Americans Want to Ban Hate Speech But Can’t Define It

Two-thirds want social media platforms to ban harassment and racist, sexist, and other offensive speech.


Adam G. Klein, a Communication Studies professor at Pace University and the author of Fanaticism, Racism, and Rage Online: Corrupting the Digital Sphere, published an interesting essay two days before the Christchurch massacre titled “FEAR, MORE THAN HATE, FEEDS ONLINE BIGOTRY AND REAL-WORLD VIOLENCE.”

His setup:

When a U.S. senator asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, “Can you define hate speech?” it was arguably the most important question that social networks face: how to identify extremism inside their communities.

Hate crimes in the 21st century follow a familiar pattern in which an online tirade escalates into violent actions. Before opening fire in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the accused gunman had vented over far-right social network Gab about Honduran migrants traveling toward the U.S. border, and the alleged Jewish conspiracy behind it all. Then he declared, “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” The pattern of extremists unloading their intolerance online has been a disturbing feature of some recent hate crimes. But most online hate isn’t that flagrant, or as easy to spot.

As I found in my 2017 study on extremism in social networks and political blogs, rather than overt bigotry, most online hate looks a lot like fear. It’s not expressed in racial slurs or calls for confrontation, but rather in unfounded allegations of Hispanic invaders pouring into the country, black-on-white crime or Sharia law infiltrating American cities. Hysterical narratives such as these have become the preferred vehicle for today’s extremists – and may be more effective at provoking real-world violence than stereotypical hate speech.

So far, so good. Klein observes,

[S]ocial networks have the unique capacity to turn down the volume on intolerance if they determine that a user has in fact breached their terms of service. For instance, in April 2018, Facebook removed two pages associated with white nationalist Richard Spencer. A few months later, Twitter suspended several accounts associated with the far-right group The Proud Boys for violating its policy “prohibiting violent extremist groups.”

Still, some critics argue that the networks are not moving fast enough. There is mounting pressure for these websites to police the extremism that has flourished in their spaces, or else become policed themselves. A recent Huffpost/YouGov survey revealed that two-thirds of Americans wanted social networks to prevent users from posting “hate speech or racist content.”

As I’ve noted many times over the years, most recently in my post-Christchurch essay, “Media, Free Speech, and Violent Extremists,” I both support de-platforming those who foment violence and fear how government and/or the decisionmakers at social media sites might go about doing so.

The public definitely wants social media companies to block more content:

But what any of this entails is debatable, I’d argue.

What’s harassment, for example? Obviously, spewing racist insults against members of minority groups, sexist attacks against women, and the like qualify. But what about the swarming attacks that occur when high-follower-count people quote tweet people with whom they disagree, launching hundreds if not thousands of @’s against someone? Does it matter if that someone is a public figure or otherwise powerful? Is “dead-naming” a transgender individual harassment? Twitter says it is and I tend to agree. But let’s not pretend that this doesn’t stifle debate on a hotly-contested issue that we’re still very much struggling to come to terms with as a society.

It’s hard to make a case for the virtue of “spreading conspiracy theories or false information.” But who gets to says what’s a conspiracy or what’s false? Is it verboten to talk about UFOs and Area 51? How about the alleged Trump pee tape? Allegations that the Trump campaign and/or administration are tools of the Russian government? Apparently, we’ve decided that anti-vax lunacy must be banned. With about global warming denialism?

“Hate speech or racist content” combines the problems of both of the previous categories. There are some groups it’s okay to hate, right? Nazis and other fascists are the most obvious example. Surely, we’re not going to ban people who say they hate Nazis? Similarly, it would be ironic, indeed, to ban denunciation of the Ku Klux Klan or other hate groups as hate speech.

Indeed, the public that is overwhelmingly in favor of banning it doesn’t actually agree on what it is they want to ban:

I’m something of a free speech absolutist and don’t think any words are inherently “hateful” or “offensive.” Context always matters.

For as long as I can remember, black Americans have been trying to reclaim “nigger” and its variants. While he eventually came to regret it, Richard Pryor did it for much of his career and other black comics—most of them, actually—have followed suit. More recently, the gay community has done the same, reclaiming slur words that were frequently hurled against them, most notably “queer.” Surely, it’s neither hateful nor offensive in those contexts.

Statements like “transgender people have a mental disorder” or “homosexuality is a sin” are in a different category. Expressed earnestly, they’re almost inherently hurtful and offensive. Yet both were mainstream beliefs well into my adult lifetime. And, it seems to me, debating these topics openly has moved the needle quite a bit in the right direction.

The notion that “undocumented immigrants should be imported” is offensive, let alone hateful, is bizarre. What if it were phrased, “the United States should enforce its laws” would it be? Now, more inflammatory statements—oh, “most Mexican immigrants are rapists” or “we’re being invaded by people from shithole countries”–could certainly be construed as hateful or offensive. But I’m not sure that exposing those ideas to rational discourse isn’t still the best strategy.

Some of the other examples, such as “all white people are racist” or “America is an evil country” or “police are racist,” strike me as almost dangerous to include on the list. Those are matters of political opinion, all of which are ripe topics for healthy debate. The notion that they should be banned from any platform is highly problematic.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Gender Issues, Public Opinion Polls, Race and Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Teve says:

    Update from Florida, where the voters voted overwhelmingly to reenfranchise people with felony convictions:

    A Republican-majority house committee is voting to require anyone who wants their voting rights restored to have to pay newly-invented “court costs” of probably hundreds of dollars.

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  2. CSK says:

    Free speech absolutist here. As a writer, I have to be, even if it weren’t my general inclination.

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  3. Teve says:

    The adolescent-brained billionaires who own social media are really happy with the current situation of reaping all the financial rewards from being a defacto unregulated utility, while assuming none of the responsibility, but I think that’s just because the medium is still young and that will change soon.

  4. Tyrell says:

    Who is going to define “hate” speech? A lot of these people who favor banning hate speech probably think “my hate speech is okay, but your hate speech is not.” See the problem? When the tables are turned on them, it is a different matter.
    The private social media (Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, and others) certainly has the right to remove any videos or statements for whatever reason they want. But they should not turn around and try to claim that they are not slanted or biased.
    I think that the control, limitations, and censorship of speech is itself hate speech.
    I saw some interviews of some students who said they would favor limits on freedom of speech. But when asked about limits on their own speech they stuttered and backtracked faster than Blalock’s bull.
    When I see these conspiracy theorists statements and programs removed, that simply puts in my mind that they just might be onto something.
    Congress is hollering demands that they should have access to the Mueller report. How about some of the other files that the government still keeps secret? What if I demanded to be able to see them?

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  5. grumpy realist says:

    OT: Brexit report: damifino. Total chaos at present. Whee!

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  6. Jay L Gischer says:

    It’s interesting that, in terms of policy, we are pretty much aligned. I’m not thrilled with what might result from any sort of ban on “hate speech” perpetrated by the government. I’m happy to endorse private citizens and private enterprises setting their own standards and publicizing them, but not so much the government.

    And, curiously, I don’t know that I’m the slightest bit interested in debating such statements as “trans people are an abomination”, “the gays are perverts”, “we need to kill all the Muslims”, or even, “all white people are racist”.

    Yes, this speech is political. And, I don’t think these statements are invitations to debate and discussion. Honestly, they seem like more of an attempt to be definitive and foreclose debate. To me, they are a signal that I should not talk to the speaker. I’m not the slightest bit interested in debating the basic humanity of my family members, friends, colleagues and business associates.

    And as long as it isn’t a government saying those things, I don’t care.

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  7. Kathy says:

    I’m wondering if something as simple as a delay might help.

    Today you post anywhere, and your golden prose gets distributed to millions (potentially) within a moment, and they are “shared” just as fast. There was a case where a woman taking a flight to Africa, I think, made an injudicious tweet, and it had gone viral and caused quite a kerfuffle before her plane landed.

    So, how about just holding any message, post, tweet, photo, etc. for a couple of hours? This would also allow a human moderator to judge the content against the terms of service.

    Of course, “there’s a downside to everything.” Leaving aside the adverse effect it would have on social media companies (boo hoo), it might drive users to platforms like WhatsApp, where the content is encrypted and harder to police.

    I mention this mostly as a thought experiment, as I know there is no chance of social media ever slowing down.

    Also, it may be possible it’s not so much the speed, but the numbers of people a message reaches.

  8. Mister Bluster says:

    I am definately in favor of Twitter holding Trump’s Tweets for a couple of hours and allowing me to review them before their release.
    I also want to be the one who reviews your posts on OTB before publication.
    And Tyrell’s and Reynolds’ and Pierce and everyone else.
    I’m retired and don’t have much to do.
    How can this be set up?

  9. Andy says:

    I generally agree with your take and I am also a free speech absolutist.

