U.K. man jailed over racially offensive tweeting

by Walter Olson on March 28, 2012

Life without a First Amendment: a student in Swansea, Wales, is jailed for posting racially offensive comments on Twitter while drunk [Nick Cohen, Spectator]

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Free speech roundup
03.30.12 at 12:18 am

{ 15 comments }

1 Anonymous Attorney 03.28.12 at 12:57 pm

Semi-Wild Prediction: this will come to the United States, and when it does, opposition will be surprisingly muted. The dearest value of the left is multiculturalism/diversity, and the dearest value of the right/liberarians is free speech. The latter is simply more powerful than the former.

2 Jay Markowitz 03.29.12 at 2:29 am

That’s some nice divisive trollin’ there, AA.

While the Traylon debacle has exposed the worst of the left, I laughed when you stated “…the dearest value of the right is free speech.” There is just as much beeping and sqawking from the right when the message is deemed ‘liberal’ or detrimental to the conservative cause, most recently the effort to shame Limbaugh’s advertisers, which is ‘free speech’ effort of itself, not to mention ‘free market.’

Comment sections on various sites contain more vitriol on an hourly basis than all of that one UK fella’s tweets. I don’t know of anyone calling for the posters to be prosecuted from anyside.

3 Richard Nieporent 03.29.12 at 8:38 am

most recently the effort to shame Limbaugh’s advertisers, which is ‘free speech’ effort of itself, not to mention ‘free market.’

Jay, if you think this type of coercion is free speech and free market then I would suggest you take remedial courses on Civics and Economics. Attacking what Limbaugh said is free speech. Threatening to boycott his advertisers is just the opposite of free speech. They are trying to prevent speech they don’t like being heard. Also, a secondary boycott, which is in effect what they are trying to do, is illegal. Nobody who had the least understanding of economics would ever characterize that as a free market activity.

4 Walter Olson 03.29.12 at 8:44 am

Secondary boycotts are unlawful in the U.S. in the context of labor union behavior, and there is considerable debate among free market advocates as to whether they should be. Secondary boycotts in other contexts are generally lawful, and I think they would normally count as a free market activity, which does not of course necessarily make them a good idea.

5 David Schwartz 03.29.12 at 8:55 am

Are you saying that a ban on secondary boycotts is needed to preserve a free market? You seem to be saying this like it’s obvious, and it’s definitely the minority view among people who describe themselves as advocated of a free market. If you put in search terms like “free market secondary boycott” the vast majority of the mentions of this argument make it so that they can debunk it.

One of the most powerful ways we speak is through the economic choices we make.

6 Richard Nieporent 03.29.12 at 9:48 am

If you choose to withhold your business from a company that you are dissatisfied with for whatever reason, it is a perfectly legitimate activity on your part. You should have the freedom to give your business to whomever you want to. If you organize a boycott to get the company to stop doing business with a third party, it is not what I consider a free market activity. It is just an act of coercion.

7 No Name Guy 03.29.12 at 1:35 pm

Richard, Walter, David:

The difference, a KEY difference, in this question of boycotts, etc is WHO is doing the organizing and boycotting. If private parties with private funds, then who cares. I can spend (or not) MY money on what ever product I want, from whomever I want, for whatever reason I want, and tell my friends said reasons and try and influence them to believe / act as I do.

If it’s the Government, or anyone with public monies, that’s a different matter.

8 Jay Markowitz 03.29.12 at 4:57 pm

But with the Washington Post just recently saying that the brouhaha is already cooling off, with Rush’s advertisers returning, it would seem far-fetched to state that actual coercion took place.

Also, who’s to say that some of those advertisers were not reacting so much to outside pressure, but personal internal moral decisions. A lot of right-leaning individuals and groups stated their unfavorable opinion on his comments.

When Loew’s decided to drop its advertising from that TLC show about ‘American Muslims,’ several months ago, there was some typical lefty backlash, but ultimately Loews supporters used their free market power to show support and nullify any real effect to Loew’s bottom line.

As I am a centrist, and detest fringe elements on both side of the political spectrum, I just find that comments denigrating one side over the other do nothing but drag the debate downward, as neither side is showing any sort of constitutional superiority, especially when it comes to the First Amendment, be it the Free Speech components or the part concerning congress not making of any law respecting an establishment of religion somehow now being a contradiction of the second part that says it shall also not impede the free exercise of religion.

