Free speech is not without consequence

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 10, 2021, 1:00 PM | comments: 0

Beyond the obvious misunderstanding of how free speech works on the Internet, there's a building voice of grievance that some people are being simply persecuted for their opinions and what they say. "It's cancel culture!" they say. While there is certainly a problematic thing happening where people try to out-woke each other on the Internet, there has to be some understanding that just because you can say something doesn't mean that you should.

As I described in the piece about speech on the Internet, free speech conceptually is centered around the prohibition of government preventing free speech, as described in the First Amendment. It doesn't say that there isn't consequence for expression. We have laws that hold you accountable if you literally shout fire in a theater that isn't on fire, and you can be held liable in a civil case for damaging things you say about someone that are untrue. This is true in your job as well, where you can't insult your boss or sexually harass your coworkers.

The fact is, even my 10-year-old with autism, who often struggles to adhere to social contracts, understands that there are consequences for swearing, for example. Everyone gets this.

That's why this emerging narrative that an aggrieved "conservative" bloc of voices is being silenced is a little ridiculous. Let's not confuse being "cancelled" or marginalized with a response to saying vile and heinous things. If you are attributing wildfires to "Jewish space lasers" or encouraging insurrection, the response to that isn't political or divisive... you said some nasty shit and there are consequences for that. This is the same social contract we have in our daily lives, as described above. It's not about silencing or disenfranchising anyone.

You can't have it both ways, suggesting that the free press is the "enemy of the people" for its reporting, and then turn around and say things that are actually destructive and play victim for the response.


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