    I still remember the days when the ACLU went to court to defend the right of Neo-Nazi’s to march in Jewish and black neighborhoods. They were always dwarfed by counter-protestors. I tend to think it’s much more useful to do the same thing with hate speech – let it be exposed to the light so people can see what it really is.

    Attempting to suppress or stamp it out is like trying to crush jello with your hand – you can’t actually ban anything in the internet age. Banning on major platforms only herd the haters to the fringe, like-minded sites like 8chan where they can build a community of hate, and feed on each other’s grievances, and feel justified in doing so as a reaction to being outsiders – IOW it strengthens them and their message.

    Finally, the attempts police speech are not being done effectively or fairly. Take this NYT expose on Facebook’s attempt at moderation. What a sh!t-show.

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  10. Mister Bluster says:

    Looks like Congressman Nunes has had it with hate speech directed at him and his family.

    Rep. Devin Nunes sues Twitter for $250 million
    Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has sued Twitter and three of its users for $250 million in damages, alleging that he was defamed and that the social media juggernaut engages in the “shadow-banning” of conservative opinions and selectively enforces its terms of service to benefit opponents of the Republican Party.

  11. Kathy says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    I’m comfortable with Twitter banning Trump for life.

    If you want to moderate my posts, I’d trust you with them.

  12. DrDaveT says:

    But let’s not pretend that [prohibiting dead-naming] doesn’t stifle debate on a hotly-contested issue

    Huh? This makes no sense.

    There is no ‘debate’ in an epithet; only an expression of contempt. It does not argue for a position, beyond the implied assertion that “those people” do not deserve civil treatment. This is not discourse. There is no position you can take, no argument you can make, that requires dead-naming to be articulated.

    Unlike most of the commenters above, I am not a free speech absolutist. I do not believe Jenny McCarthy has a Constitutional right to murder people with her speeches about vaccines, any more than Typhoid Mary had a right to spread lethal infection. But I especially don’t believe that the Constitution protects speech that is mere invective, or inarticulate snarling.

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  13. Gustopher says:

    Statements like “transgender people have a mental disorder” or “homosexuality is a sin” are in a different category. Expressed earnestly, they’re almost inherently hurtful and offensive.

    I’m not sure you are using “earnestly” correctly. But mostly I want to poke at the “these are clearly hate speech”….

    Transgender people have gender dysphoria, where the physical body and the mind do not agree. Right now, our best treatments are to modify the body, but it’s entirely possible that in the future altering the brain chemistry might prove to be an equally attractive alternative. But, I don’t know know that we can say whether the brain or the body is correct.

    I find the “transgender people have a mental disorder” statement offensive because it depends on the stigma associated with mental disorders. A mental disorder is no worse than a liver disorder — most are manageable, some are not.

    Likewise, there are religions where being gay is a sin. It becomes a simple statement of fact. It might be a crappy religion or people might be overemphasizing a small sin, but stated flatly, it’s just a fact.

  14. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    Attempting to suppress or stamp it out is like trying to crush jello with your hand – you can’t actually ban anything in the internet age. Banning on major platforms only herd the haters to the fringe, like-minded sites like 8chan where they can build a community of hate, and feed on each other’s grievances, and feel justified in doing so as a reaction to being outsiders – IOW it strengthens them and their message.

    I’m curious about what would happen if Twitter and Facebook just started labeling hateful content, and then eventually the people who post it.

    Minimal censorship, just labeling. Would the “Racist” badge be sought out? Would normal people avoid it? Would Old Uncle Fritz stop posting conspiracy theories if the “Conspiracy Theory” badge began appearing on his posts?

    Things about Trump and Russia would still be subject to interpretation, I think a “Tread Carefully” badge that links to a longer report about what is and isn’t known might be appropriate. There aren’t that many borderline cases though.

    Natural language processing and natural language processing could get us 90% accuracy, with some problems involving people commenting on racist conspiracy theories. Relying on posting history might help boost that.

    I long for the day when someone posts something about tax cuts pay for themselves, and the social network tags it “bullshit”

  15. wr says:

    @Tyrell: Apparently Tyrell saw a lot of bumper stickers today, and he decided to share them all with us.

  16. Mister Bluster says:

    @Kathy: You are so disarming.
    There’s no way I could keep up with your aquired knowledge. I’m guessing you sleep with a different book under your pillow every night and it’s contents are absorbed via osmosis into your brain.
    As far as Twitter banning Trump I like to think that the world somehow is better off knowing how ignorant he truly is.
    But it is getting old.

  17. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    I’m curious about what would happen if Twitter and Facebook just started labeling hateful content, and then eventually the people who post it.

    That doesn’t solve the problem though. You’re still relying on a third party to fairly objectively arbitrate what something means and categorize it correctly – impossible in a country with 320 million people much less a planet of billions.

    To me, the demands for social media companies to protect us from certain content is the social media equivalent of helicopter parenting. Instead of “Facebook, protect me from this content I don’t like” people should ask for the tools so they can block the content themselves. Twitter and Facebook already give users the ability to block people and groups, they could expand that to include blocking posts with keywords or other ways.

  18. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT:

    There is no ‘debate’ in an epithet; only an expression of contempt. It does not argue for a position, beyond the implied assertion that “those people” do not deserve civil treatment. This is not discourse. There is no position you can take, no argument you can make, that requires dead-naming to be articulated.

    I disagree. This is especially true when the person in question lived a long time seemingly identifying with their birth gender and then becomes an activist for transgender rights under the new name and identity. I think it’s a matter of common courtesy to call Caitlyn Jenner “Caitlyn Jenner.” But it’s weird as hell to do so in a manner that pretends someone called “Caitlyn Jenner” won the Olympic decathlon competing against men in 1976. (Indeed, I’d argue doing so hurts the trans rights cause.) Just the other day, there was an article about a woman who served 30 years in the Army as an infantry officer, reaching the rank of colonel. But by pretending she did so as a woman under her current name—not mentioning the name she used as an Army officer—deprived the reader of important information.

    So: Don’t be a jerk. If your point in using “Bruce Jenner” or “Bradley Manning” is to hurt someone’s feelings, don’t do it. But it’s often not hateful at all to use those names to refer to historical events.

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  19. Kathy says:

    @Gustopher:

    Transgender people have gender dysphoria, where the physical body and the mind do not agree. Right now, our best treatments are to modify the body, but it’s entirely possible that in the future altering the brain chemistry might prove to be an equally attractive alternative.

    Gays and Lesbians have an attraction to the same sex. Right now, our best treatment is to get them to accept it and to form relationships with others of the same sex, but ti’s entirely possible in the future we may be able to alter the brain chemistry, which just might prove to be an attractive alternative.

    But, I don’t know know that we can say whether the brain or the body is correct.

    There’s no question: the brain above everything else.

  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:
    What you said. Don’t hinder truth in an attempt to stifle lies.

  21. Modulo Myself says:

    The problem with racism and free speech is simple–we’re told two things. One, that banning hate speech will marginalize racism and make it worse. Two, that exercising free speech and talking about white privilege and racism will also make it worse, especially if you call a white person a racist. You can’t reconcile these arguments. If you think hate speech should not be banned, then you can’t worry that overblown rhetoric about white supremacy is also going to make racism worse.

    I don’t believe hate speech should be banned, but it’s clear to me that free speech as a means of communication doesn’t work. Respecting free speech is not why we listen and understand each other, or at the very least try to. The corner of the internet where people (let’s be clear: men) worship ‘free speech’ is creepy and abusive. It’s a place where everybody thinks that empathy is virtue signaling or a trick played on them by their ex-wife. You can’t communicate with an Alex Jones fan who thinks that Sandy Hook was a false flag operation. and you can’t communicate with Trump followers or with white people who are consistently aggrieved about their perceived lack of status. I do not blame people for giving up and not wanting these people in their existences.

  22. Kathy says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    I’m guessing you sleep with a different book under your pillow every night and it’s contents are absorbed via osmosis into your brain.

    Oh, that’s sweet. Like Clarke claimed Asimov typed four books at once, on with each hand and foot 🙂

    Actually I use my daily driving time (abt 60-120 minutes) and cooking time (abt. 200 minutes a week), listening to audio books and podcasts. That’s about ten hours a week, at a rough estimate.

    My gold mine has been the Great Courses lecture series, which can be had at Audible for the monthly credit.

  23. Slugger says:

    Does hate speech lead to violent actions? Abraham Lincoln was derided as an ape. Did this contribute to his assassination? In the first few minutes after hearing that JFK had been shot I assumed that some anti-Catholic hate was involved. I can believe that unstable minds can be influenced by hateful speech by others. On the other hand, clearly governments have imprisoned, tortured, and killed many while trying to maintain some ideal of “pure” thought.
    I think that the balance comes down on the side of free speech. Russia passed a law to jail people for disrespecting the government which is a step in the wrong direction.

