Freedom of speech – for whom?

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I believe in freedom of speech and we can’t pick and choose who should be allowed to enjoy it.

I do not want social media platforms commercial or otherwise to act as censors and gate keepers. They should have reasonable codes of conduct as we have in any human gathering/group/forum/organisation. FB is blatantly pro Israel and has fashioned itself as an enforcer of govt policy on the virus, suppressing a lot of valuable and dissenting perspectives. They can say it is their right to do that — ‘my house my rules’ — and I agree but therefore do not wish to be a part of it.

I want to express my opinions freely and others, even those I don’t agree with, have a right to do the same.

People can block or ignore those whom they don’t like or whose opinions they find offensive or unacceptable and they can withdraw from platforms with whose values they don’t agree and find something more suitable. It is the same thing we do in real life when we stay away from people we don’t like. That is what I am trying to do in social media. Twitter is filled with right-wing drivel but I am not closing my account because of that. I’m closing it because of Twitter’s own choice to censor that benign pro-Palestine event. So far I’ve blocked or ignored people whose values I find offensive. But I wouldn’t want Twitter to take it upon themselves to censor them for me…

We have to be really careful who we give power to control narrative or access to media of expression. You could see from how the virus measures issue has been unfolding that there is such a thing as ‘tyranny of the majority’ or enforced ‘consensus’.

Generally, if someone does something illegal then we can defer to the law to protect us. But even our countries’ laws should not be seen as enshrined. They’re laws made by human beings. They should be questioned, discussed and scrutinised and if necessary, disobeyed. Laws are only as good as those in power who enact them and those who put the legislators in their position. It wasn’t that long ago that black people in the US, by law and regulations were only allowed to sit at certain sections of the bus to use one example, or that black South Africans were by that country’s (fully legal) apartheid laws only allowed certain types of meat at the butcher’s and not others.

Murder is illegal in Israel but the law is not enforced equally if a Jew kills a Palestinian than if it is the other way around. The same principle existed in Nazi Germany with respect to Jews and Germans (the Nuremberg Laws made Jews non-German) and of course the same in the US in the bad old days, and it seems even now, which is why they had to come up with BLM so recently. Clearly police do not treat black people the same way as they treat white people. These are just tiny examples. Laws can legalise anything. The Nazi genocide was completely legal under Nazi Germany’s laws and so was slavery under UK law until it was changed.

Freedom of speech is what it is and if we want to live in democracies — as opposed to state dictatorships or other types of authoritarian regimes — we have to accept that it applies to everyone. Democracies have to be defended constantly from those who prefer a ‘strong man in charge’.

The erosion of freedom of speech and the censorship of unwanted views are usually the first signs that democratic rule is under threat. We live in such times right now with the unprecedented authoritarian powers taken by our governments with respect to the virus and the censorship by social and mainstream media of dissenting or just doubting views including the vicious labelling of those who question. Examples of this were all over the media reporting of the weekend rally in London. People who question the government’s rules were labelled, ‘anti-vaaxers’ and fanatics among other things. It reminds me of when the Australian media in the Howard years labelled asylum seekers ‘illegals’…

People should be able to speak freely about what they think. How much influence they have is determined by how many people decide to listen and follow them.

You don’t defeat bigotry and racism by ‘banning’ them. If you ‘ban’ them — which really amounts to telling people what they’re allowed to think and believe— you only drive them underground where they fester even more, grow arms and legs and develop an entitled, martyr psychology on top of whatever grievances they already have, which make them search for scapegoats in the first place. Their perceived victimhood can then give them a sense of entitlement, which can make them want to take power. Applying freedom of speech selectively threatens to bring about the very thing we should be worried about, authoritarianism. I don’t want it, even if it is supposedly run by people who share my views. I want to live in a *mature*, thoughtful, compassionate democracy that does not have to look over its shoulder and be vigilant constantly.

I would categorically ban pedophelia and child pornography and trafficking though because they’re harming young people who are powerless and naturally vulnerable and do not have equal rights to adults even under the law. They cannot defend themselves against it. But we’re adults.

We have to be adult and take responsibility for ourselves and our behaviour towards others. It is the only way. Most people are decent, and we have to be very careful not to resort to enacting draconian rules and laws because of a minority phenomenon in any context. ‘Minds’ can have its share of right-wingers, Twitter already has and so does FB. We choose who we engage with and can block whomever we wish to block. I will decide on Minds on the basis of its functionality, how it treats user data and whether it remains independent from commercial interests. Its lack of gatekeeping and censorship is a good thing. Remember the ‘first they came for’ principle. You can’t always assume that censorship will go your way. Once it’s there it all depends on who holds the power.

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