Free Speech for All?


“You'd have to be delusional to think that removing Imgur pics will silence [us]. Oh wait, you are delusional because you think silencing the truth changes it, but alas, delete the pics, and you're still fat,” says a user in response to their Reddit community, /r/FatPeopleHate, having its images removed from imgur’s front page...

In response to their images being removed, /r/FatPeopleHate, which is dedicated to ridiculing overweight people, maliciously published identifying information of the administration of imgur (Reddit’s most commonly used image hosting service).

After that, on June 11th, the administration of Reddit announced that it will begin banning communities that are used “as a platform to harass individuals when moderators don’t take action.” /r/FatPeopleHate was among the communities banned. This decision immediately became the subject of much controversy, but it brings to light one of Reddit’s persistent social justice issues: at what point should we stop using the right to free speech to defend unjust or even cruel ideas?

The administration of Reddit consistently supports free speech, hosting numerous controversial communities dedicated to socially questionable topics. At the same time, it maintains its stance on free speech after the announcement to ban harassment, with administrators stating, “We’re banning behavior, not ideas.”

The decision has been criticized as a charade intended to silence critics for banning communities that make Reddit look bad. Regardless of the motives of the decision, the problem it illustrates is real.

“Social justice retards strike again with obvious attempts to silence those that disagree with them,” says a user of /r/FatPeopleHate. I believe, as this quote demonstrates, that human thought can be ugly, and free expression of these thoughts can be just as ugly. Freedom of speech does not imply freedom from the consequences of free speech, and this can be used to justify an individual’s free speech. However, a community using free speech to promote unjust or cruel ideas can be more problematic, because having a community that promotes unjust ideas can make one’s ideology even more extreme. It’s easy to justify rational free speech as an open discussion of relevant issues, but irrational or unjust ideas might not deserve such an open platform. This type of platform gives more power to cruel or unjust ideas and people buy into them purely because there is a forum.

It is clear that this issue is complex and that there can be many ways to think about it. It is a necessary consequence of the right to free speech that people will use that right in ways not everyone agrees with, but given these consequences, it is important to remember the social costs of allowing free speech in these types of online spaces.

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