Free Speech As Long As I Approve Of It

The latest right-wing social media platform touting its free speech credentials has some notable exceptions to those freedoms – swearing and porn.

There’s a curious aspect to the new wave of Free Speech supporters. Well, maybe not that curious actually – it’s more like reverting to type and human nature. But the people who are most likely to wail about cancel culture and the silencing of un-PC opinions – which is definitely a thing and something that we should be very concerned about – all too often seem very happy to shut down the opinions and ideas that they don’t like. Not seeing that their opponents think in exactly the same way, they believe that certain ideas, opinions, words and beliefs should be silenced, outlawed and demonised because they don’t approve of them – and such disapproval means that these ideas are dangerous, unlike, say, the ideas that they do like but which others find hateful and dangerous. Everyone is in favour of free speech that they agree with – that’s a remarkably easy position to take. Supporting the stuff that upsets and offends you is where you really show your commitment to free expression.

I’m reminded of this again as I read about Frank, the (latest) supposed ‘free speech’ social media platform. Frank calls itself “the platform for free speech” and pitches itself as a mix of YouTube and Twitter (whatever that could be), and certainly, those two sites need an alternative to their increasingly biased censorial regime, where difficult or unpopular opinions are constantly removed and users suspended seemingly on the whim of politically motivated moderators. The problem is that when alternatives come along, they tend to be immediately populated – either by design or accident – by the very worst of the people that the other sites have booted out and their supporters, and become every bit as much echo chambers as the rest – with an added sense of hatred and Christian moralising.

Frank, at least, is making no bones about the fact that its idea of ‘free speech’ is going to be very selective. Essentially, it’ll be ‘speech that CEO Mike Lindell approves of’, and that isn’t going to be very free at all.

Lindell – a Trump-supporting businessman who was booted off Twitter for spreading far-right conspiracy theories about the last US election and Covid denial, and appears to have set up this platform as a sort of hissy-fit reaction – has declared that while people can speak their minds, they’ll be booted off the platform if they swear – more specifically, if they use “the C-word, the F-word, the N-word or God’s name in vain.” You might think that one of these things is not like the others, but then you are probably not in the target audience for the site. Also banned is pornography, which he rather dubiously compares to threatening to kill someone in terms of unacceptability. As he explained to radio host Eric Metaxas:

“‘You’re going to let everything go? Porn? Swearing? Everything?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely not. We have a thing we found in the Constitution and our founding fathers that defines what free speech is. And Eric, get this, this Judeo-Christian platform we’re going to have here, they go by biblical principles – you know, you get to the Supreme Court, you have the Ten Commandments there – so, in other words, you’re not going to have porn up there, you’re not going to have these sites that contain material that go against our Constitution, go against what our founding fathers put in there.”

I’d like to see the newly uncovered part of the US constitution that specifically outlaws porn, but I’m no scholar on the subject. Of course, plenty of other sites across the political divide have a blanket ban on porn, so let’s not get too judgemental here. Somehow though, I can’t see Frank being any more liberal in its interpretation of ‘porn’ than Instagram is, which means anything from bare buttocks upward. He also claims that he won’t allow ” bearing false witness” – that is, labelling and lying about people, which seems a good thing – but we’ll see how strongly that is enforced compared to the moral clauses.

Call us pedants if you like, but surely a free speech site should allow all speech – including visual content – that doesn’t break the law? To kick someone off for saying ‘Jesus Fucking Christ’ or showing their boobs is, of course, Lindell’s prerogative – it’s his site and he can do whatever he wants – but as soon as you start putting moral or personal restrictions on what can be said and shown, then you are not a free speech platform. There are legal limits, certainly – incitement to violence, libel, non-consensual sexual images – but beyond that, if you are seriously supporting free speech, then anything and everything should go. Frank, it seems, is a Christian platform – and Christians are not widely noted for their support of free expression.

There’s a desperate need for an alternative to Twitter and Facebook – one that allows all ideas to be explored and removes all censorship other than that mandated by the law. Sadly, I think we are now too tribal for one to ever emerge – any anti-Twitter is going to be, understandably, heavily populated by the sort of people that Twitter has kicked off, then attacked as an alt-right cesspit by the Left (who could, of course, all just join up and shift the narrative) and increasingly marginalised. Social media needs free expression – full free expression – on all sides, or else it just becomes an increasingly toxic echo chamber. As we’ve seen already, that just means that the mouthy extremists of either side of the divide get to have the only voices that are heard, and it leads to a sense of tribalism that is increasingly violent and oppressive.


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