Finally, I believe the ACLU, definitely considered ‘lefty’ is one of the staunchest supporters of any American’s First Amendment rights, regardless of political ideology, i. e. the Westboro Church bunch.

9 David Schwartz 03.30.12 at 12:08 am

Richard Nieporent: Say we didn’t have laws against racial discrimination, and someone opened a “whites only” diner. In your view, should it be illegal for me to publicly argue that people should refuse to do business with anyone who eats at that diner?

10 Richard Nieporent 03.30.12 at 8:34 am

David, I fail to see why it is so hard for you to understand my position. Nowhere did I argue that an individual should not be able to show his displeasure with statements or actions made by another individual. You should be free to indicate how offended you are by what the individual said, state that you would not listen to that individual’s show, and state as strongly as you like that nobody else should listen to that show (or as with your example to not patronize a “white’s only” diner). What I argued against was trying to force a third party to agree with your position by organizing a boycott of his business if he didn’t acquiesce to your demands. It is the attempt to coerce a third party that I disagree with, not the public denunciation of the individual that has offended you. If through your power of persuasion you succeed in getting enough other people to refuse to listen to him, then businesses will no longer advertiser on his show and the show will be cancelled. That is a perfectly acceptable outcome. Unfortunately some people don’t want to persuade but to force others to go along with their position.

11 David Schwartz 03.31.12 at 4:57 am

Richard Nieporent: You seem to be directly contradicting yourself. First you say I can refuse to deal with patrons of the diner. Then you seem to say I can’t. If there’s some subtle difference between the two cases, I don’t get it. In my example, I am refusing to deal with people who patronize the diner, and advocating other’s do the same, in an attempt to discourage people from going to the diner at all and to try to drive the diner to go out of business or change its policy. This is definitely a secondary boycott, as I’m not just boycotting the diner.

In any event, I disagree that there is any meaningful distinction between primary and secondary boycotts. If I boycott Apple because I dislike Foxconn’s labor practice, it is Apple’s patronizing of Foxconn that is motivating the boycott. If I boycott a company because they advertise on Rush’s show, it is their policy of financing Rush’s speech that is the direct motivation for the boycott.

12 Richard Nieporent 03.31.12 at 2:21 pm

Richard Nieporent: You seem to be directly contradicting yourself. First you say I can refuse to deal with patrons of the diner. Then you seem to say I can’t.

David, if you go back and reread what I said, you will see that I stated only that you should have the right to argue that other’s should not patronize a “white’s only” diner. I said that you may ”state as strongly as you like that nobody else should listen to that show (or as with your example to not patronize a “white’s only” diner).”

Nowhere did I state that I was in favor of a boycott of the patrons of that business. In fact I stated just the opposite: “What I argued against was trying to force a third party to agree with your position by organizing a boycott of his business if he didn’t acquiesce to your demands.”

In any event, I disagree that there is any meaningful distinction between primary and secondary boycotts.

The distinction is obvious, David. In the first case you are trying to persuade others to go along with your point of view. Thus if you stood outside the diner with a sign that said don’t patronize this restaurant because they don’t serve blacks, you may be able to persuade people to not go into that diner. That should always be your right to do. However, if you start a boycott of the businesses of people who frequent that diner then you are trying to coerce them into not going to that diner. You are trying to hurt these people financially because they don’t agree with your position. What you fail to understand is that just because in your view your position is “correct” then any action you take to get others to acquiesce to your position is justified. It is not.

13 Melvin H. 03.31.12 at 2:55 pm

David, to go a slightly different direction: If as a result of a boycott (of a person or company I like) the price of stock I own drops, or business drops off as a result….do I have any recourse to sue the person or group organizing the boycott?

14 David Schwartz 04.01.12 at 3:38 pm

Melvin: No. Can Burger King sue vegetarians for not eating there?

Richard: If a store only sells televisions that I don’t like, is it okay if I don’t shop there? I mean, aren’t I trying to coerce them into carrying products I agree with? What if I tell my friends that store only sells televisions I think are junk, is that okay? I mean, aren’t I trying to get them to get their suppliers to supply them with different televisions?

When does it become “coercion”? Because your argument seems to consist of just calling it coercion. It can’t just be the amount of pressure. If Wendys stopped selling burgers and started selling only liver, the pressure would be just as extreme to get them to go back to burgers, but surely that’s perfectly legitimate.

15 Robert 04.02.12 at 1:19 am

Half of America would be in Jail if there were laws that allowed this in the United States. Look at some of the tweets about the Travyon Martin case, for example.

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