Freedom of speech is one of the cornerstones of our society, and it is absolutely a principle worth defending to one's dying breath. Unfortunately, complete assholes are also a cornerstone of our society, and will definitely be here until our dying breaths. And when the latter gets ahold of the former, they invoke it improperly and indiscriminately, like a toddler with a new word or a monkey with a shotgun. As Reddit announced plans to crack down on its "most toxic" users, Facebook started to cull fake news from its advertising networks, and Google looked to cut ad revenue to the same, the reaction was predictable. "Censorship!" "What about our freedom?" "It's almost as if the internet isn't a safe haven for disinformation and hate speech anymore!"
Does that mean the internet is abandoning our much-beloved free speech? Fuck no! It just means that the standards for free speech people use on the internet are finally catching up to all other forms of human interaction. But for the users bewildered as to why they're getting squelched in these forums, I'd like to offer two points.
No, not those.
First, I'd like to point out that there are a ton of things you are legally not allowed to say. The example everyone is familiar with is that you can't yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater (everyone will kick your ass for talking during Rogue One). But there are many more examples of things you have no legal right to spout off. You can't incite people to violence, you can't slander (in speech) or libel (in writing) someone, and you can't say things that would make any reasonable person punch you in the face, because them's fightin' words (though telling someone you thought The Force Awakens was a good movie is still technically legal, for some reason).
Yet despite it being completely illegal in real life, people think they are allowed to threaten and harass people online. Leslie Jones received a mind-boggling number of inflammatory and threatening messages on Twitter, and zero people went to jail. Contrariwise, if someone (say, I don't know, maybe a Cracked writer) organized people to make a bunch of prank phone calls to a radio DJ, they would for sure go to jail. Just ask Cracked writer and jail alum John Cheese.
So just to be clear (and I can't believe this is a sentence that actually needs to be written), you aren't allowed to intentionally inflict harm on someone, even by just using words, whether via in-person chat, phone, email, Facebook, Instagram, telegraph, Snapchat, Tinder, smoke signals, singing telegram, carrier pigeon, words scrawled on a gas station bathroom wall, or even Reddit.
Or whatever 12 new garbage apps got invented while you read that sentence.
The second point people often forget is that nobody owes them shit. Some people seem to have an unbelievably difficult time understanding that "free speech" does not mean "the freedom to say whatever you want without any consequences." If you say something fucked up in a public forum, people and businesses are exercising their free speech when they react to it. If a comedian makes rape jokes and people don't like them, that isn't the audience censoring the comic any more than someone not liking a meal is censoring the chef. Nobody has to support anyone else's shit sandwiches.
Similarly, a bunch of companies, including anti-masturbation titan Kellogg's, pulled their advertising dollars from the "alt-right" "news" outlet Breitbart. But rather than waging war on free speech, Kellogg's is simply keeping their brand from becoming synonymous with shriveled dog crap. Breitbart, champions of the free market (meaning free for them, not for advertisers) and defenders of harassment everywhere, responded with cries of "Censorship!" Their response article, in which they refer to themselves both as a "conservative media giant" and "one of the world's top news publishers," is like a Klein bottle of twisted logic -- it has no inside, no outside, and you'd think it would be impossible, but people are selling it on the internet. Note: In an effort to not further spread mental garbage around the internet, I'm very intentionally not linking to Breitbart here, but I will give you this weirdly gross animation of a Klein bottle!
First, they call Kellogg's bigots for not doing business with them merely because their site regularly attacks women, Muslims, and transgender people. And if they can't attack women and minorities, who can they attack?! But the absurdity goes further. They imply that a company not wanting to do business with them constitutes censorship. That suggests that the only way to preserve our freedom of speech would be to somehow force Kellogg's to pay for content that they fundamentally disagree with. It would take some Simone-Biles-level gymnastics to get your head around that.
But that impressively flexible thinking can be seen all over when businesses "silence" difficult people with the despotic technique of "not doing business with them." That's just as true of Reddit as it is for quaint physical businesses which will be gone after the Singularity. That guy who got banned for life from Delta airlines didn't get banned because he supported Donald Trump; he got banned for aggressively harassing a plane-full of people about it. The exact same thing would have happened if he were delaying a flight by shouting and clapping about puppies being cute. (It just would have been much less expected and much more entertaining coming from a guy in a Gas Monkey Garage T-shirt.)
Of course Delta banned him for disrupting their flight; they had to refund everyone else's tickets because of him. That makes him someone it's not worth doing business with. I hope I'm not shocking anyone at Breitbart by bringing this up, but Kellogg's, Twitter, Facebook, Google, and your mom's organic knitted cat fur store store on Etsy are all just trying to make money. If any of them become hotbeds of racism or sexual harassment or other "free speech," that limits their ability to appeal to a larger audience and hurts their bottom line. Of course they're going to ban WeedHitlerFan69. He goes against everything their company stands for. Namely, whatever their target demographic stands for.
Companies aren't taking moral stands to censor anybody; they're constantly reinventing their image to align with whatever teens were doing four years ago. Their desire for our dollars transcends political divides, good taste, and reason. With not a hint of irony, Subway had signature sandwiches for The Hunger Games -- a franchise about a starving dystopia with strong anti-corporate elements. Amazon, which just captured 31 percent of online spending over Cyber Weekend, had a product placement on Mr. Robot -- a show about bringing down the world economy as we know it. If it suddenly became fashionable to firebomb multinational corporations, Coca-Cola would run ads with dancing glass coke bottles becoming Molotov cocktails.
"Share a Coke filled with accelerant."
Free speech is a vital part of a free society. Shouting racial slurs at people until they're afraid to interact with the world isn't. You aren't entitled to free, uncontrolled access to Facebook's servers. You're free to ride a horse, but you're not free to ride a horse into an IKEA -- especially not a horse you don't own. And constantly crying "free speech" is beating that horse to death.
Aaron Kheifets can't believe he's linking to his Twitter at the end of an article about free speech on the internet.
For more, check out 5 Cases Of Free Speech That Will Make You Hate Freedom and 5 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Free Speech.
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