Posts sufficient means to define it as terroristic speech

Posts such as Geert Wilders’,
when following Mill, should not be suppressed as they are simply expressing a
subjective matter of opinion, which does not fall into the bracket of
terroristic speech. Therefore, to censor this would be to censor a person’s
most basic right of free speech. This situation where we are required to
balance the offensive nature of subjects that are contrary to our own beliefs
and principles and the continuing support we must show for free speech creates a
complex situation.

 

As such, endorsement
is something that I do not consider as terroristic speech insofar that it does
not directly incite violence or harm to others. I accept that endorsement of
terrorism could be hurtful, offensive or perhaps just irritating or
uncomfortable, but this is not sufficient means to define it as terroristic
speech and therefore liable for censorship. We cannot accept mere annoyance or disagreement as a harm, as this could
mean that everything might in some way be seen as harmful; even celebrating the
win of a football team as the losing fans may find it annoying. Expressions of
anger, annoyance and upset, no matter how disagreeable must be seen as
protected speech. In this way, one could argue the same for hate speech, unless
it is hate speech also inciting illegal activity or violence. 

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I believe that an important, and culturally and
socially uniting, part of censorship is the ability to ‘self-censor’. I am not
referring to self-censoring in the common sense of the word; more that it
involves the avoidance of criticism, and in addition involves the avoidance of
causing offense, upsetting others, and complaint. For example, avoiding the use
of vulgarity, racist or sexist jokes, or bad language; such ‘political
correctness’ is a form of self-censorship. We all can censor ourselves and can
also choose to not listen to the speech of others if it causes annoyance. Social
media posts that cause irritation should not be censored, but freedom from
association is a better method, whereby we do not have to click, listen or
‘like’. As I mentioned in my definition of free speech however, free speech requires a protected space to be heard,
but it does not guarantee that you will be listened to. People have the right
not to listen. It is simply the case that you have the opportunity to be heard.

This is what the protected space provides: the opportunity for an audience.

 

When
exploring the idea that users of social media platforms may simply have to
accept that posts which many may find offensive will make their way to our own personal
social media sites, we must remember that as readers we have our own right of
censorship, the same right that allows us to choose to ignore a distasteful
joke. Freedom of dis-association is just important as the freedom of
association. Those who chose to post something distasteful or offensive on
public social media platforms recognize their freedom of speech to comment on
something; the reader must then recognise their own freedom of disassociation
to ignore what they have said. An endorsement of terrorism may cause the same
annoyance, but it is within our right and should be our own responsibility to
make it be ignored, we do not need law to prohibit this, we just need to take
responsibility to make a competent moral judgement to decide what we read or
ignore online. After all, social media platforms do give us the ability to
scroll, block and delete.

 

Counter

 

Clearly, this
argument in favour of freedom of endorsement of illegal acts could
unfortunately lead to outcomes that we may find personally distasteful. In one
sense, it gives a safety net for some expressions of offense to be said without
any implications, provided it falls under the bracket of free speech. This not
only applies to offensive posts from the side of terrorists, but also from our
own. This raises another issue in allowing some forms of hate speech to arise
on social media in reaction to terrorist attacks, for example the blatant rise
in anti-Semitic talk online in the aftermath of a terrorist attack; much of
which is overly generalised. In many cases, social media reactions to terrorism
fall under the bracket of hate speech, where a person could be accepted in stating
‘All Muslims are evil’. Moreover, following my definitions of free speech and
Mill’s harm principle these crude messages fall in the bracket of protected
free speech. However, calls for ‘driving them out of the country’ or ‘burning
down their shops’ incite violence in the same way as an act of terrorism and falls
under the bracket of terroristic speech and therefore must be prohibited.

 

Another
difficulty with using Mill’s Harm principle is that there is dispute and
controversy over what constitutes harm, and how we resolve the decision on what
is at stake. (Dripps 1998, pp.21) Throughout his vast works, Mill unfortunately
never overtly defines what he means by harm, so there is difficulty in deciding
who should determine harm. Where we can find many clear-cut examples of harmful
acts, such as plotting a direct act of murder on social media, some may argue
that much of what we call terroristic speech is actually a legitimate form of
political speech. 

 

Whereas
it is beyond the scope of this essay to discuss whether acceptance of these
acts is legitimate, liberals argue that the lines of legitimacy should be drawn
up through public consensus and elected representatives, rather than the
providers of social media. The process by which democratic consensus can be
considered to be legitimate from a liberal perspective has been covered in
great depth by philosopher John Rawls. I believe that Rawls is the key to
answering the ethical question of who should be responsible for determining
harm. Rawls aligns with Mill’s conception of a liberal society taking many of
his concepts as starting points but applying them to a more contemporary
political situation. According to Rawls, justice is a
concept of fairness based on liberty of and equality among people, providing
that people are free and capacitated enough to use their rational minds and
take decisions that benefit the whole of society in short, medium and long-term
developments. (Rawls 1985 pp.74)

 

John Rawls

 

Rawls’
Theory of Justice, and how consensus ought to be achieved in accordance with
liberal principles, links elements of Rawls philosophy that apply to the
internet with my argument. With regards to the internet and
social media, to remain a free, rational and self-determined social media user
we simply must apply Rawls’ theory of justice as a theory of ‘cyber justice’
i.e. justice in the platforms of the online world, where its users have the
ability to participate freely with near unlimited access to information and
expression. In a utopian world, this notion of cyber justice would work, but the
reality is users are able to manipulate, censor and misuse this gift of
information via the internet and social media. (Mihr 2017 pp.163)