“Hate speech” term emerges in Facebook group; serious danger to free speech

Image of painting of Mrs. Warren: Jan Arkesteijn; painting by John Singleton Copley; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Public domain.
Image of painting of Mrs. Warren: Jan Arkesteijn; painting by John Singleton Copley; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Public domain.

To say I was shocked is an understatement. On a page I follow at Facebook, there was an announcement about actress Susan Sarandon coming to a small town to advocate for Sen. Bernie Sanders who is vying for Democrats’ nomination to run for president. The page itself isn’t political—it’s a page for businesses and others in the small town in South Carolina to promote their goods, services, and the town itself.

I know that little town well. I grew up there. Florida may be my now home, but that town is my forever home.

So what shocked me about a run of the mill event announcement?

Accusations of “hate speech.”

Some commenters saw mention of Sarandon and Sanders, and posted a few critical responses. The standard stuff—socialists who foist standards on the people but refuse to follow the standards themselves, Bernie honeymooned in the Soviet Union, and other mild critiques.

There were no outrageous comments, and there were no false statements.

Yet some who apparently support Sanders took umbrage. Sanders’ fans fired back at critics, telling them to just say nothing if they weren’t planning on coming out. Still others admonished posters to “stop the hate speech.”

There was no “hate speech” anywhere on the thread. Folks who use the term appear to interpret it as speech they disagree with.  This is a sign of a very closed mind.

The dustup occurred in tandem with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg taking steps that could bring a backlash from users of his site in the United States. Zuckerberg, who has the right at present to regulate speech on the site anyway he sees fit because 1A limits government power, not private authority over speech, is basically asking world governments to curtail speech.

The most worrisome aspect of many worrisome aspects of Zuckerberg’s questionable actions on this involves authority. Who will have authority over hate speech in a global arena? Fortune magazine noted this:

“In addition, the Facebook chief said the company would look into opening up its content moderation systems for external audit to help governments design regulation in areas like hate speech.”

If you’re an American who values freedom, this should be top of your concerns list. For one thing, governments in other countries can do whatever their citizens permit them to get away with. In the US, however, asking a global entity to regulate US citizens’ speech is a gross violation of 1A should a global entity attempt to do that.

Next month attention will be directed to women in history. Although few know her name, Mercy Otis Warren played a key role in seeing that the US Constitution eventually included ten amendments known popularly as the Bill of Rights. Top of that list is the First Amendment. Most websites explain that amendment as “protecting” speech. It doesn’t do so directly.

That amendment limits government’s power over your speech. Zuckerberg’s idea for a global entity to make speech regulations for tech sites like his universal is probably the worst idea he ever had although he understandably is trying to deal with implications of lawsuits in countries where speech is restricted.

The United Kingdom is but one example where saying the wrong thing can land you in legal trouble, and I don’t mean defaming someone. I mean just saying the wrong thing—being politically incorrect. The UK has unfortunately regressed when it comes to human rights—you are born with those rights, and no government gives them to you.

Propagandists in media—most media nowadays is propaganda whether you like it or not—have become increasingly fonder of that “hate speech” term. These media outlets do themselves and you a disservice.

I see speech every day that offends me in some way. That is a mark of a great republic, though. People have the right to express their ideas and those ideas can be openly debated, including at sites like Facebook.

Mercy Otis Warren had the right idea to promote a Bill of Rights to states wary of vesting control over the states in a central power. These days tons of pixels and ink are devoted to gossipy news, rumors, and political advocacy.

We should be talking about the inherent right we have in the US to say what we like without fear of government retribution. Without 1A, you have no freedom at all.

The event for Bernie as publicized on Facebook didn’t draw a record crowd. It did draw a roomful of people interested in an award-winning actress and a self-declared socialist presidential wannabe. Heads didn’t roll and no violence occurred as has been the case with other groups not aligned with the likes of Bernie. The attendees exercised their rights to attend. That is how it should be in any free country, and peaceful assemblies should not be attacked by “protesters” wearing masks and destroying private property.

Next time you think the term “hate speech” should apply to someone, weigh what was said. Just because you don’t like what was said, that doesn’t make it “hate speech”. A presidential candidate can even call millions of Americans a bad name and that candidate can live to see another day. That is freedom, and we should safeguard it aggressively, especially because we are artists.

Speech suppression is the enemy of art, regardless of medium.

(Kay B. Day/Feb. 17, 2020)

Mini orchid bloom after hurricane Dorian
Image by Indie Art South

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