March 31, 2019 – 5:20 am


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Stand and deliver. Your views need to be heard not blown away. By Thomas Knapp.

Everywhere one looks these days, the world seems to be moving away from debate on contentious subjects and toward demands that those who have unpopular opinions - or even just ask impertinent questions - be forcibly silenced.

“You will never hear me mention his name,” prime minister Jacinda Ardern said of Brenton Tarrant, the sole suspect in two deadly attacks on mosques in Christchurch. “He may have sought notoriety but here in New Zealand we will give him nothing - not even his name.”

That’s fine as a personal decision, I guess, but not as a top-down decision for her fellow New Zealanders. Even as Ardern spoke, police working for her government  were arresting at least two people for sharing the shooter’s live-streamed video of the attacks on social media.

Across the Tasman Sea, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison is calling on the governments of G20 countries to implement measures “including appropriate filtering, detecting and removing of content by actors who encourage, normalise, recruit, facilitate or commit terrorist and violent atrocities.”

Let’s be clear about what Morrison, other “world leaders,” and significant segments of activist communities and even the general public, are demanding (and to a frightful degree already implementing): Internet censorship.

The only appropriate response to “bad” speech - that is, speech one disagrees with - is “better” speech.

This isn’t really a new development. The mosque attacks are merely the latest incident weaponized by politicians and activists in service to a long-running campaign against public discussion and debate that requires them to make arguments and persuade instead of just bark orders and compel.

The fictional “memory hole” of the IngSoc regime in George Orwell’s 1984 stood for more than half a century as an oft-cited and wisely acknowledged warning. Now that hole is opening up beneath us for real and threatening to suck us down into a new Dark Age of “thoughtcrime” and “unpersons.”

The threat is content-independent. Renaming climate change skeptics as “deniers” and demanding “investigations” of them, or pressuring media to ban discussions of policy on vaccines, is just as evil as suing Alex Jones for promulgating bizarre theories about the Sandy Hook massacre.

The only appropriate response to “bad” speech - that is, speech one disagrees with - is “better” speech.

Attempting to shut down your opponents’ ability to participate in an argument isn’t itself a winning argument. Forbidding your opponents to speak to a problem doesn’t solve that problem. In fact, those tactics are tantamount to admitting that your arguments are less persuasive and that your solutions can’t withstand scrutiny.

Freedom of thought and expression are primary, foundational rights. They make it possible for us to hash out issues and solve problems peaceably instead of by force. Any attempt to suppress them is itself a call for totalitarianism and the alternative to those liberties is social and political death.

Note: Thomas L Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida. The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

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  2. “The only appropriate response to “bad” speech - that is, speech one disagrees with - is “better” speech.”

    The problem is when everyone has a soap-box and a megaphone, the gift of the internet in general and social media specifically, the voices of reason, the thoughtful, articulate debaters, are shouted down, drown out, lost in the cacophony of brute, knee-jerk reaction of people who respond to their base instincts rather than the nobler distinctions coming from the intellect. I absolutely agree that censorship will never solve any of the problems that plague us but neither will uncontrolled shouting matches. There is truth in the old cliché that we are only as strong as our weakest link. We need to bolster the weak links to become stronger, not eliminate them.

    By Mink Stollen on Apr 1, 2019

  3. I thought this article was pretty apt, especially when one considers what is regularly discussed in the ROIO section of this site, where others frequently demand the comments section to be shut down because of trolls. I wonder what to make of this, mainly because there are many different types of ‘bad speech’; ranging from the nonsensical (I think all trollish comments are nonsensical, even if they are designed to inflame people) to racist, sexist, homophobic- for a start. And given all of these different ways that one can express oneself badly, I wonder if there is any single remedy- to completely avoid suppression and take the idealistic stance that better speech will help- or to take a situational response, based on what is happening in each case. I don’t advocate suppression, but giving others a free ride by not shutting them down when there is no sign of better speech working- makes me wonder about this.

    In terms of what was mentioned in the article, however, one can also note that the tendency for world leaders to advocate more internet suppression in response to what happened recently in NZ, is not the right answer, and I praise the writer here and this site for publishing such a piece.

    I just think in general we need to be mindful of situations rather than taking any prescripted response.

    By Trevor on Apr 2, 2019

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