Home Freedom of Speech Free speech can be complex

Free speech can be complex

Author

Date

Category

Free speech can be complex and messy – that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight for it

BY INAYA FOLARIN IMAN

When I was in my early teens, I used to spend hours watching YouTube videos. I used to watch all manners of things – from the mundane to the outright bizarre – conspiracy theories and Islamist preachers, for instance. I didn’t listen to these people because I necessarily agreed with anything that they had said per se, but instead I found it fascinating and enriching to see the huge spectrum of ideological and intellectual diversity that the world has to offer – and to make up my own mind.

Everything I watched was within the boundaries of legal speech. However, fast forward to today, it is deeply worrying to think that many of those videos will be taken down as ‘hate speech’ or even fall foul of the government’s Online Harms Bill.

It’s as if we’re longer free agents, individuals with the capacity to think for ourselves, confront the world’s challenges and complexities head-on and find consensus through open negotiation and discussion. We’re just passive recipients of information, and to ensure that our ‘opinions’ are right-on, we must only be exposed to a limited array of pre-vetted acceptable ideas.

Now, perhaps it isn’t as dystopian as that, but it’s rapidly resembling it. Because it’s not just fringe ideas that are being censored, it’s any idea that doesn’t fit within the intolerant identitarian framework. From no-platforming, to forcing people out of their jobs, to “non-crime hate incidents”, to the case of Count Dankula – these are all manifestations of a society that has forgotten the ability to contend with contrarian, disagreeable, heretical and provocative speech – the very forms of speech that force us to question ourselves and push the limits of our thinking.

This is an assault on the foundational notion of the sovereignty of the individual. When we restrict the parameters to which we can explore ideas, we are restricting our ability to explore new possibilities and understand one another.

Now, I do believe that there are valid conversations to be had about where the boundaries lie. We already accept certain boundaries, such as with incitement to violence or defamation laws. And with social media and the advent of mass communication, we clearly haven’t figured out the rules of engagement yet in that arena. But we can only figure out those rules if people are not being vilified, abused and hounded out for expressing an idea, a joke, an opinion that is contrary to the dominant view or if people are not allowed to change their mind and grow. It has a chilling affect and self-censorship is one of the most pernicious consequences.

The attempt to link free speech to hate speech is a inversion of what free speech is. Free speech historically, has been the mechanism that marginalised groups used to articulate their suffering and challenge their subjection. In reality, it is not in the interest of the unscrupulously powerful for people to be able to speak freely.

Importantly, you cannot both celebrate that we now live in a diverse and multi-ethnic society whilst also requiring ideological conformity. Sorry, it doesn’t work like that.

So, the Free Speech Union (FSU) has arrived. The FSU will defend people at risk of being penalised for exercising their legal right to free speech. It is an organisation that aims to push back against this stifling speech culture – let’s celebrate it!

But we will not just be defensive and reactive, we will be proactive and champion free speech. We have to embody it and demonstrate that it is possible to have constructive discussions between polarised ideas and still shake hands at the end of it – and much more.

Inaya Folarin Iman is a journalist and campaigner, and a Director of the Free Speech Union

Previous articleCondoms in demand
Next articleHave Your Say

5 COMMENTS

  1. Humans are social beings, enjoy having a chat, exchanging ideas, verbally sparring. There is a growing feeling of isolation, keeping your true opinion to yourself with anyone you don’t know well, staying quiet unless you offend some sensitive petal. People don’t like to be controlled so now there is a growing breakout of good people joining the right to our freedom of speech.

    7

    0

  2. Free speech is the safety valve of society.
    When the safety valve is suppressed, the pressure builds, and then there is an explosion.

    — ‘And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard…’ —Martin Luther King Jr.

    6

    0

    • Spot-on, Odakyu-sen.

      When the safety-valve is removed, it allows *massive* resentment to grow until people feel that they have **nothing left to lose**.

      **BANG!** – things explode – and then the dumb-ass politicians say “why did this happen?”

      4

      0

  3. It is not complex. Limiting the expression of ideas is always harmful.

    If not for those expressing confronting ideas, we would still be marginalizing minorities as a social norm. A simple fact overlooked by many.

    2

    0

Recent posts

Starving Prostate Cancer With Apple Peel, Red Grapes & Turmeric

When you dine on curry and baked apples, enjoy the fact that you are eating something that could play a role in starving —...

When Will Cindy Do The Same

UK’s Boris Johnson Admits Vaccines Do Not Prevent Contracting, Spreading COVID-19 The UK Prime Minister admitted that the COVID-19 vaccines don't work as initially advertised. United...

Over 90% Of A Hospital’s Admissions Were Vaccinated For Covid-19

Aaron Siri writes; Whistleblower: FDA and CDC Ignore Damning Report that over 90 percent of a Hospital’s Admissions were Vaccinated for Covid-19 and No One...

Recent comments

Jules on Have Your Say
Jules on Have Your Say
Beorn on Have Your Say
Braybots nemesis on Have Your Say
Toko on Have Your Say
Mark14 on Have Your Say
Odakyu-sen on Have Your Say
Harvey on Have Your Say

The way we all feel about this useless government

Hamilton
light rain
16.1 ° C
17 °
15.5 °
93 %
0.5kmh
100 %
Mon
18 °
Tue
22 °
Wed
21 °
Thu
19 °
Fri
19 °
NZD - New Zealand Dollar
USD
1.3969
EUR
1.6270
AUD
1.0428
CAD
1.1296
GBP
1.9222
JPY
0.0123
CNY
0.2188
INR
0.0186