  24. Andy says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    You can’t communicate with an Alex Jones fan who thinks that Sandy Hook was a false flag operation. and you can’t communicate with Trump followers or with white people who are consistently aggrieved about their perceived lack of status. I do not blame people for giving up and not wanting these people in their existences.

    There’s a solution for that – ignore them. Free speech doesn’t mean you have to engage with the speech you don’t like. If you know there’s no communication to be had, then move along with your life. And on the internet, this is really, really easy to do.

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  25. Tyrell says:

    @wr: I did see one today that still makes the rounds here:
    “Impeach Earl Warren”
    Evidently someone still prints those things, or the guy puts some kind of clear coat on it to protect it.

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  26. Modulo Myself says:

    @Andy:

    Yes, those parents of Sandy Hook ‘crisis actors’ should just ignore the death threats which have forced them into hiding. Problem solved! Or women should ignore creepy MRAs who follow them around the internet. Stalkers should just be ignored and they will go away. Everybody knows that, and if they don’t, another creepy dude will slide into your life and tell you. People love being ignored, right? Or doesn’t that lead to violence if you ignore white racists and their arguments? I can never remember what the argument is.

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  27. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy:

    Gays and Lesbians have an attraction to the same sex. Right now, our best treatment is to get them to accept it and to form relationships with others of the same sex, but ti’s entirely possible in the future we may be able to alter the brain chemistry, which just might prove to be an attractive alternative.

    All true. And I’ll go one further.

    Pedophiles have an attraction to children. Right now, our best treatment is to get them to deny themselves any sexual gratification and ensure that they not have access to children, but it’s entirely possible in the future we may be able to alter the brain chemistry, which just might prove to be an attractive alternative.

    Pedophiles are fundamentally different, in that they cannot act on their attractions without hurting other people. (And we have made all sorts of reporting requirements so they cannot safely talk to a doctor)

    But, in all three cases, you have three rough alternatives: accept the status quo, fix something, or deny it. That last one tends not to work.

    The more options you have for fixing something, the greater the chance that you will find something that works for an individual in their special circumstances — religious, cultural, physical, economic…

    There is also the risk that if drugs that modify the brain chemistry do become an effective treatment, parents will insist their children try them. This is akin to the people in the deaf community that think cochlear implants in children are a terrible thing that is destroying their culture. I think these people are idiots, but I’m not comfortable saying that they are committing child abuse.

    There’s no question: the brain above everything else.

    My anxiety problems would beg to differ. My friend’s depression would also beg to differ.

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  28. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    That doesn’t solve the problem though. You’re still relying on a third party to fairly objectively arbitrate what something means and categorize it correctly – impossible in a country with 320 million people much less a planet of billions

    Less impossible than you might think. Categorization is a nearly solved problem — as in “good enough”, which when given some cues from a reputation system, and some seed data, can be very powerful.

    Some judgement has to be made — Obama Birtherism is bullshit, for instance — and then by using that to see who traffics in known bullshit, you can start flagging everything else they traffic in as “likely bullshit”.

    Be transparent about the relationships, write up articles about some of the edge cases, and never censor, just editorialize. Sometimes it will be wrong, that’s why you need to be transparent.

    Maybe Infowars will try to game the system by publishing instructions on how to wash your hands correctly, to get some reputable content. Frankly, I would like those people to wash their hands better, so that seems like a win to me.

  29. Teve says:

    @Modulo Myself: when you hear someone say that 100% unregulated free speech with no restrictions is the way to go, what % of the time is it coming from a white male?

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  30. An Interested Party says:

    A Republican-majority house committee is voting to require anyone who wants their voting rights restored to have to pay newly-invented “court costs” of probably hundreds of dollars.

    It’s nice to see that Republicans want a 21st century version of poll taxes…hey wait, didn’t they used to be something that Democrats liked? How the world turns…

    Gays and Lesbians have an attraction to the same sex. Right now, our best treatment is to get them to accept it and to form relationships with others of the same sex, but ti’s entirely possible in the future we may be able to alter the brain chemistry, which just might prove to be an attractive alternative.

    Of course such a future treatment could work both ways…how interesting it would be to alter the brain chemistry of a heterosexual person to induce same sex attraction in them…

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  31. Andy says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    I can never remember what the argument is.

    Then let me help you out.

    All of the actions you listed (stalking, harassment and death threats) are criminal acts, not exercises of free speech.

  32. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    Less impossible than you might think. Categorization is a nearly solved problem — as in “good enough”, which when given some cues from a reputation system, and some seed data, can be very powerful.

    Categorization is inherently subjective. We still can’t define “terrorism” very well. For fun, I spend some reading a subreddit where socialists and anarcho-capitalists “debate” each other. No one can agree on fundamental definitions, even among those on the same side. Any system can be gamed and exploited.

    And all that is an unnecessary effort, just give individuals the power to filter and block what they don’t want to see, according to their own definitions and let them do it.

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  33. Kathy says:

    @Gustopher:

    My anxiety problems would beg to differ. My friend’s depression would also beg to differ.

    There’s a categorical difference. Anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar syndrome, etc., impede the normal cognitive and emotional functioning of people afflicted with such disorders, to varying degrees.

    That is not the case for the vast majority of transgender people. Nor is everyone who is transgender afflicted with gender dysphoria.

  34. Kathy says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Of course such a future treatment could work both ways…how interesting it would be to alter the brain chemistry of a heterosexual person to induce same sex attraction in them…

    That might prove a most reliable and foolproof means of birth control, too.

  35. Kathy says:

    BTW, I think the problem isn’t hate speech per se, but the effect of social media.

    Facebook posts and Tweets tend to generate a mob response, even when they don’t go viral. the mob response tends to be violent and irrational.

    This has nothing to do with speed or the numbers reached (though the latter matters), and everything to do with the sensationalist, breathless, urgent way in which social media clickbait both works and is perceived, along with the outrage it’s meant to invoke.

    This is not exactly exclusive to social media. Tabloid stories carry a similar sense of urgency, particularly in the cover. Serious newspapers and TV news are capable of engaging in such tactics, consciously or not, from time to time. Think of a headline like “JAPS BOMB HAWAII!”

    Outrage and urgency, as well as fear, are classic components of propaganda used in wartime, mostly by authoritarian and totalitarian regimes (not exclusively). The sense that there is a mortal threat, which is also immoral, personal, and right there and about to get you, is essential in riling people up, and keeping them that way.

    That’s not the only way to do clickbait, but it’s the one most often used in politics these days, and also in many conspiracy theory sites and posts.

    I’m not saying one post or one tweet set people off, though that can happen. But the constant exposure to such posts has a cumulative effect.

    And good luck getting social media companies to deal with clickbait. That’s what gets the most clicks (there’s the epitaph of Western civilization).

  36. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    But it’s often not hateful at all to use those names to refer to historical events.

    Even granting this, what does this have to do with the claim I was responding to? Namely, that abstaining from dead-naming

    stifle[s] debate on a hotly-contested issue that we’re still very much struggling to come to terms with as a society

    Where is this stifling that you assert is a threat to open debate, if I confusingly assert that Wendy Carlos was the artist behind Switched-On Bach, or if I say that Renée Richards was a professional tennis player?

    You seem to have shifted the goalposts quite a ways, from “stifling important debate” to “causing a bit of historical confusion”. Which is it?

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  37. Modulo Myself says:

    @Andy:
    Alex Jones was banned from social media after his followers had driven Sandy Hook families into hiding. He just kept on about how Sandy Hook was a false flag operation. There’s nothing criminal there. He just didn’t care about the results of what he said.

  38. Kathy says:

    @DrDaveT:

    What puzzles me is that few people feel the need to use former names of celebrities, or, in history, of nobles, who often change their names. Face it, most people wouldn’t know who Norma Jean Baker was but for an Elton John song, even though she kept that as her legal name to her death.

    There are cases, particularly in Roman History, where one name is used for a portion of a person’s life, and then a different one is bestowed or taken and then that gets used. Sometimes an honorific name gets added. For example, Gaius Octavius Thurinus, is usually called Octavian through his youth, then Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus in the triumvirate years, and finally Augustus in the Imperial era.

  39. Andy says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    I understand that. Alex Jones is a terrible scumbag. And Twitter certainly has every right to boot him off their platform. However, that’s not going to stop him from spouting his lies, nor will it prevent the miscreants who follow him from hearing his words and harassing Sandy Hook families.

    What will shut him up are the lawsuits the Sandy Hook families have put against Jones, and I hope they succeed, though victory is not certain.

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  40. Modulo Myself says:

    @DrDaveT:

    But we all can guess at the answer. James Joyner is transphobic, which is why he is hung up on this completely pointless issue of Caitlyn Jenner’s prior name. If I were trans and I heard somebody give a long anguished lecture about trans people which involved hypotheticals and sports records, I’d be like fuck yeah–this person has issues with who I am. It’s not hard.

