Extremists and hate-preachers like Nigel Farage and Katie Hopkins are being defended by their acolytes on social media. These are people who will defend the indefensible tirelessly and their war cry is always ‘free speech’. But freedom of speech is not what they think it is.
Freedom and Power
Let’s start first with freedom. Freedom is nothing without power. I am free to leap tall buildings in a single bound – no one can stop me. I am free to do it. But I can’t.
There are something that we are empowered to do by others. I can’t stand up to injustice effectively on my own but put me with a bunch of other people and suddenly my freedom is given the boost it needs.
Individual freedom is almost always a meaningless abstraction. We can’t hold endless choice in front of us. Every act closes off others. This is where the phrase “paralysed by choice” comes from.
When I stare at a menu and don’t know what to choose what is really happening is that I am enjoying the freedom of choice too much and don’t want to lose that freedom… by actually choosing.
Rights and Power
The whole point of the right of free speech is about government or societal interference. Katie Hopkins has freedom of speech but she also has power of speech.
Anyone on social media has power of speech too.
If I have a twitter account then there is a large and expensive-to-run media corporation empowering my speech.
They are not freeing my speech they are empowering it. Without them I’d be filling my computer screen with unheard words. Thank you twitter.
So the right to free speech is about not interfering with someone’s freedom to speak. It is definitely NOT about interfering with someone’s power to speak.
What this means is that if twitter shuts down your account that’s their business. It’s their platform, they built it. Suck it up.
If facebook pull your post then how much, may ask, do you pay to have your post on facebook? Nothing. Tough luck then. Not your platform: this is the real world.
If a newspaper owned by oil barons and big banks wants to only tell stories that make rich, powerful, and greedy people look good then, well, it’s their newspaper.
They don’t have to print your story. You have the same freedom of them but not the same power.
Build and Defend
Defend freedom and build power but don’t confuse the two and know that neither are as important as love.
And if some fascist on twitter complains that you are shutting them down by complaining about their hateful language and their incitement to ethnic cleansing tell them if they don’t like it they can build their own twitter (it’s what Breitbart did, in fact).
But make sure you build platforms too.
Build platforms in your street, in your school, your place of worship, your local park. Build platforms among your national networks and across diverse groups.
If you build the platform then you can stand on it and speak as freely as you like and no one has the power to topple you except the people who built it with you.
Don’t defend a freedom you have no power to use; build the power to use the freedom you have.