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Best Speech Wins when All Speech is Allowed

Best speech flourishes when hate speech is allowed. As Nadine Strossen, civil liberties activist and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU),  said, “hate speech laws are at best ineffective and at worst counterproductive.”

Strossen’s first premise is that in countries with stricter hate speech laws, there was a rise in racist hatred such as in France with Marine Le Pen and in Germany with Alternative for Germany. She disagrees with the claims made by the pro hate speech laws advocates. Her view is that these laws are ineffective and people who are racist, sexist, etc. have their ways of getting around them.

 For example, in social media, the alt-right had been allowed (by social media companies) to post about their beliefs in the superiority of the white race. When free market pressure and government legislative threats against social media companies began, the alt-right started changing their language into certain codes such as “1488” or “redpill” (different definition between the alt right and conservatives). It’s less understandable to those who don’t know the terminology but once they do, they become radicalized. They find these definitions in radicalized areas of the internet, where there is no one arguing against them because the people with ‘approved’ speech aren’t in those areas of the internet or aren’t using those keywords to debunk those arguments.

This brings me to Strossen’s second argument: hate speech laws make the situation much worse for the people who oppose hate speech. For example, Milo Yiannopoulos rose in popularity when he was banned from Twitter. Then, when he wasn’t allowed to speak at campuses, he became even more popular through Breitbart. He became the punk rock of the Trump team. When he was finally allowed to speak his mind, he repeatedly made pedo-sympathizing/ pedo-joking remarks. He flopped and lost his popularity. The only time he has made a resurgence is when he got banned from platforms like Facebook or Instagram, or when his Australia (comeback) tour was cancelled

Fighting hate speech with more speech is more effective than prohibiting others from freely speaking because prohibition feeds their popularity. Strossen uses a utilitarian argument about why hate speech should be allowed. She borrowed the idea which originates from John Stuart Mill’s utility argument that any policy that improves people’s overall happiness or action that benefits everyone as whole is good policy. The ends justify the means.

In the short run, there will be people offended by bigoted speech. However, in the long run, their own bigotry will be exposed. On the contrary, when hate speech laws are implemented, some would feel immediate gratification, but the majority would ultimately suffer increased hate speech through multiple alternative outlets.

Although Mill’s utilitarian argument serves to justify free speech, his no-harm principle is weak compared to Strasson’s argument about why hate speech should be allowed. Harm isn’t just physical, but also mental. To some degree, some speech by certain people can cause trauma and enhance mental instability. What if someone says something that can cause trauma? That’s why Mill’s no-harm principle by itself is insufficient to defend hate speech or free speech overall. Thus, Strasson’s efficiency of free speech or inefficiency of hate speech laws arguments are much better to defend free speech overall. 

Although hate speech laws haven’t passed in America’s legislature, social media censors certain ideas, just like laws. Social media companies unilaterally decide what is right or wrong. For example, hundreds of Instagram accounts, most of which were conservative and libertarian, were removed before the elections. Also on Instagram, many hashtags were temporarily hidden to prevent “false information”. On Twitter, a story from the New York Post about the Hunter Biden emails was taken down.

Whether it’s the government or private companies doing it, censoring speech will lead to the same results. It will push more radical thinking into the black market, producing the opposite effect of increasing hate speech.

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