    Personally, I happen to like James Joyner. One problem with free speech in this country is that people with power have been trained to fire off bullshit when they could just tell the unsurprising truth. James would be better off–in my opinion–using free speech to tell the truth.

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  41. Modulo Myself says:

    @Andy:

    Alex Jones built an audience on 24/7 craziness. Go back in time before he built that audience. Do you let him build it? Yes or no? I support free speech, and say yes. But I understand why people might say no. Anyone who happens to believe that the government staged a school shooting is a potential serial killer. But I also think that white John Birch-style America is fucked up beyond any understanding, and the right, instead of trying to make things better, has built a lucrative machine based on these people.

  42. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy:

    There’s a categorical difference. Anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar syndrome, etc., impede the normal cognitive and emotional functioning of people afflicted with such disorders, to varying degrees.

    That is not the case for the vast majority of transgender people. Nor is everyone who is transgender afflicted with gender dysphoria.

    I don’t think it’s really a category error.

    Mental health issues commonly have physical causes, at least once you get down to the genetic and epigenetic level. Or perhaps our massive bacterial fauna that we are just beginning to understand.

    We know there is a genetic reason for how the body develops. There’s also likely a genetic (or epigenetic, or gut bacteria…) cause for the identification with a gender. I don’t see any reason to say that the one is more right than the other, or which should be treated, and whether it is a physical or a mental health issue.

    But I was mostly just wanting to poke at James’ “safe” definition of hate speech, so I’ll shut up now.

    Also, just for my education, are the transgender folks who don’t suffer from gender dysphoria the ones that have gotten surgery/hormones and thus no longer suffer from it, or is there another set of people?

  43. Andy says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Go back in time before he built that audience. Do you let him build it? Yes or no? I support free speech, and say yes. But I understand why people might say no.

    I agree with that completely and I can certainly understand the desire to try to (figuratively) cut out his tongue.

    I’d have to go back and look, but I don’t recall anyone predicting that Jones would become this sensation – him succeeding out of the thousands of kooks who try their hand at the conspiracy mongering game is something we probably can only see with the benefit of hindsight.

  44. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT:

    You seem to have shifted the goalposts quite a ways, from “stifling important debate” to “causing a bit of historical confusion”. Which is it?

    @Modulo Myself:

    James Joyner is transphobic, which is why he is hung up on this completely pointless issue of Caitlyn Jenner’s prior name.

    I don’t think we can have a discussion of transgender issues, which is still a topic of substantial controversy, if we’re forced to do so with a set of rules that makes it hate speech to question whether someone’s current stated identity has always been their identity. (The most interesting debates I’m currently seeing, where neither side has me persuaded yet, is taking place between the gay and trans communities. Some gays argue that the trans movement—and the broader idea of nonbinary gender identity— is essentially trying to erase them.) But, again, if all one is doing is telling a specific person who wants to go by “Susan” that they’re really “Stanley” because that’s what’s on their birth certificate, you’re just being a dick.

  45. KM says:

    @Andy:

    All of the actions you listed (stalking, harassment and death threats) are criminal acts, not exercises of free speech.

    This is the problem with being an “absolutist” – people like to fudge what it actually means. Absolutist means you don’t accept limitations or restrictions on a right *at all*. You can’t call yourself a free-speech absolutist while accepting things like stalking online or harassment are criminal acts. Either you believe the government can restrict some speech under certain conditions – in which case, *all* speech can be debatable as what conditions and when – or you think the government should not be allowed to do it all all so no such laws against harassment or fraud. Absolutists is extremism, not just “the most amount of stuff I don’t think is threatening”

    If you accept harassment as a legal reason to restrict speech, then the alt-right and 4-chan crowd have a serious problem – their entire culture is built around the concept of trolling and harassing people for fun. People like Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, that Loomer chick et al make their living harassing and spreading lies about folks in a manner that definitely causes the same conditions a traditional stalker does. Remember Rush’s creepy obsession with Chelsea when she was under-age? Imagine that crap going down now with Barron and see how it would go.
    Frankly, if they weren’t “media personalities” their asses would have been in jail years ago for some of this crap but we give it a pass because free speech y’all!

    Or how about this – to someone who’s not immune to measles, an anti-vaxxer’s posts can be construed as a threat to my life. They’re stating they’re walking around in a state that can cause me injury or death should I encounter them. Does that constitute a passive threat the same way someone who knows a co-worker is deathly allergic to peanuts threatens to smear PB on their desk? It’s not immediate or intentionally directly at me personally but hey, neither is the post about the guy who “jokes” he might shoot up the coffee shop I frequent on a bad day. Just bad luck I happen to be there if it goes down, right?

    I’m not an absolutist because there’s no such thing in a civilized society. All things must be at least theoretically able to be compromised for more then two people to live together successfully. What I am is a realist – we can’t let people run around deliberately spreading lies without some kind of check lest the whole concept of truth be irreparable damaged. You have the right to lie but you do not have the right to insist your lies be treated the same as truth. Some form of tagging or monitoring is necessary on a platform like FB or Twitter. As long as you have the right to protest your tag and potentially change it, a “BS” tag or even a “Controversial – check multiple sources for veracity” would be enough

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  46. wr says:

    @Gustopher: “But, I don’t know know that we can say whether the brain or the body is correct.”

    Reminds me of a line from Polanski’s The Tenant: “If I cut off my hand, I say me and my hand. If I cut off my leg, I say me and my leg. But if I cut off my head, do I say me and my head or me and my body?”

    Implying nothing about transexuality here — just like the line…

  47. grumpy realist says:

    @Kathy: You’ve reminded me of Hokusai, who took a plethora of names over his life….

  48. Guarneri says:

    “Two-thirds want social media platforms to ban harassment and racist, sexist, and other offensive speech.”

    Well that’s a problem, now isn’t it? Transforming differences of opinion into “racist,” “sexist,” and “other offensive” speech, and labeling the speaker as such, has become a national sport. Look at politicians, media and many of Michael Reynolds comments (just add “stupid” and you’ve run the table).

    Dave Schuler, just this AM, points out that 90% of colleges have instituted speech restrictions.
    Even allowing for over estimation that’s an unhealthy development. I’d like to believe this is just a passing fad, but I really don’t think so. Alinsky is winning.

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  49. grumpy realist says:

    (OT: even more Brexit: Theresa May is asking for a 3 month extension. Possibility that she won’t even get that–one EU member voting against the extension would be enough to trash the extension.)

  50. James Pearce says:

    The public definitely wants social media companies to block more content

    This saddens me greatly. Society has more to fear from huge profit-driven media companies thinking of themselves as internet cops than we do from obnoxious individuals online.

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  51. Andy says:

    @KM:

    This is the problem with being an “absolutist” – people like to fudge what it actually means. Absolutist means you don’t accept limitations or restrictions on a right *at all*. You can’t call yourself a free-speech absolutist while accepting things like stalking online or harassment are criminal acts.

    Sure I can. The issue is definitional. Harassment isn’t speech. Stalking isn’t speech.

    Also, I should clarify that I’m absolutist in the sense of skepticism of restrictions based on content. I’m an absolutist in the sense that I don’t think third parties, particularly the government, should be deciding which content is good and which content is bad and then make expressing that content illegal. I’m not an absolutist when it comes to restrictions based on context. For a variety of reasons we still need context-based restrictions (fire in a theater) and regulation (permitting) for speech in shared public places among others.

    Additionally, my position does not require that people be always protected from the effects of their speech, hence the reason I support the ability of the Sandy Hook families to sue Alex Jones (and, in the internet age, I think this ability is more important than ever). Giving Sandy Hook families the legal ability to sue Jones is not the same thing as trying to ban Jones or forcibly regulating the content of what he says.

    People like Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, that Loomer chick et al make their living harassing and spreading lies about folks in a manner that definitely causes the same conditions a traditional stalker does.

    Saying bullshit on the radio or TV is not remotely the same thing as calling someone constantly, following them around, standing outside their house. What they do is not at all the “same conditions” as a stalker.

    Or how about this – to someone who’s not immune to measles, an anti-vaxxer’s posts can be construed as a threat to my life.

    That’s just ridiculous. It’s an internet post. Construing something as a threat doesn’t make it a threat.

    What I am is a realist – we can’t let people run around deliberately spreading lies without some kind of check lest the whole concept of truth be irreparable damaged.

    Over a century of first amendment decisions would disagree with you. Who is this “we?” Who determines what is a lie and what isn’t and under what conditions it should be “stopped?”

    In the face of lies, the truth is best served by more speech that supports the truth, not Sisyphean attempts to regulate truth. Letting Nazis march through a black neighborhood give us the chance to see what those people are really about and it also gives us the chance to line the streets and send our speech back to them.

    Some form of tagging or monitoring is necessary on a platform like FB or Twitter.

