deflect criticism. Because those types of misused claims can harm and erode the public discourse.

It is important to understand when a claim of free speech is relevant to a discussion is relevant and when it is not. It is relevant when freedom of speech is in contest, and if it isn’t then it’s not relevant. If the government was trying to legally ban protected speech, or trying to punish someone merely for speaking, or if someone was harassing someone personally, or using violence, or other unwarranted actions to silence someone or punish them for speaking, then claims of free speech are relevant. But if that isn’t happening, if people are merely criticizing what someone said or otherwise expressed, and treating them in manners fitting to accountability in public discourse, then claims of freedom of speech are not relevant.

Yet you will find people who in those instances of public discourse, where people will cry free speech, where there is no evidence that anyone ever challenged that they or the person they are defending had the liberty to say or express what they did, and try to use free speech as if that alone justifies it and can deflect criticism. Just because someone has the liberty to say or express something, does not mean that what they said or expressed was justified in itself. Criticizing what someone else says is not an attack on freedom of speech. Saying that what someone said was wrong, or that they shouldn’t have said it, or trying to convince them that they should cease doing it, is not attack on freedom of speech. Because there is a difference between whether someone can say something and whether someone should. People who merely criticize what someone else said or expressed are not attacking free speech, rather they are exercising their own freedom of speech, and they are participating in the public discourse. This form of communication helps to move discussion forward, and at its best can present a rational discourse, where people can examine ideas and behaviors, in hopes better understanding and better direction in the future.

This is why these irrelevant claims of free speech are problematic. By making these claims when there is merely criticism being made, they are implying to other people that those criticizing them are attacking their freedom of speech. This abuses our culture’s veneration of free speech in order to try to discredit those are making criticisms, as well as the criticisms they are making, and acts to avoid a substantive debate about the merits of the criticisms. The repeated misuse of these claims acts to give people the false impression that criticism of someone’s statements and expressions amounts to an attack on their free speech. When people become imbued with this mistaken belief it acts to discourage people from engaging in critical speaking in the public discourse and to encourage attacks against those who do. To the extent it is able to do this, these claims act to weaken our public discourse and slander an important segment of free discourse.

This problem can be countered through understanding it and addressing it. When instances of irrelevant claims of free speech are identified as such, it acts to take away their potency. When the people using it are able to recognize this tactic for what it is, those who unintentionally do so, have a chance to stop doing it. Although, for those who intentionally do this, having other people understand what they are doing helps to take away the effectiveness of it, and allows people to see that the defender would rather spend their time using a cheap copout than actually addressing the criticisms being made. When people speak and point out the tactic, then it allows other people to be educated against it, and serves to weaken the potency of it. If this done enough times, then these false free speech claims will lose their effectiveness and hopefully become less common.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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