The Daily Stormer & the Limits of “Free Speech.”
The recent display of hatred and violence at Charlottesville’s protest was truly shocking. It left one woman dead, Heather Heyer, killed and many injured when a White Supremacist, James Alex Field ran his car into the crowd. The dramatic events at Charlottesville were very well documented in Who HBO-Vice’s “Race& Terror.”
GoDaddy, Inc. the web-hosting company decided to ban the Daily Stormer’s site after it posted an article ridiculing Heather, the victim.
Ben Butler, a director at GoDaddy said:
“While we detest the sentiment of such sites, we support a free and open internet and, align along the principles of free speech, that sometimes means allowing such tasteless, ignorant content.
He added, however:
“In instances where a site goes beyond the mere exercise of these freedoms, however, and crosses over to promoting, encouraging, or otherwise engaging in violence against any person, we will take action. In our determination, especially given the tragic events in Charlottesville, Dailystormer.com crossed the line and encouraged and promoted violence.”
These recent events revive a century-old debate as to what are the limits of free speech.
There are very few things in life that are limitless. However strong our principles, values or beliefs are, we live in a world of limits and ethics often, helps us draw the line of the limit.
People often misunderstand the very concept of free speech believing that “anything goes.” That is not exactly true. The Fifth Amendment does state that:
“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 the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. “
Yet, the Supreme Court has, over time, established several restrictions, (limits) of “Free Speech.” For example, incitement to commit suicide, false statements, obscenity, child pornography, fighting words and offensive speech are not protected by the Fifth Amendment.
The word “censorship” has a very bad connotation, particularly when it relates to the press. We witness its damaging effect on people in autocratic societies. Censorship, in such countries infringes on personal freedom.
The French Enlightenment philosopher, Voltaire once wrote: “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to death your right to say it.” Joan Vennochi, the Boston Globe columnist would agree. In her article: “Protesters Face a Tricky Balance of Free Speech” she deplores the harassment and public shaming of a few conservative activists by Free Speech and anti-haters proponents at a Boston protest event. She believes that such behavior can be counterproductive. She writes: “I hope that by silencing their enemies they don’t empower them and give them a louder megaphone than they had before.”
Censorship is a tool that can be used either for good or for evil.
In a democracy, we have the option and privilege to auto-censor ourselves. Ultimately, We the People, get to decide how it is used. Before allowing our government any censorship, we should assess its true purpose. We should make sure before we concede that the intent of the censorship is truly for the common good. Only then should we grant to the government the right to censor.”
Stephen Spielberg once said:
“There is a fine line between censorship and good taste and moral responsibility.”