    This seems to assume that people are too dumb to know what offends them. As I said before, this judgment is best left to individuals, not third-party authorities. Just give people the tools so they can block content based on their own definitions.

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  52. Kathy says:

    @Gustopher:

    We know there is a genetic reason for how the body develops. There’s also likely a genetic (or epigenetic, or gut bacteria…) cause for the identification with a gender. I don’t see any reason to say that the one is more right than the other, or which should be treated, and whether it is a physical or a mental health issue.

    You won’t find one cause.

    There’s also much else about the workings of the human body, and biology in general, we don’t understand. There’s much more information than that contained in the genome, like electrical signals between cells, we know little about. We don’t even know if the information is encoded somehow, like the genome, or is an emergent property, or something else.

    You want one possible cause, here’s one: exposure in-utero to the “wrong” hormones might have an effect in the development of particular brain areas, rendering more alike those found in the other gender. This, of course,raises more questions than it answers.

    Biology is inherently messy. If there was a Designer, we should sue. Consider instead Bill Bryson’s observation that the purpose of DNA is to make more DNA, and life flows from that. Or that multicellular organisms are essentially a development of colonies of symbiotic unicellular ones that mixed rather freely.

    Do you know you have two genomes, not one? One is the cell nucleus genome everyone knows about, the other is the mitochondrial genome, quite independent from the other. Maybe the latter only affects mitochondria, and maybe gut bacteria only aids in digestion.

  53. Kathy says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I came across a tidbit yesterday that a French official named her cat Brexit. That’s because the cat will meow loudly by the door until someone opens it, but then won’t go out.

  54. JKB says:

    The citizen must not be so narrowly circumscribed in his activities that, if he thinks differently from those in power, his only choice is either to perish or to destroy the machinery of state.

    –Mises, Ludwig von (1927). Liberalism (p. 59)

    Few people will choose to perish, suppression of speech rather than countering it with ideas leads to violence. Better to push someone saying something offensive to elaborate and defend that opinion. But alas, so many are college graduates now with religious zeal, but unable to offer challenging argument and often seemingly fearful that considering a provocative statement to develop an argument against might lead to their eternal damnation. The latter not so speculative in the context of social media.

    I came across a speech by Abraham Lincoln recently pointing out two sides using the same word with very different meanings. I think we’d do well to keep the discourse public and work on developing common language rather than suppress letting the dialects develop in isolation.

    The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatable things, called by the same name—liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatable names—liberty and tyranny.

    –Address at a Sanitary Fair, Abraham Lincoln, Baltimore, MD, April 18, 1864

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  55. James Joyner says:

    @KM:

    This is the problem with being an “absolutist” – people like to fudge what it actually means. Absolutist means you don’t accept limitations or restrictions on a right *at all*. You can’t call yourself a free-speech absolutist while accepting things like stalking online or harassment are criminal acts.

    I know this is directed at Andy but I used the word as well in the OP. I’m an absolutist on free speech in the sense that I don’t think any word or idea should be censored. As noted in the OP, even words that were invented to be inflammatory and hateful can sometimes be neither of those things; intent matters. Similarly, I think the white supremacists and black nationalists both have every right to advocate their philosophies. But we’ve long separated pure speech from incitement, threat, harassment, defamation, etc. There’s a rather bright line between “niggers are inferior” and “kill the niggers.” But the point of the debate is that there also a lot of blurrier lines where there’s not much agreement.

  56. KM says:

    @Andy:

    Saying bullshit on the radio or TV is not remotely the same thing as calling someone constantly, following them around, standing outside their house. What they do is not at all the “same conditions” as a stalker.

    Saying bullshit CONSTANTLY on TV or radio. Let’s be clear here: this isn’t a one and done – it’s repeated, consistent behavior with ill intent and then echoes around the chamber for a good while longer. So yeah, it “follows them around” and has extreme adverse effects on how someone lives their lives. There’s a damn reason people who get singled out by the likes of Jones have to take the same precautions as those with a physical stalker ie changing personal info like numbers or even moving to hide. They are stalkers who relentless try to ruin someone’s life remotely but you think they should get a pass since they’re not right outside someone’s window??

    That’s just ridiculous. It’s an internet post. Construing something as a threat doesn’t make it a threat.

    No, that statement is ridiculous because the only way to determine if something is a threat is construing it as such. There’s no such thing as an objective threat standard, merely one we all tend to reasonably agree on. For instance, someone pointing a gun at you? Threat because it can directly harm you. Now, what happens if you are immune to bullets? Not really a threat now, is it? Would say they are in a good position to construe what kind a threat bullet poses because the danger level is lower for them? It’s incredibly easy to be dismissive of a threat when you don’t consider it will affect you personally.

    I think it’s incredibly interesting that folks who would have no problems locking up a bio-terrorist threatening the populace with anthrax or the plague think an anti-vaxxer is somehow different. If ISIS supporters post about their right to walk around NYC infected with Y. Pesties or Ebola because it’s the will of Allah, should the government just shrug and go free speech / religious beliefs? You bet your ass a ton of “free-speech absolutists” will start screaming for something to be done. The difference is those things will kill everybody but measles isn’t a threat to most so y’all don’t treat it as the bio-terror threat it is.

    Wait till one of these diseases we’ve successfully created a life-saving defense for mutates because of this nonsense and EVERYONE’S suddenly fair game again. It’s only a matter of time. I want to see how society tolerates people posting that it’s OK to be plague-carriers when there’s an honest-to-god plague to worry about…..

    This seems to assume that people are too dumb to know what offends them. As I said before, this judgment is best left to individuals, not third-party authorities. Just give people the tools so they can block content based on their own definitions.

    And reinforce self-selection and isolation of information? That’s what’s causing this problem in the first place. The marketplace of ideas only works as a concept if one is exposed to the notion of other ideas. Deliberate ignorance defeats the purpose of free speech and open forums. If they don’t want to see that speech, then go somewhere that speech isn’t present. It’s reasonable to expect some categorization to help people find what they are looking for in something as vast as the Internet. How do you think searches work? That categorization might be in the form of a label you don’t approve of – that’s fine, just ignore it.

    What’s unreasonable is to demand nobody say boo about your stuff because you think it’s offensive to do so. Nazis have the right to march wherever they please but they don’t have the right to not be labeled Nazis nor have the townspeople object. They just march and ignore. So fine – post something, get labeled as “controversial”, ignore and keep posting. It’s not a ban but rather something to help people ignore you if they wish – the “tool” you spoke of to block content based off their own decision. This more of the whole “the label’s worse then contents” logic that the right’s been pushing lately…..

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  57. Kathy says:

    Hate speech is often like the sheep in Animal Farm, repeating talking points over and over. It doesn’t seem simple-minded, only because the talking points are more elaborate than a mere slogan.

  58. Andy says:

    @KM:

    James said it much better than I did,

    I specifically reject the speech=violence argument you’re making. The implication that promoting anti-vax views is the same as literally pointing a gun at someone in terms of “threat” is a completely unreasonable standard in my view.

    Anyway, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this. I have a busy day and won’t be able to revisit this thread for quite a while and don’t have time to respond in more detail.

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  59. Just nutha... says:

    @Modulo Myself: If you actually live in the place you describe, my suggestion is that you buy a gun and learn how to shoot it accurately enough that you can kill people with it. You seem to be in a place where people acting on their hateful blather is very real. Sadly, the law is not good at addressing that sort of problem. It only punishes violations of the restraining orders and such after the some one is killed or injured. Proactive preventative measures are your best protection in that case, sorry to say.

  60. KM says:

    @James Joyner :
    I understand the point you are trying to make – my point is the term you are using is ironic and relies on changing the meaning of absolute to fit your needs. It’s rather like people who oppose abortion except in the usual cases, no? I hear people scream “murder!!!” but then put a condition on what essentially constitute acceptable “murder”. It also gives opponents the ability to question why *those* exceptions are OK to you but not others. That’s the problem with taking an extreme position – there’s really nowhere to go for wiggle room and you get boxed in. Absolute doesn’t do nuance by definition.

    I think the term you would be best off using is something like “free speech maximist” in that you are advocating for the maximum amount of potential free speech cases. It allows for things like separating out threatening speech while maintaining the core ideology of “most everything should be allowed”. Absolutist implies hypocrisy you may not intend.

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  61. KM says:

    @Andy:

    I specifically reject the speech=violence argument you’re making. The implication that promoting anti-vax views is the same as literally pointing a gun at someone in terms of “threat” is a completely unreasonable standard in my view.

    Yes, *your* view. Which relies very much on your perspective, circumstances and personal feelings. AKA you “Construing something as a threat” which you said isn’t the same as an actual threat. Just because you don’t construe it as a threat *against you* doesn’t mean it isn’t one – it just means because you’re not going to get sick and die, it’s NBD for you that people are trying to create a literal generation of potential disease vectors.

