The Freedom of Hate Speech

30.5.20

Image: Cullan Smith on Unsplash


From the rising xenophobia in the middle of COVID-19 pandemic to the recent uproar due to the death of George Floyd, a victim of a lynching, I feel that it isn't the time to stay silent and do nothing as a society. But before you take any actions, I would like to recommend a TEDx Talks presented by Katie Campbell called The Freedom of Hate Speech: A Call for Civil Dialogue. This twelve and a half minutes video is more than worthwhile to watch and it reminds me of the saying, 'Don't fight fire with fire'. Though titled The Freedom of Hate Speech, I feel that the points discussed could be applied to a general, broader context of hatred.

Coming from an ethnically and culturally diverse country I acknowledge that despite witnessing an obvious act of hatred, I am usually afraid to take a stance - labeling it as people's right to have different opinions.

In the video, Campbell mentioned the most traditional justification of freedom of speech: The marketplace of ideas theory. In this theory, the society acts as an open market where a free exchange of ideas leads them to agreed-upon truth. Sophists added that the truth comes from a clash of arguments.

Campbell then emphasized - the truth may come from a clash of arguments, but not ill-informed opinions.

While we are taught to respect each other's freedom of speech or believe that all ideas are equally valid and true, it is not the same case when those ideas aren't informed with solid, logical arguments. Those kinds of ideas don't even belong in the marketplace at all.

It's important to remember that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences or freedom from responsibility. We can ask others to respect our freedom of speech, only if we uphold our responsibility in trying not to hurt other people's rights as we speak, and be willing to accept any consequences should it happens.

Which brings me to Campbell's second point: when a clash of arguments does happen, remember to model civility. Yes, we may find ourselves being too driven by our emotions in a heated argument. But we should always try to stay logical, maybe even put those emotions aside.

It comes with practicing dialogic ethics, which simply means - listening and learning. We must be willing to actively listen and to learn from one another. That means understanding that we may come from different places and have different stories. Thus we shouldn't be afraid to share our side of the story just as we should be ready to accept other people's side of the story.

The following passage is taken from Campbell's ending speech:

"We should be angry that we are now witnessing the rise of hate in our society.
We should be angry that our leaders, politicians, media personalities, and our people are not doing enough to combat this hate.
We should be angry that too many of us are excusing it as valid opinions or valid political ideology. We should be angry, but we should not let our anger overtake us or let our anger be a detriment to our success.
Challenge that anger through our votes, and through our activism.
Use that anger and challenge it into good."

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