Whether it’s Orwell, or Chomsky, or JFK it doesn’t matter; the sentiment is that in order to believe in freedom of speech you must extend that belief to those of whom you disagree with.
Easier said than done, folks.
I’ve watched people I know, like and respect verbally attacked for having the temerity to have opinions. I’ve seen those I dislike, disagree with and wouldn’t hold in high regard suffer similarly. Hate, vitriol and discrimination doesn’t discriminate against its victims.
Sadly, it’s getting worse. A recent report of Service Men and Women told of uniformed Irish Navy Officers being accosted in public and called traitors for rescuing Muslims from drowning. These are our brothers and sisters, rescuing our brothers and sisters.
The new Minister for Culture, Josepha Madigan, while defending Leo Varadkar’s lukewarm speech to the Fine Gael National Conference, reminded Hugh Linehan of the Irish Times that “Hitler was a brilliant orator”.
As examples of Godwin’s Law go, this was not the worst. But comparing anyone to Hitler is not a good look; particularly in the context of a backhanded compliment to a genocidal maniac.
When I mentioned the hilarity of this on twitter the Minister blocked me. While hardly a great look for a public representative, it is a nice example of a lesson more of us need to learn: Freedom of speech doesn’t mean people have to listen to you.
To take this a step further, freedom of speech doesn’t mean you should have a platform. There’s privilege in a platform, power in it even.
Places like Broadsheet give platforms to people with a diversity of opinions. They often do it well. Their coterie of comments section trolls are, in my opinion, a stain on what is , for the most part, a force for good.
The editor of Broadsheet and I disagree on this. He believes freedom of speech extends to anonymous trolls and therefore believes that the price for being heard (platformed) is verbal abuse, slanders and smears.
But he’s wrong. He’s not protecting freedom of speech. He’s platforming hate. The type of hate that asked the mother of a palliative child “where’s the father”. The type of hate that discusses rape and ethno nationalism on articles about politics. The type of hate that reacts to articles about homelessness by blaming “foreigners”. The type of hate that groups me with murderers for mentioning Sinn Féin.
It is opinions like these, platformed by Broadsheet, that spill out onto the streets and lambast Navy Officers. It is by platforming these views that Broadsheet normalises them. Believing in and defending freedom of speech are not the same thing as platforming hate.
So Broadsheet, you can upgrade your site all you want; but until you upgrade your values you will be part of the problem.
Tony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly at Trickstersworld.