    We are incredibly lax with this and are going to pay a steep price for letting people passively advocate bio-terrorism. Frankly, the Founding Fathers and any generation prior to this one would smack us upside the head for indulging in this nonsense as “free speech” and would have either quarantined the hell out of them or demanded mandatory vaccines in order to be a part of civic life. I know this because that’s what they actually *did*. Public health trumped everything because they understood that dead people can’t exercise their free speech. We’ve lost that perspective to our detriment. I can only hope future generations don’t despise us for being so solipsistic on free speech we bring down a plague on our house, literally.

    Again, if someone talked about being diagnosed with the Black Death or Ebola and is planning to visit the WH, you best believe they’re getting a visit from the government. Say you’re going to go visit Trump when you’ve been exposed to something fatal and contagious and see if the Secret Service buys speech =/= violence. So when I see someone who says they’ve got measles and they’re not staying home because FU gov and Big Pharma you don’t own me, I look at the collective shrugs and want to scream it’s the same damn thing. I look at posts of parents actively promoting an environment where nearly eradicated diseases can come roaring back (potentially worse then ever due to evolutionary pressures on the strains) and then someone like you who goes “meh, it’s their right” and can only wonder if it’s because you’re secure in the knowledge it’s not your death you’re promoting.

    It’s nice to be able to make decisions on what’s a threat when it’s not your head the gun’s pointed at, after all.

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  62. James Joyner says:

    @KM:

    I think the term you would be best off using is something like “free speech maximist” in that you are advocating for the maximum amount of potential free speech cases. It allows for things like separating out threatening speech while maintaining the core ideology of “most everything should be allowed”. Absolutist implies hypocrisy you may not intend.

    Fair enough. I tend to view incitement, defamation, conspiracy, and other unprotected forms of speech as outside the “speech” category. I’m an absolutist on the ability to debate ideas. To whit:

    @KM:

    We are incredibly lax with this and are going to pay a steep price for letting people passively advocate bio-terrorism.

    I think people ought be free to argue that the public health benefits of vaccination are outweighed by the risks. I think they’re wrong and that medical science is overwhelmingly against them. But there are occasional paradigm shifts caused by people pushing back on scientific consensus.

    But saying people are free to debate the merits of vaccination isn’t the same as saying they have a right to not vaccinate their children or otherwise put society at risk. Society has long claimed the right to regulate that sort of behavior.

  63. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    I specifically reject the speech=violence argument you’re making. The implication that promoting anti-vax views is the same as literally pointing a gun at someone in terms of “threat” is a completely unreasonable standard in my view.

    To my eye, they are clearly different. Pointing a gun at someone doesn’t necessarily kill anyone; promoting anti-vax views does.

    The question for society is whether letting people commit random murder with words is less bad than getting into the word control business. Denying that words can kill is not a legitimate answer to that question; we know they can and do.

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  64. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    Fair enough. I tend to view incitement, defamation, conspiracy, and other unprotected forms of speech as outside the “speech” category.

    As a sympathetic reader, I would strongly encourage you to stop using ordinary words in strange technical senses without clearly flagging that you are doing it. Nobody reading your original article would come away knowing that when you say ‘speech’, you mean a narrow subset of those acts that are labeled ‘speech’ in everyday life, or in the media. Even if you were using a definition that represents the current judicial consensus on what ‘speech’ means for questions of First Amendment jurisprudence.

    ETA: I do mean the sympathetic part; I think you’d avoid quite a bit of misunderstanding that leads to unproductive back-and-forth that doesn’t get resolved until comment #72…

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  65. SKI says:

    @Andy:

    Sure I can. The issue is definitional. Harassment isn’t speech. Stalking isn’t speech.

    How is verbal harassment or internet stalking not speech? Seriously, what definition are you using to differentiate between them? The amount of times “x” is said? The number of people who say “x”? I don’t think you can articulate a standard that is coherent, isn’t a restriction on speech and still prohibits harassment.

    I am a close-to-absolutist on government restrictions on speech. I draw exceptions in terms of things like intentional infliction of emotional distress, libel, slander and incitement.

    I am also very much in favor of countering speech with speech (including targeting advertisers with campaigns and boycotts) but draw lines with respect to public accommodations and utilities.

    There is an interesting debate to be had on the utility vs misuse of public shaming but that is a whole ‘nother topic.

    With respect to James’s observation that context and intent matters, he is obviously right in the general principal. I am a fan of Tottenham Hotspur, the north-London soccer team. The team and its fans, like Ajax in Amsterdam, have had a long-time public connection with Jews and fans of the team frequently refer to themselves as Yids – even when only a small fraction of them are in fact Jewish. There is a world of difference between the fans singing out their pride in being a “yid” and the fans of other teams calling them “Dirty Yids” and making hissing sounds to suggest gas chambers.

    That said, James, these comments suggest a fair bit of ignorance. Thinking that the Terfs’ desire to exclude trans-women from the community of women is “interesting” as opposed to proof-positive that all humans are prone to bigotry even if they themselves are subject to it in another form is, to be honest, baffling at best.

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  66. Modulo Myself says:

    @Just nutha…:

    I’m a straight white man–no one has ever suggested to me I’m less than a human being. Mean stuff said about white men carries with it no history of actual violence and dehumanization. Hate speech should not be banned. But n— are inferior is pure hate speech. Anyone who thinks otherwise should make this argument to a black person and see what happens. It’s no different with trans people or with women. If you want to debate the humanity of others, do it. It’s a free country. But don’t be surprised when it’s understood as hate.

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  67. KM says:

    @SKI :

    The question for society is whether letting people commit random murder with words is less bad than getting into the word control business.

    This is the crux of it. We’re living in a rapidly changing world that’s increasingly becoming more defined by media then physicality. I have no idea why people keep pretending that the concept of free speech is going to have to be tweaked to work in an increasingly global, tech-based society where thoughtless posts will linger longer then their posters will live. In the olden days, you could move away from the nuts or be assured that they were small, isolated groups that could be safely ignored. In the age of the Internet, stick and stones may break your bones temporarily but words will screw up your life forever. This crap doesn’t go just away – even if we all came to our senses today, anti-vaxxers posts will exist in the Internet’s memory unless actively purged. Look at Wakefield – one man’s greed and lack of ethics in a single study is now a worldwide problem threatening potentially millions of people. Before, there was maybe a handful of anti-vaxxers in any given area if any. Now, they’re like locusts – approach critical mass and watch the devastation unfold. How many lives would have been saved if someone had stepped in and stopped it before it got started?

    Hindsight is 20/20 but you need to be around to engage in it. The problem with allowing toxic things to fester is they tend to kill you. We may very well look back on this moment in a future where the US no longer has free speech because we didn’t put small restrictions on things that went on to blow up our entire way of life. I like free speech – I want it to stick around. I don’t want to lose free speech because we let the nuts take over the asylum and they burned the place down. I’d rather private business put regulations in to control content then wait for the government to have to step in. I’d rather FB or Twitter shadow-ban or tell you to your face your post is BS then have these things become common utilities with all that it implies. I’d rather you have the ability to go make your own FB like capitalism demands instead of whining nobody’s taking your crap posts seriously. But most of all, I want people to understand that free speech isn’t just noise in the wind – what you say has real world effects and if that effect causes harm, I have the right to hold you accountable for it.

    Words cause real harm. Anyone who disputes that wants consequence-free speech, not free speech.

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  68. SKI says:

    @KM: I think this was aimed at DrDaveT, not me (or at least the quote is his).

  69. KM says:

    @SKI:
    Whoops! That’s what happens when you get distracted while posting. Your’s was the comment up top of the screen while I typed and didn’t double-check. Apologies.

  70. grumpy realist says:

    @KM: Part of the problem is that we DO have laws which could be used against a lot of the internet nastiness but they’re almost never enforced because it takes too much time/effort/money. A heck of a lot of what internet trolls put out is either Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, stalking, or threats–all actionable activity either under civil law or criminal law. If a sufficient number of internet trolls were immediately slammed with fines (or had a high chance of being dragged into the legal system) when they carry out their icky behaviour, I suspect we’d find a lot more self-policing on their parts. As it is, they act as if the internet is a complete playground where nothing matters and they can “do anything for the lulz”. We have to wait until their behaviours carry “over to the real world” whereupon they find themselves fired, sued for defamation, or otherwise chastised.

    Then there are those pushing out fake stories in order to gain power or attention or money. I’d grab such people, force them to defend the validity of their stories, and if they couldn’t do so, dump them somewhere with no technology for five years. (For public figures who carry out malicious fake stories, lack of verification should lead to the guillotine, IMHO.)

    We really need to bring law to social media.

  71. DrDaveT says:

    @DrDaveT: I am genuinely curious to know what about this particular comment people are downvoting. I’ll even promise not to respond if someone will explain it to me :-).

  72. Teve says:

    @DrDaveT: there are several dozen smart and interesting commenters here, and half a dozen low-character idiots.

