The right to free speech (also known as Freedom Of Speech) allows people to use any language they like and to express their views but some language and some views are offensive or harmful. So what’s the solution?
This is what we’re going to cover:
Why Freedom Of Speech Is Important
Before diving into this, let’s get clear about why freedom of speech matters. We want as much free speech as possible because it allows the free flow of ideas and the ability for other people to form their own views about those ideas. This is how a society evolves.
The ability to listen to different points of view and vote on them is also, obviously, fundamental to democracy.
So the summary is that free speech is critical because it allows everybody in a society to have access to all ideas and information then use that information to make decisions about how they want to do everything from voting to how they behave in their daily lives.
So this is an issue where the stakes are extremely high and getting this wrong can have massively negative consequences.
North Korea is an extreme example. The people don’t have access to all ideas and information so there’s a long list of issues where it’s impossible for them to make good decisions.
There are not many things in life that are more important than your ability to make good decisions.
Freedom Of Speech Definition
Let’s start by understanding the existing rules then we can talk about what needs to be improved.
- So what is freedom of speech? Freedom of speech is the ability to express opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal action.
- The term “freedom of expression” is sometimes used synonymously but it’s a little different because it includes all expression regardless of the medium used. For example, expressing an opinion by wearing a symbol or attending a protest without saying anything.
- The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 says that: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media.
But some speech is offensive or harmful so free speech is not absolute and most countries have restrictions around freedom of speech.
Given that this article/video was created when Twitter decided to ban Donald Trump, let’s look at the freedom of speech rules in the United States as an example.
Freedom Of Speech Amendment
Freedom of speech in the US is governed by the first amendment of the constitution and it says, in summary, that the government cannot restrict free speech.
So the first amendment only applies to the government. The government cannot restrict free speech but everybody else can restrict free speech. I’ll come back to this in a minute.
The United States Supreme Court has also clarified that “speech” does not only cover talking, writing, and printing, but also includes broadcasting, using the Internet, and other forms of expression.
Freedom of speech also applies to symbolic expressions like displaying flags, burning flags, wearing armbands, and burning crosses. But there are some limitations. What are they?
Freedom Of Speech Limitations
- Defamation. If you say something that damages somebody’s reputation you cannot use free speech as a defense.
- True threats. A threat to commit a crime (like “give me your money or I will kill you”) is not protected by Freedom of speech.
- Fighting words. Face-to-face personal insults that are likely to lead to an immediate fight are not protected by Freedom of speech.
- Obscenity. Interestingly, hard-core, highly sexually explicit pornography is illegal and not protected by Freedom of speech but the US government just chooses not to prosecute it.
- Child pornography. It’s illegal, not protected by free speech, and will be prosecuted.
- Commercial advertising. Anything you say in an ad is protected by free speech but the government can ban commercial advertising if it’s misleading.
The important point to remember is that the first amendment only applies to the government. Other people, businesses, and organizations of any kind can restrict any speech they like.
Donald Trump was banned by Twitter because, in their opinion, his rhetoric contributed to the capitol riots. Not only was Twitter acting within the law, but they could also have decided to ban Trump because they think his hair is weird and therefore he must be an alien from another planet.
My point is that Twitter absolutely can ban Donald Trump and doesn’t even have to justify why they banned him. A decision like this might have an impact on revenue and other metrics that Twitter uses to measure its success but that’s a separate subject.
Free Speech On Social Media
People that say that Twitter is restricting the free speech of Trump and conservatives are right but Twitter is not the problem. Conservatives are the problem – because almost all successful tech companies were created by founders and employees that lean left.
The real reason that conservatives are complaining has nothing to do with free speech rules. They’re complaining because they just discovered that the tech world is dominated by organizations that lean left and now they have nowhere to go.
I’ll get into this issue in more detail in another video called “Progressives own the future and conservatives own the past”. Remember to subscribe or follow me if you want to get an alert when I release it.
Now, there are two more important questions about Twitter banning Trump that need to be addressed:
- Is this censorship? Yes, it is censorship, and censorship is allowed and should be allowed. If somebody says things you don’t like or agree with within your social media feed you have the right to block them and when you block them you are censoring them and you should have that right.
- Should corporations be making decisions that favor one political point of view? In the past, the answer was no. Now, the answer yes.
These two questions require a more detailed discussion in separate videos. I’ll be releasing these videos soon so, again, follow me to get alerts when they’re released.
