Like most sane people, I’m concerned with issues around freedom of speech, so I was interested to see recent discussions about Trump and Twitter, the removal of Parler from All The Places and the end of Voat.
With each of these – and yes, I’ve also just listened to the hilarious James O’Brien / Piers Morgan interview (mellow at first and then… hots up…) – you get the old Morgan tropes coming out: “political correctness gone mad” or “groups are being silenced” and so on.
The problem it seems to me is that “free speech” is too often conflated by these people with “being able to say whatever the hell I want, however horrific it is”. These are not the same. Not at all.
A democracy is one in which free speech is championed, but ultimately this freedom is trumped (lolz, sorry!) by the ability of the individual or group to actually talk rationally, accept difference and explain their point of view.
In the face of this, my “liberty” to say “the earth is flat” or “Covid19 doesn’t exist” or “don’t take vaccines” is not “free speech” but lunacy. There is zero rational evidence to support these positions, and I’d be unable in the face of serious scrutiny to make any of them stand up. Just because something goes viral or has a huge community all blindly following it doesn’t mean it can actually be defended in the cold light of day.
Science is a great example of a method which actually works. The whole, entire point of the scientific method is that it is based around being right until it is proved wrong. Every single serious academic ever knows this: they publish a paper with a theory, and in this publishing they are basically asking their community to shoot it down with an alternative theory. Sometimes the theories remain for decades, sometimes they’re found to be wrong immediately, and then a new paper and theory is published which sets out the latest position, there again until it is proved wrong. This is how progress happens, not by shouting the same position over and over again into a room filled with people holding the same set of opinions.
The interesting thing in almost all the examples being pored over right now – Twitter and Trump, Parler, Voat – is that the individuals concerned are actually all involved in an echo chamber which perpetually self-supports. They are completely unable to rationalise, and if you ever try jumping onto any of these streams or platforms and providing an alternative point of view then you’ll see exactly what I mean by this – you’re almost immediately flamed out of the room. The irony here – that these “free speech” platforms are the least able to support any kind of dissenting opinion (yup, “free speech”!) – is intense.
Ultimately, the person claiming the primacy of “free speech” needs to accept that this freedom has a price: they need to be able to defend their position, and accept that others have alternative positions, and accept that even if their position is “true” now, it may not be “true” when further evidence emerges. This is rarely, I would suggest never, the case in the examples provided here.