And Peace Online
My New Year’s resolution: Make a careful distinction between speech and violence.
America’s First Amendment says “yes” to most speech, including speech that criticizes, insults – even speech that promotes hate. But the law applies only to government.
Private organizations can ban hate speech if they choose.
I can write columns saying nasty things about you – if newspapers, websites and my distributor are willing to run them. But the law says I can’t tell people to go beat you up. At the point that speech becomes a direct incitement to violence, the law says “no.”
That’s pretty clear.
Then there’s Gavin McInnes.
McInnes is a political commentator who takes pride in provoking the politically correct.
He makes nasty jokes that I wish no one would make, like, “Mexico sucks ‘cause of Mexicans.”
At Stossel TV, we posted this video about him.
A few months ago, McInnes was invited to speak at a New York City Republican club. Before he even spoke, protesters vandalized the building.
In the speech, he held up a sword and told the audience to respect the example set by a Japanese 17-year-old, Otoya Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi had stabbed a socialist politician while he was giving a speech.
After McInnes’s speech, Antifa protesters confronted his followers, who call themselves the Proud Boys. Some Proud Boys looked eager to fight and brutally beat several Antifa protesters.
So is McInnes to blame? Did he incite violence by bringing up Yamaguchi? By saying “Western culture is the best”? By praising “violence in self-defense”? Or is he just a proud American urging his followers to defend themselves?
Should he be banned from the airwaves and social media?
McInnes renounced the Proud Boys after the street fight and says he won’t be their leader.
Nevertheless, CRTV dropped McInnes’s show “Get Off My Lawn.”
Facebook banned many Proud Boys accounts and eventually McInnes himself. He was also banned by PayPal and Amazon.
Before the fight, he’d been banned by Twitter. He was temporarily kicked off YouTube, supposedly for copyright violation, though critics say YouTube is more aggressive about enforcing copyright rules if people posting the material are controversial.
I understand the censors’ impulse to clamp down on speech that could lead to violence. But here’s why I think that approach is backward.
When I was a kid, homophobia was normal. Not only was gay marriage forbidden, gay sex was sometimes illegal. Police would even beat gay men for sport.
Today, most Americans’ attitudes are very different. What made that happen was open speech.
People watched gay characters on TV and came to like some of them. Bigots expressed hate, but people who heard them thought about what they said, and most rejected it.
Life changed dramatically for gays in America in a relatively short time. Free and open debate helped make that happen.
Speech can provoke violence, yes, but the greater danger is people losing interest in talking – giving up on arguments altogether. Then people often go “settle this outside.”
So while social media platforms can exclude McInnes if they want to, it’s better if they don’t.
The more we get accustomed to settling our disagreements with words, even offensive words, the less we need to settle disputes with fists and swords.
Will Americans become nicer now that people like McInnes are banned by Twitter? I doubt it.
To avoid political censors, some right-wingers fled recently to a Twitter-like platform called Gab. Gab prides itself on letting people say whatever they like. A company that hosted Gab on its servers banned Gab, so Gab relocated to another host.
Around the same time, one Gab executive says someone tried to blow up his parents’ propane grill, probably to punish him for permitting “hate speech” on Gab.
I don’t know where to draw the line on what speech is inappropriate for a given private venue.
But I know that the answer to hateful speech is more speech.
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