Ideas For Improving Free Speech Rules
Now let’s talk about how we can improve freedom of speech rules so let’s remind ourselves of the problem we’re trying to solve.
We need as much free speech as possible so that society can evolve and we also need it to facilitate the entire democratic process but some forms of speech are harmful and have a negative impact.
It’s pretty obvious that this comes down to the restrictions on free speech.
The simple framework for deciding whether certain types of speech should be allowed or not allowed should be “the greater good”.
If certain types of speech do not benefit society AND are harmful to certain members of society then what is the justification for allowing that kind of speech. So, the question is whether the speech contains any content that is ‘useful’ for society. Is it useful or just an insult?
At this point, there’s no need for us to get further into the weeds because we all know where this is going. In some cases, hate speech is free speech and there’s a massive grey area between them.
So we inevitably have to answer this question – who will decide if the content is useful or just harmful?
The practical answer to the question is that the government should generally allow freedom of speech as they do now and individual organizations, businesses, and platforms should be free to create any rules they deem to fit to manage their communities.
This is obviously similar to the way free speech works now so I don’t there’s any reason for wholesale changes. We just need to refine the exceptions.
I’ve created an Ideas listing on ‘I Imagine’ with the title “Free Speech: What should be restricted”. I’ve already added the restrictions used in the United States. Go ahead and vote and comment on the restrictions or add your own suggested restrictions.
If you’re new to the platform, ‘I Imagine’ a social network for people that want to maximize their impact. You can sign petitions, support causes and nonprofits, develop ideas for solving problems that matter to you, and connect with like-minded people.
It’s also worth pointing out that some aspects of speech are heavily influenced by a culture so this can be a bigger challenge for culturally diverse countries.
Direct democracy can play an important role by helping people from different backgrounds express their views about what they consider to be offensive, then refine their free speech restrictions accordingly.
This can go a long way to lowering the temperature between feuding cultures. If you’re new to direct democracy, it’s a form of democracy that takes the power away from politicians and puts it in the hands of the people by allowing them to vote on issues directly.
I’ve created a framework for direct democracy and the ‘I imagine’ platform includes a system for actually implementing it.
If you’re new to my channel, podcast, or blog and you have questions like what is ‘I Imagine’, what is the Wolf Party, what is direct democracy, who is Adam Radly? Check out the links in the description.
What Can You Do
Let’s talk about what you can do or what you should do in your day to day life to make sure you’re part of the solution and part of the problem.
I think the simple summary is to express your opinion and find a way to do it respectfully. Before sounding off, the question you need to answer is whether you genuinely want to change somebody’s view or whether you just want to blow off steam.
If your objective is the former, you need to think about how to make a case for what you believe and that means providing evidence that leads to conclusions that match your point of view. Insults and offensive language are not evidence.
If your objective is the latter, the best thing to do is to keep it to yourself and wait until you cool off or maybe call a friend and start venting together.
If you really want to get into a shouting match, find people that have the opposing point of view and said something offensive and get into a shouting match with them. They’re up for the fight. They want to engage.
If you go after people that are trying to make their case respectfully by insulting them, you’re going to look bad. Nobody needs those people. If you’re one of those people, you’re a useless participant in a game that nobody cares about.
What Businesses Should Do
It goes without saying that people want a workplace where they feel safe and can express themselves without fear of judgment or retaliation.
This is obviously part of the culture of every business and every business has the right to create whatever culture they like. The important point to make here is that the corporate culture should be the result of a well-thought-out plan and not the result of random evolution.
More, generally, all businesses have the ability to build a culture in the workplace that is based on what they stand for. The challenge for most businesses is figuring out what they stand for.
What Governments Should Do
One of the more important issues for governments is how they want to handle the issue of free speech on social media. Unfortunately, most countries have decided to outsource these decisions to the major social media platforms.
These issues require their own separate discussion. I’m making another video about social media regulation and another video about censorship so look out for them.
At this point, we can see that free speech will include a lot of hate speech because it’s impossible to draw a line through such a massive grey area. So the main role of government in freedom of speech is leadership and maintaining unity while concurrently allowing freedom of speech.
The government needs to consistently remind its citizens to be respectful and constructive when exchanging ideas and avoid insults with the aim of making this approach part of the culture.
It’s obviously impossible to cut out all ‘unacceptable speech’ but the government should be constantly attempting to move the needle.