does free speech come with a commensurate responsibility to listen?

  • Note: I’m a little disappointed at the current proliferation of offensive, false, bigoted, misleading, hate-based, and trumped up memes and posts on social media. Hence the question on the table:

Does Facebook Have a Front Porch?

Good morning, Internet. Today I have a legitimate “public conversation” question I’d like to get your thoughts on. “Is airing your views on social media┬ámore like A) setting up a microphone in the mall? B) publishing a newspaper column? or C) ranting in the anonymity of your own living room? Or, is it more like holding forth on your own front porch?

So here’s the story. I’m a huge supporter of free speech; everyone has the right to express their thoughts on any subject, no matter how rude (or polite), bigoted (or gracious), ignorant (or well-informed), boorish (or open-spirited); that’s what the right to free expression means.

But then there’s an equal right – a commensurate ┬áprivilege – for other people to applaud or object; because dissent – or approval – is also free speech. You can’t claim the freedom to express your opinion on the one hand, and on the other squash dissenting voices.

You do, however (if you don’t have the stomach for rebuttal) have the right to air your views privately. I’d liken this to flying your swastika, or your “God agrees with all my narrow views and prejudices” flag in your living room. There you go; rant away; you’re not foisting your views on the world. No need for me to knock your door down and then yell at you for your ideas.

What about the front porch?

But what about the front porch? Don’t laugh, this is a serious question. Someone on Facebook used this idea recently to defend their decision to repress disagreement after they had posted something disagreeable. “You are a guest on my front porch….” Ergo, I can delete your comments, I can disparage you, and I can treat you with highhanded condescension. Why? because – well – this is my front porch, and you have no right to say anything that doesn’t fit the echo-chamber I am trying to construct.

You Be the Judge:

So, social media friends, is a front porch that much of a private space? And, if social media front porches actually exist, isn’t it true that we can still see the offensive postings from the street? And… don’t we have the right – as neighbors walking up and down the street – to voice disappointment at (and arguments against) your bigoted memes, posts, and views? And… don’t we also have the right to walk up to your front steps and engage you in conversation, right there on your porch?

IMG_9866
I’m listening, America!

If not, if we don’t have the right to express our concern, then doesn’t it make more sense to voice your rude, bigoted, ignorant, boorish views in the privacy of your living room, with the windows sealed tight, so you can remain out of sight, and out of mind, and immune from being held to account?

So, dear Internet, does free speech for us extend to those who disagree with our speech? I’ll take your comments now.

– DEREK

3 comments

  1. We have a citizen down the street who posts signs in his front yard disparaging one and all, Jews, Catholics, gays, blacks and who knows what tomorrow brings. All the comments I have heard are in the nature of forgiving the foolish hater, at least we know what we’ve got here. No laws broken, let him be. Any thoughts on this?

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    • I love the attitude of forgiveness. I’d also be curious to have a conversation with him…. 90% listening… then take it from there.
      Thanks for sharing. Peace and more – Derek

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  2. I just had this conversation with a friend of mine. I believe that everyone has the right to their own world view and to speak freely about their opinions–whatever those opinions might be–provided that no laws are broken. There are some who will be unoffended by any opinion, provided their own is free to give, while others are offended by everything that does not fit into their own set of ideals. There are bigots everywhere and always will be. Just like there are religious and political extremists. If we truly want freedom of speech, then we must weigh carefully that some people will get on their soapboxes and spew the most terrible garbage imaginable. There will also be others that will speak and enlighten us. Yes, we are all offended by nut jobs that hurl hatred, but then there are the Martin Luther Kings out there too. One thing to remember about MLK, is that in his time, what he was suggesting was outrageous, even criminal to some people, and in the end, he was murdered. But then society caught up with his beautiful, forward-thinking words. Thank God for freedom of speech and freedom of the press and other rights and liberties that we all just take for granted. Beware, because these rights are fragile, and there is evil in this world searching for a foothold to remove them. They start with the “good people” trying to do the “right thing” who, in their zeal, forget that ALL people are due the very rights and freedoms they are looking to censor. There will always be hatred because there is evil. Freedom of speech is not an evil though. People who are wicked bring forth wickedness. It’s just that the rest of us don’t want to hear their crap, but that’s too bad. They have the right to speak. But YES, others have the right to respond. However, no one has to take their opinions indoors to spare others. If you curtail one person’s freedoms, you start a slide down a slippery slope that will soon envelope everyone. Instead, I pick my battles and ignore what can be ignored. I consider the source when a bigot speaks, because he has the right to speak, even though he is a boor and a bane to the rest of us. But this, my friend, is the high price of liberty and democracy.

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