“Cyber-harassment” and speech codes

by Walter Olson on February 2, 2010

Eugene Volokh and Scott Greenfield worry that free speech could be the loser from a buzz of law school interest in the topic of “cyber-stalking” or “cyber-harassment” — rather broadly couched in one description to include law students’ “using websites to make outrageous gender– or race-specific comments.” Volokh:

I’m sure that most backers of these restrictions would stress that of course they’re not trying to shut down substantive debate, only incivility. But once viewpoint-based restrictions are accepted, once speech can be suppressed because it’s “outrageous” or “smearing,” it’s pretty hard to have much confidence that substantive (but to some “outrageous”) discussion of ideas will remain untouched; and even if actual punishments for such speech are rare, the risk of punishment may powerfully deter the substantive debate as well as the nonsubstantive smears (of which I agree there is plenty). That has certainly been the experience with “civility codes” at university campuses, and governmentally coerced restrictions on “harassment” in workplaces.

{ 2 comments }

1 mojo 02.02.10 at 11:37 am

“If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”
— Harry S. Truman

2 Doug 02.02.10 at 11:43 am

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me.” Seriously, it only works when the recipient allows it to. Ignoring the “hateful” speech renders it powerless.

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