    If I get five or fewer downvotes I just chalk it up to the idiots. if I ever found myself getting over a dozen or so on a regular basis, then I would be worried that I had become the kind of jerk who elicits that here.

  73. Just nutha... says:

    @Modulo: “One of these things is not like the other.”

    Yes, those parents of Sandy Hook ‘crisis actors’ should just ignore the death threats which have forced them into hiding. Problem solved! Or women should ignore creepy MRAs who follow them around the internet. Stalkers should just be ignored and they will go away. Everybody knows that, and if they don’t, another creepy dude will slide into your life and tell you. People love being ignored, right?

    I’m a straight white man–no one has ever suggested to me I’m less than a human being. Mean stuff said about white men carries with it no history of actual violence and dehumanization. Hate speech should not be banned. But n— are inferior is pure hate speech. Anyone who thinks otherwise should make this argument to a black person and see what happens. It’s no different with trans people or with women. If you want to debate the humanity of others, do it. It’s a free country. But don’t be surprised when it’s understood as hate.

    My comment pertains to the first statement and have no objection to your definition of hate speech. But the first statement seems to me to be about hate action and if society is moving in that direction, more proactive steps may become either necessary or forced upon you.

  74. KM says:

    @@DrDaveT:
    I’m going to guess the same logic that’s getting me downvotes: that speech doesn’t exist in a consequence-free vacuum. People don’t want to admit words can get you killed – they are only so much noise.

    Because then that would mean they share responsibly when someone inevitable turns their words into action and death follows. If it’s “just words”, it’s not their fault, you know? Somehow action gets divorced from the thought processes that prompted it, thought processes they might have encouraged in their free speechifying. That kid that dies from a preventable disease? Not *their* fault they push anti-vax nonsense, it’s the parents fault for listening to them!

    No snowflake believes it’s responsible for the avalanche. No single drop of water drowns a man. It’s the aggregation of all of them that causes the harm – all of them acting at once leads to tragedy. Words don’t exist in a vacuum and we as a society would be fools to pretend otherwise.

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  75. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    I know this is directed at Andy but I used the word as well in the OP. I’m an absolutist on free speech in the sense that I don’t think any word or idea should be censored.

    “We should round up the Jews, stick them in concentration camps and exterminate them” is an idea. But I think it’s an idea that should be censored on social media.

    It’s not an immediate threat, but we now where declarations of this idea have led us in the past (Jews were rounded up, stuck in concentration camps and exterminated).

    Social media allows communities to form and discover each other, and connects disparate lo located individuals with common interests, and that can be great, but not all groups should be connected. Furries yes, Nazis no.

    I’m wary of the government censoring it, but honestly not that wary.

    And I think a reputable social network has an obligation to consider what messages they want to be a platform for.

    As noted in the OP, even words that were invented to be inflammatory and hateful can sometimes be neither of those things; intent matters. Similarly, I think the white supremacists and black nationalists both have every right to advocate their philosophies. But we’ve long separated pure speech from incitement, threat, harassment, defamation, etc.

    The Protocols of the Elders of Zion has caused terrible things to happen. Just not directly.

    There’s a rather bright line between “niggers are inferior” and “kill the niggers.” But the point of the debate is that there also a lot of blurrier lines where there’s not much agreement.

    First, I don’t think that bright line is all that bright. It’s really just a matter of formulation and phrasing. “Please pass the salt” vs. “gimme the fvcking salt, now!”

    Bio O’Reilly referring to “Tiller the baby killer” over and over is not technically a call to kill the man, but we know the consequences of it. It was the “Please pass the salt” of incitement.

    Second, I find the phrase “niggers are inferior” hysterical. It’s the vulgar, hateful racial slur next to a four syllable word. It’s a phrase that would never be naturally said by anyone in the last fifty years. Is it a dumb racist who got himself some fancy learnin’ or the careful, considered conclusion of a racist college professor who is covering their racist beliefs with the trappings of science, but who still can’t stop dropping n-bombs?

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  76. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy:

    I came across a tidbit yesterday that a French official named her cat Brexit.

    Turns out she doesn’t actually have a cat, but it’s a great line.

    Apparently the EU has responded to May that she can have a delay IF Parliament accepts her existing plan. Which IIRC the Speaker has ruled they can’t vote on. Lordy.

  77. Modulo Myself says:

    @Just nutha…:

    You might want to check out the historical actions of white Americans in this country. Not only the Klan and the GOP but liberals like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was speculating in the 90s about how teenage pregnancy would cause a new species of humans or some Lamarckian nonsense. White people in power have delighted in asking questions about superpredators and new breeds of welfare-loving black people and then they built prison and created mandatory minimums out of their hackery. It’s always been bad. I don’t think it’s worse now. People freak out about hate speech and PC because they long to go back in time to where you can talk about skull sizes and bell curves and not be laughed at by intellectuals, or at least politely ignored. Cross-burning Charles Murray tries to relieve his glory days of caliper science on occasion, but it’s an empty pose. At the same time, the gap between Alex Jones or Qanon showing at a pizza place to bust its Clinton-run pedophilia ring and normal Republican politics has collapses. I doubt that means the uncles of America are going to arm themselves against Sharia law, but it’s not good.

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  78. Gustopher says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    You might want to check out the historical actions of white Americans in this country. Not only the Klan and the GOP but liberals like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was speculating in the 90s about how teenage pregnancy would cause a new species of humans or some Lamarckian nonsense. White people in power have delighted in asking questions about superpredators and new breeds of welfare-loving black people and then they built prison and created mandatory minimums out of their hackery. It’s always been bad.

    Well meaning, but often wrong, white people are part of the march towards less worse. And less worse is better. Not best, maybe not even good, but less worse.

    And there was a lot more support for mandatory minimums from black community leaders in the early 1990s than people remember now. There was a big problem with crime, and the hope was that if you get the worst people out of the communities, the communities would recover.

  79. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:
    OK, I have some uncertainty on this issue. I instinctively despise anything that smacks of censorship. My question is whether technology has so changed the world that it’s time to re-examine my beliefs on that. It’d help if fewer fanatics on the fringes called every other word ‘problematic’ and we had some moderation and perspective. But that said, I feel the ground shifting beneath me just a bit on this.

  80. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: it used to be that we could mostly support the most radical free speech because there were no consequences. Crazy guy is ranting on a street corner downtown, and that’s the extent of it.

    The holocaust taught us what happens when the crazy guy gets a really big microphone, and ties it to real problems — a prosperous Germany would have thought Hitler was a crank and just quietly discriminated against Jews. Still we think we’re better than that, and the right response is mockery, counter protest and the like.

    Now they find each other and organize and some of them act. Now we are seeing the consequences of unfettered free speech.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t think it’s just Libertarian Free Speech advocates building platforms that get used to target Muslims in Myanmar. (Ok, I barely followed that story, I might have the country wrong).

    If you’re enabling people to do something, you need to make sure it’s not something horrible. It’s like the gun manufacturers.

  81. Andy says:

    @DrDaveT:

    The question for society is whether letting people commit random murder with words is less bad than getting into the word control business. Denying that words can kill is not a legitimate answer to that question; we know they can and do.

    I would be interesting to see actual legislative language which purports to criminalize “random murder with words.”

    @SKI:

    How is verbal harassment or internet stalking not speech? Seriously, what definition are you using to differentiate between them? The amount of times “x” is said? The number of people who say “x”? I don’t think you can articulate a standard that is coherent, isn’t a restriction on speech and still prohibits harassment.

    As I noted in another comment, as well as what James said (which I agree with), there’s a difference between banning speech and regulating it. I’m absolutist in the sense that the government should not ban people from saying “x.” However, I recognize that government does have a legitimate interest in regulating when “x” can be used. Some examples:
    – If you want to have a march for/against “x” in a public space you need a permit.
    – You have the right to say “x” but not the right to follow someone around yelling “x” constantly, stand outside their house and shout “x” eternally, or use “x” in any kind of criminal threat.

    In other words, pretty much how it works now in the United States.

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  82. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    And also

    @Gustopher:

    Social media is run by private companies. As I’ve said, I would prefer if they would simply give people the tools to block objectionable content, but clearly, I’m in the minority on that (not unusual). They do have the right to censor however they wish. And they can certainly try.

    WRT Michael’s comment, social media, if trends continue, is on track to becoming the new public commons. If that is the case, then 1st amendment concerns could definitely apply. The concerns are even bigger if social media is controlled by an oligopoly of powerful, politically connected companies. I would hope that anyone would not wish for a situation where a small number of firms control social media and, through ties to government, prevent competition and receive top-cover for censoring certain views.

    We’ve already seen that these companies are willing to bend to the whims of foreign governments, and explicitly censor their populations to preserve the power of existing regimes. This is despite the supposedly progressive values these companies claim to live by. I think we should be well advised to treat them with skepticism and ensure the tail does not wag the dog.

