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Luiveton's avatar

Have you ever asked yourself what free speech really is?

Asked by Luiveton (4162points) March 20th, 2012

Do you think that free speech does not include hate speech that insults a person or a race, gender, religion, sexual orientation?
Or do you think it has no limitations? Why?

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29 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

I do, personally, have a more open definition of freedom of speech. I do not think hate speech should be illegal. I think the way to handle hate speech is through education. I think that we should use our actions in the marketplace to fight hate speech.

For example, the way to fight Rush Limbaugh’s hate speech is to deprive him of advertising sales. For others, there are probably other ways of hurting them. Maybe with court cases and large fines. I don’t know.

But speech should be free so that people can suffer the consequences of saying hurtful things. If we all hide what we think, then the hatred is hidden and it is much harder to clean it up.

marinelife's avatar

I like the limitations that have been put on free speech. I don’t believe in free speech for advertising or commercial purposes for example.

saint's avatar

Speech is the expression of an idea. As long as people are allowed to speak freely, you know who they are and what ideas they hold. When “unpopular” speech is limited by law or intimidation, the users of the speech and the ideas they hold disappear into the underground. You don’t know where they are, or what they are saying until they come back out later, often better organized, occasionally armed, but always more dangerous than before. Free speech is not a priviledge as much as it is a form of social and political safe guard.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Speech can be used as weapon and just like any other weapon it can hurt. Two minutes on Google can find you a whole pile of people who were driven to suicide (or worse) by nothing more than verbal abuse. Now some people may feel it apropriate that these people suffer the consequences of someone saying hurtful things (and before you flame me I know thats not how @wundayatta ment it) but as a society I think we have decided that the price we pay for limiting certain aspects of speech is worth paying and I don’t have a problem with that.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@wundayatta “But speech should be free so that people can suffer the consequences of saying hurtful things.”

I would submit that people are far more likely to suffer consequences following hate speech if hate speech is illegal.

wundayatta's avatar

Hmmm. @dappled_leaves But if they don’t say it and merely think it, they won’t suffer the consequences. Do you want people running around thinking things secretly and not knowing where they really stand? Personally, I want to know who the people are who think hateful things. I’d like to have a chance to change their minds through education and persuasion. I’d like to prevent bad actions (whatever those might be).

When people keep their ideas secret, they have a chance to take action before anyone can stop them.

Luiveton's avatar

“Ignorant free speech often works against the speaker. That is one of several reasons why it must be given rein instead of suppressed.”
-Anna Quindlen

So yes, @wundayatta is right. assuming that’s what you meant?

dappled_leaves's avatar

@wundayatta “Do you want people running around thinking things secretly and not knowing where they really stand?”

Frankly, yes. That way, their hate is hurting only themselves. You are not likely to have a pleasant conversation with someone who is shouting “let’s kill jews” through a bullhorn, or distributing leaflets of same. You won’t “persuade” them that they’ve not thought of a better way. Making hate speech illegal is not the same as making speech you disagree with illegal. Hate speech is about statements as extreme as the example I just gave.

“When people keep their ideas secret, they have a chance to take action before anyone can stop them.”

Or if hate speech is legal, do they think that their views are receiving tacit approval, and that they therefore have a right to push further?

CaptainHarley's avatar

The only restrictions on freedom of speech should be speech that results in injury ( such as shouting “Fire!” in a movie theatre ), speech that incites to riot, and speech which advocates the violent overthrow of the duly elected government of the people ( and I’m not too sure of that last one! ).

laureth's avatar

Free speech is a right. Congress shall make no law, as they say. What some people don’t seem to understand is that entities who are not Congress, when they abridge the right of free speech, are not violating your first amendment right. Fluther, for example, violates no one’s right by deleting a comment.

What I wish people also realized, is that rights come hand-in-hand with responsibilities. If people took their responsibilities as seriously as their rights, we could avoid many problems. For instance, along with the right to free speech, comes the responsibility to not be an asshole. If people didn’t use fighting words, hate speech, or shout “Fire” in crowded theatres, we wouldn’t need to take the right away from people who don’t uphold their responsibilities.

