We need to have a sit-down about this whole “free speech” thing. Not because free speech is a fundamentally bad idea… it’s really not. In fact, free speech is not only a great idea, but extremely important in the advancement of any civilization.
Without free speech, there can be no open dialogue, and open dialogue is required for a civilization to thrive. Without the input of the people, a society cannot move forward. Having guaranteed free speech opens this door wide open and invites everybody through. And that’s a great thing.
The right to free speech does not mean you get to say whatever you want, whenever you want, to whomever you want. See, our first amendment right to free speech only guarantees that our government will not prosecute you for speaking out against it.
So I can say that I think Obama is a fucking horrible right-wing authoritarian ideologue and I’m sick to death of right-wing politics and I would dearly love, just once in my lifetime, to have an actual left-wing government, voted in by a more progressive United States of America (all of which I do actually think, BTW)… and I won’t go to jail, or be killed, for saying it. That does not mean I have the right to go onto a pro-Obama forum, call them killers and enablers, and not expect to get banned.
a) The right to free speech does not guarantee you a platform.
This was crowed about during the Stop Beck campaign. Many of us (myself included) participated in a campaign to get Glenn Beck removed from Fox News because we felt he didn’t deserve the platform and funding he was being provided.
A lot of his supporters screamed about his “free speech” and how we were “silencing him”. Except that now, Glenn Beck has his own subscribers radio show, and he is a constant and familiar face at Tea Party rallies.
Because we weren’t trying to “violate his free speech”. We were trying to deny him just one of his platforms, which is not protected by the First Amendment.
This also happened when Thunderf00t was booted off of Freethought Blogs. Again, his supporters screamed about his “free speech”, and that FtB was “silencing him”, which is hilarious since he still has his own personal blog as well as a prominent YouTube channel, neither of which were obviously ever taken away from him. FtB simply denied him access to their platform, which he had no right to, anyways. His acceptance at FtB was a privilege, not a right, and he immediately began to abuse that privilege as soon as he joined. He broke a cardinal rule: never attack/ridicule your boss on the first day of your job… you’ll get fired quicker than you were hired.
b) The right to free speech is actually only a guarantee that our government will not persecute for speaking out against them, as long as your speech is protected (death threats are not protected, BTW).
What this means is that on private property, including internet blogs, you actually don’t have a right to free speech. The owner of a blog/forum/website has every right to censor as they see fit. There are forums and blogs where cussing is not allowed. There are other sites where cussing is allowed, but insults are not. There are other sites where insults are allowed as long as they are not sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist, etc. And of course there are sites that don’t censor at all.
And this is all perfectly fine.
So if blog owners set up rules that say what you are allowed and not allowed to post on their blog, and you break those rules, when you’re disciplined, your “right to free speech” isn’t being violated, because on that particular platform, you didn’t actually have a right to free speech to begin with. In fact, you had no rights. You just had privileges. And you got disciplined because you abused those privileges.
So let me go ahead and bring about the one site we’re all thinking about: Freethought Blogs.
When FtB kicks bloggers off, or bans people from commenting, they (FtB) aren’t violating anything. FtB is under no obligation to uphold any “rights” upheld in the Constitution, because FtB is not part of the US government and thus not beholden to the US Constitution. So FtB is free to censure where they see fit. And if you get on the wrong end of that stick, it’s your fault, and your fault alone.
Let me repeat the most important thing, here:
The right to free speech guaranteed by the US Constitution is actually the right to say anything and everything you want about the government without being prosecuted by the government for saying it (minus things like death threats and such). It does not guarantee you a platform, nor does it mean private citizens have to uphold that same right, as it does not apply to private spaces, blogs included.
So the next time you decide to scream and cry about your free speech being violated on someone’s blog, just remember… you never actually had any free speech there to begin with.