This Fan's Seasons

Feminism. Baseball. Adorable Children. Judaism. Social Justice. Television. Dating? Fun. Not necessarily in that order.

Apr 25

What “free speech” means… and doesn’t mean.

I follow a whole lot of social justice blogs that heavily moderate their comments sections and/or loudly call out racist/sexist/homophobic/etc. statements, and while there are little things that annoy me from time to time, something that has been sticking in my craw for literally years now is how people who are moderated or called out respond with wailing about their right to free speech being curtailed by not having their comments published, or by having their hateful comments called out as such. This annoys the living fuck out of me because the fundamental lack of understanding of what “free speech” means in the US of America or where that right comes from is so wildly on display in such responses. It annoys me so much that I feel it necessary to write this little screed on the subject, just to get it the fuck out of my system.

The right to free speech in the USA is guaranteed by the first amendment, which reads as follows: 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The key phrase there is right at the top: Congress shall make no law. This means that the freedom of speech you have every right to cling to merely entitles you to say whatever you like without fear or consequence of breaking the law, and without fear or consequence of arrest or other governmental reproach of your comments. And that’s it— that’s the WHOLE extent of what free speech means: the government cannot take any punitive action against you for what you say. Which is awesome! And important! And also: limited in scope. 

The first amendment does NOT entitle you to say anything you want in any forum anywhere in the world, or even every forum in the US. Individual owners of individual spaces (which is what websites/blogs are) can police the speech in their space without any fear of violating the first amendment. Your right to say what you think does NOT entitle you to say it wherever you want; it does entitle you to find a place where your speech will be accepted, but it does NOT compel any particular space to accept/publish your speech. 

So all you people who whine about how blogs like Shakesville or tumblrs like STFUsexists are impinging on your “free speech” by not publishing your sexist/racist/anti-gay/ableist/etc. comments? You are dead fucking wrong. They may be limiting the discourse in their spaces, but that is COMPLETELY within their rights and does NOT interfere with your right to free speech. 

So really? STFU already. Find something else, something legitimate, something that doesn’t make you sound like a whining child, to complain about. And then go find somewhere else to peddle your bullshit, because the SJ blogosphere has NO obligation to indulge your crap.


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    Ding ding ding!
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    I cannot count the number of times I have responded to someone bleating FREE SPEECH that they simply don’t understand...
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