Another thing to consider is that the Freedom of Speech doesn’t protect you from the consequences of what you are free to say. Benjamin Franklin had this to say about what should accompany the right to Free Speech:

My proposal then is, to leave the liberty of the press untouched, to be exercised in its full extent, force, and vigor; but to permit the liberty of the cudgel to go with it pari passu. Thus, my fellow-citizens, if an impudent writer attacks your reputation, dearer to you perhaps than your life, and puts his name to the charge, you may go to him as openly and break his head. If he conceals himself behind the printer, and you can nevertheless discover who he is, you may in like manner way-lay him in the night, attack him behind, and give him a good drubbing. Thus far goes my project as to private resentment and retribution. But if the public should ever happen to be affronted, as it ought to be, with the conduct of such writers, I would not advise proceeding immediately to these extremities; but that we should in moderation content ourselves with tarring and feathering, and tossing them in a blanket.

If, however, it should be thought that this proposal of mine may disturb the public peace, I would then humbly recommend to our legislators to take up the consideration of both liberties, that of the press, and that of the cudgel, and by an explicit law mark their extent and limits; and, at the same time that they secure the person of a citizen from assaults, they would likewise provide for the security of his reputation.

In other words, you can say all you want, and we should have the same right to hold you accountable for what you say. Or, if we can’t hold you accountable, perhaps there are things that ought not be allowable to say.

CaptainHarley's avatar

I greatly prefer the first option. Let them speak and then hold them accountable for what they have spoken. : )

Nullo's avatar

The whole point of free speech is to give people the opportunity to express their opinion, unpopular or no. Not everything is relative, but popularity certainly is.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@laureth Hate speech is not a right in many countries, including mine. It is not protected as “free speech” here.

CaptainHarley's avatar


Then you don’t have free speech.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@CaptainHarley We don’t have Americans’ obsession with what they call free speech, no. Don’t worry, we get along quite nicely without it, and we speak very, very freely.

Nullo's avatar

@dappled_leaves The trouble comes in when you’ve got people deciding what is and is not “hate speech.” As a general rule, it’s “speech against whatever issue is currently popular.” Imagine, now, that “what’s currently popular” changes in such a way as to demonize you.

LostInParadise's avatar

@laureth‘s comment touches on an interesting point. Do people who speak out have an obligation to identify themselves? Newspapers rely heavily on anonymous sources. I can understand the need for this, but I have always felt a little uneasy about it.

CaptainHarley's avatar


America is definitely its own place, I’ll give you that! : ))

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Nullo Not to belabour the point, but one of the things that is singled out as not being hate speech is “subjects of public debate”. So, hate speech is by definition not applicable to “whatever issue is currently popular”.

I think that people who are horrified by hate speech laws do not realize that in reality, it would never be applicable to them. Hate speech is not about whether we can voice opinion, or hold a religious view, or disagree with each other or the government. We don’t live under a cloud of oppression. And we are highly critical of our government, usually to great comic effect.

CaptainHarley's avatar


Then what IS “hate speech?”

mattbrowne's avatar

“Hate speech is any communication that disparages a person or a group on the basis of some characteristic such as race, color, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or other characteristic.”

Hitler’s Mein Kampf is an entire book made of hate speech.

mattbrowne's avatar

To me the most important feature of free speech is the right to disagree.

dappled_leaves's avatar

In Canada,

long version

short version

Unlike what @mattbrowne said above, in Canada saying something “disparaging” would not be considered hate speech.

mattbrowne's avatar

@dappled_leaves – You forgot the “on the basis” part. But, yes, hate speech laws differ from country to country. I was merely pointing to the Wikipedia definition.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@mattbrowne I didn’t forget it – in Canada, you can legally say things that are disparaging to minorities – you just can’t incite hatred or provoke violence toward them. It has to go beyond voicing your own personal opinion. It involves making other people more hateful toward that group.

mattbrowne's avatar

@dappled_leaves – So what about a sentence like “Black people are scum and we should send them back to Africa where they came from”? It would qualify as hate speech in Germany. And in Canada?

dappled_leaves's avatar

@mattbrowne Well, there’s no list of unacceptable sentences that I can check, and I am not a lawyer, but my sense of it is this: that sentence, alone and/or unbroadcast, is not enough to have someone charged for hate speech. I can not imagine a situation in which a person would be charged with hate speech for uttering a single slur. Also, I have heard people use such slurs without fear or legal consequence.

However, if you bundle a pamphet’s worth of the same sentiment, and start handing them out to people on the street, that would get you charged.

mattbrowne's avatar

@dappled_leaves – I didn’t say that it occurs without a context being embedded in a real speech or pamphlet. As a single sentence I wouldn’t expect the DA over here to take action. But if the whole speech is about creating hate against black people it’s different.

dappled_leaves's avatar

Oh, absolutely. And this makes perfect sense to me. You can’t have hate speech laws that are based on who is a bigot and whose feelings are getting hurt. You’d have half the population over age 50 in jail.

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