Two comments made by readers on a previous thread (by Ken and Tmesis) raise competing but valid points about what sorts of limits (if any) should be put on freedom on speech when comments start straying into vilification, or become just plain offensive.
I am concerned that sometimes the adamant protection of the concept of free speech can be at the cost of protecting certain groups from the harm speech can cause. (I.E Allowing neo-nazi and white supremacist opinion to be in public discourse on the premise of protecting the right to freedom of expression.) I think we need to realise that speech can be just as harmful as action, and should therefore be regulated in the same ways.
Ken’s view is:
one’s most dangerous opponent / enemy is the one you can’t see. Distasteful as it may be, its better to let all morons have air time and let their arguments stand or fail than be blocked (because the prevailing group- who gives anyone the mortgage on rightness anyway) might not agree. Free speech as long as I agree with you is not free speech at all.
I’ve been pondering precisely this question recently, following some of the comments made on this site in the last week or so.
Some comments have been in the category of what I would call vilification, and I don’t wish to be perceived in any way as tacitly condoning that or being an unitended facilitator for it. Perhaps more importantly, if comments get too bile filed, it may put off some readers who won’t come back – thus defeating the purpose of open expression which the comment facility is meant to encourage. I know some people go by the adage that ‘if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen’ as a justification for being as aggressive as they like. While I can cope fine with that, I don’t won’t others to be put off expressing their views for fear they may cop a bucket of bile in response, or even worse, people not bothering to read the comments at all.
However, I think it is also valuable – especially on a site like this that seeks to encourage and open up political debate and questioning – for everyone to be able to see what views are out there, however unpalatable or uncomfortable they may be.
It’s promoted me to work on developing a more formal comment policy, and I’d be interested in the views of readers on what approach they feel is best for a site like this one. The wider topic of balancing the right to freedom of speech with the right to freedom from vilification is also very current at the moment, with different views about laws dealing with so-called ‘seditious’ speech and racial or religious vilification.
NOTE: Just for the information of readers, I have always retained the right to delete any comment from this site that I think is excessively abusive, inflammatory, defamatory or flagrantly vilifying (especially about others rather than myself). So far I have leant very much towards enabling free unhindered expression of views – given this site is specifically intended to encourage greater participation in political debate – unless it becomes clearly irresponsible. I’ve only removed one comment from the thousands that have been posted during the 16 months I’ve been blogging (which was just a gratuitous racist spray which was not even related to the topic under discussion). However, there are very few rights that are 100% absolute and that don’t have to curtailed in at least some circumstances by a competing right or responsibility – the question is what balance to strike.
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