The misconstrued notion of this ideology has caused outcomes that were originally shielded from it
By CJ Sommerfeld, Staff Writer
Free speech does not mean full freedom in speech to me.
Freedom of speech is a political ideal that grants individuals personal liberty in expressing themselves. The principle affords persons full freedoms of speech as long as it does not promote hate. I think that this bit is often brushed aside when people throw around this principle to excuse their discriminatory words, however. Free speech does not mean full freedom in speech to me.
This ideal allows autonomy in both expression of opinions and liberties in seeking information regarding one’s views. This aids in a Liberal society, as the views of the people are not curated by politics, nor religion, or any other over-arching groups, but instead the beliefs of each individual are truly their own. This expression, however, is subject to the restrictions mentioned above; while free speech outlines the liberty to speak and source knowledge without censorship, I think this knowledge barricades all forms of hate propaganda.
The world has witnessed the repercussions of hate speech ten times over. One such recent example is Trump’s radical-right promotions, and the meme that is said to have aided in the man’s 2016 presidential election: Pepe the frog. While this cartoon amphibian was originally a non-political character in the comic “Boy’s Club,” it was adopted and used as a face for what some call right-wing extremists. In proliferating such, many people swear that by disseminating these memes during the 2016 election, Trump was “memed into the Whitehouse.” I believe Pepe the frog is one such example of large-scale consequences which hate propaganda can manifest.
Despite the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) including Pepe as a hate symbol in their database, meme creators and sharers were never stopped from spreading their racist glee and other bigotries that align with the alt-right movement. Although the first amendment in the United States Constitution safeguards freedom of speech, this right allows people to share their thoughts, beliefs, and opinions up until they promote hate or attack individuals and groups. One cannot disseminate hate speech nor hate propaganda and excuse it by saying that it is their freedom. Hate speech does not coexist with freedom of speech. Unfortunate, many of these neo-Nazis expressed that they were using the frog’s face as a symbol of free speech.
Just as Pepe became a face for the alt-right movement, something similar can be said about JK Rowling transforming into a face for transphobic persons. I wrote a piece regarding this topic a few weeks back. Similarly, Rowling uses free speech to cover her what some deem as transgender views; in an essay she wrote: “I’m interested in freedom of speech and have publicly defended it[…]” Some believe her self-assuming freedom of speech has created harmful repercussions against transgender people—regardless of if that was her intention or not. Some say that anti-trans believers have clung to her name as a face to perpetuate their views. One such example is the “I <3 JK Rowling” sign that was set up in Vancouver this September. While not everyone agreed that erecting a sign to propagate the author’s seemingly anti-transgender views was considered hate speech, perhaps the commissioner’s succeeding actions may reinforce his transphobic views and the manifested by-products of Rowling’s speech. This billboard commissioner attended a Green party campaign for transgender Green party candidate, Nicola Spurling. To it, he wore a sign that read “I <3 JK Rowling” on the front, and “Gender ideology does not belong in schools” on the back. After being arrested for antagonizing, he wrote on social media that he would be back the next day. Although there is no way to prove direct causation between this and Rowling’s Twitter posts, I think it is seemingly another consequence of her discriminatory words against this group of people.
Hate speech and propaganda are not isolated actions, as they often manifest consequences. In an ADL international leadership award speech, Sacha Baron Cohen (also known as Borat) acknowledges the bigotry and prejudices that occur globally and explains that it is because of these forever-happening discriminations that lead him to create the characters which he had. In this speech, Cohen shines light on the bigotry that many of us are so conditioned to, the verbal dispersal of prejudices further perpetuates these norms.
Again, free speech does not mean full freedom of speech to me. This political ideal was created to give individuals liberty while simultaneously protecting them, we should veer from the outcomes that occurred from both Pepe and Rowling propaganda.