  83. SKI says:

    @Andy:

    As I noted in another comment, as well as what James said (which I agree with), there’s a difference between banning speech and regulating it. I’m absolutist in the sense that the government should not ban people from saying “x.” However, I recognize that government does have a legitimate interest in regulating when “x” can be used. Some examples:
    – If you want to have a march for/against “x” in a public space you need a permit.
    – You have the right to say “x” but not the right to follow someone around yelling “x” constantly, stand outside their house and shout “x” eternally, or use “x” in any kind of criminal threat.

    In other words, pretty much how it works now in the United States.

    All of which is well and good *BUT* you specifically said something different. You stated that “Harassment isn’t speech. Stalking isn’t speech.”. That is simply wrong. Are you retracting that assertion?

  84. Andy says:

    @SKI:

    All of which is well and good *BUT* you specifically said something different. You stated that “Harassment isn’t speech. Stalking isn’t speech.”. That is simply wrong. Are you retracting that assertion?

    Not at all. Harassment isn’t speech and Stalking isn’t speech – these are two different things. You can, for example, criminally harass or stalk someone without saying a word or doing so in some a that doesn’t implicate the concept of free speech or the first amendment.

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  85. SKI says:

    @Andy:

    Harassment isn’t speech and Stalking isn’t speech – these are two different things

    What possible definition of “harassment” are you using that excludes speech?
    Or, conversely, how are you defining “speech” to exclude acts of harassment?

  86. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    I would be interesting to see actual legislative language which purports to criminalize “random murder with words.”

    We already have it; it’s just that it comes piecemeal, not as an all-encompassing definition. Every existing judicial exception to free speech rights (civil or criminal) is, in effect, language which establishes culpability (civil or criminal) for “random [bad outcome] with words”. People dying is one of the bad outcomes we care about.

    I’m not proposing a single law that covers all cases; I’m noting that weighing speech rights against bad outcomes is the fundamental question for every specific kind of speech, and that we’ve already established precedent that speech rights don’t always win.

  87. Andy says:

    @SKI:

    What possible definition of “harassment” are you using that excludes speech

    The legal definition. Examples? Repeatedly calling someone with no intent at communication, following someone around in a public place, following someone and making obscene gestures, various types of invasion of privacy, etc.

    How about a creepy guy continually calling a woman and fapping on the phone or breathing hard, or saying nothing or just letting the phone ring constantly? What about continuously sending pictures of your junk in the mail?

    There are a whole ton of ways you can criminally harass someone without speaking. Each state has statutes with semi-precise definitions if you’re interested.

    Or, conversely, how are you defining “speech” to exclude acts of harassment?

    As I’ve already answered, free speech means you can’t ban words, ideas or other types of protected speech, but you can regulate the context in which they are used (as long as that regulation is reasonable and isn’t a de facto ban) to include criminalizing use in some contexts.

    For example, we don’t ban the word “fartbubble” (My grade-schooler would be very sad if they did), but you can’t follow someone around screaming “fartbubble” at them constantly and you can’t inundate their email or snail mail box with pictures of fart bubbles, etc.

    IOW harassment/stalking criminalizes specific actions taken by individuals against other specific individuals. Protected speech is not a free pass around that. The other side of that coin is one can’t simply declare that any utterance of some offensive word, regardless of context, is harassment and can be banned. In short, context and circumstances matter.

  88. James Joyner says:

    @SKI: @Andy: It’s entirely possible that the two of you have reached basic agreement on the matter and are arguing semantics at this point,

  89. Andy says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I”m still not clear on how words can murder. Can you please give some examples of where people were convicted of murdering someone with words.

    I’m noting that weighing speech rights against bad outcomes is the fundamental question for every specific kind of speech, and that we’ve already established precedent that speech rights don’t always win.

    Yes, that’s why we have statutes on harassment, incitement, and probably others I’m forgetting right now. See my response to SKI above. There’s a difference between intentionally using speech for a criminal purpose and criminalizing speech.

  90. Andy says:

    @James Joyner:

    @SKI: @Andy: It’s entirely possible that the two of you have reached basic agreement on the matter and are arguing semantics at this point,

    Definitely possible

  91. SKI says:

    @Andy:

    he legal definition. Examples? Repeatedly calling someone with no intent at communication, following someone around in a public place, following someone and making obscene gestures, various types of invasion of privacy, etc.

    How about a creepy guy continually calling a woman and fapping on the phone or breathing hard, or saying nothing or just letting the phone ring constantly? What about continuously sending pictures of your junk in the mail?

    There are a whole ton of ways you can criminally harass someone without speaking. Each state has statutes with semi-precise definitions if you’re interested.

    First, none of those are a definition or either harassment or speech.
    Second, most of what you suggest as not-speech is, legally speaking “speech” – an attempt to communicate.
    Third, and most importantly, the issue isn’t whether you can harass without speaking but your claim that no form of speaking could be harassment. THAT is what I objected to.

    As I’ve already answered, free speech means you can’t ban words, ideas or other types of protected speech, but you can regulate the context in which they are used (as long as that regulation is reasonable and isn’t a de facto ban) to include criminalizing use in some contexts.

    This is different from your original claim. By definition, if you agree on regulation, you aren’t a free-speech absolutist.

  92. SKI says:

    @James Joyner: Not semantics IMO but basic definitions.

    That said, it does look like Andy doesn’t actually believe what he said (that harassment isn’t speech).

  93. SKI says:

    @Andy:

    I”m still not clear on how words can murder. Can you please give some examples of where people were convicted of murdering someone with words.

    18 U.S. Code § 373

    (a) Whoever, with intent that another person engage in conduct constituting a felony that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against property or against the person of another in violation of the laws of the United States, and under circumstances strongly corroborative of that intent, solicits, commands, induces, or otherwise endeavors to persuade such other person to engage in such conduct, shall be imprisoned not more than one-half the maximum term of imprisonment or (notwithstanding section 3571) fined not more than one-half of the maximum fine prescribed for the punishment of the crime solicited, or both; or if the crime solicited is punishable by life imprisonment or death, shall be imprisoned for not more than twenty years.

    It is called Incitement

  94. Andy says:

    @SKI:

    First, none of those are a definition or either harassment or speech.

    Here’s the harassment statute for my state (Colorado). Different states have different definitions. One obviously can harass someone in Colorado without in any way implicating or using what most people call “speech,” particularly “speech” in a 1st amendment context.

    (1) A person commits harassment if, with intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another person, he or she:

    (a) Strikes, shoves, kicks, or otherwise touches a person or subjects him to physical contact;  or

    (b) In a public place directs obscene language or makes an obscene gesture to or at another person;  or

    (c) Follows a person in or about a public place;  or

    (d) Repealed by Laws 1990, H.B.90-1118, § 11 .

    (e) Directly or indirectly initiates communication with a person or directs language toward another person, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, telephone network, data network, text message, instant message, computer, computer network, computer system, or other interactive electronic medium in a manner intended to harass or threaten bodily injury or property damage, or makes any comment, request, suggestion, or proposal by telephone, computer, computer network, computer system, or other interactive electronic medium that is obscene;  or

    (f) Makes a telephone call or causes a telephone to ring repeatedly, whether or not a conversation ensues, with no purpose of legitimate conversation;  or

    (g) Makes repeated communications at inconvenient hours that invade the privacy of another and interfere in the use and enjoyment of another’s home or private residence or other private property;  or

    (h) Repeatedly insults, taunts, challenges, or makes communications in offensively coarse language to, another in a manner likely to provoke a violent or disorderly response.

    I’m going to skip over the rest and jump to this,

    This is different from your original claim. By definition, if you agree on regulation, you aren’t a free-speech absolutist.

    Well, you are entitled to believe what you want. Spinning on the head of a pin about what you believe I meant vs what I actually meant serves no purpose at this point and therefore the discussion is over. I’ve made my position clear and described the exceptions in detail -repeatedly. You can choose to accept it or not. Readers can make their own judgments.

  95. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    I”m still not clear on how words can murder.

    Imagine you are Jenny McCarthy. You say things. People who believe what you say do things, on the basis of what you said. As a result, people die who would not have died. You are the direct (though not the proximate) cause of those deaths.

    Can you please give some examples of where people were convicted of murdering someone with words.

    1. Are you assuming here some particular legal technical sense of ‘murder’, as opposed to the everyday English meaning? I’m not.
    2. Surely you don’t believe that all murderers get convicted…

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  96. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @SKI: Physical harassment and stalking do not require any spoken words. Why have people been keeping missing this distinction?

  97. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “It’s entirely possible that the two of you have reached basic agreement on the matter and are arguing semantics at this point,”

    Yes, but on the internet that just means they both have to fight harder.

  98. SKI says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: because the original claim was that speech couldn’t be harassment and people can’t accept that they mis-communicated?