Posts Tagged ‘hate speech’

Ken White on the evils of hate-speech law in Britain

In Britain authorities have filed legal charges under “malicious communications” (roughly hate speech) law against a series of persons accused of abrasive and insensitive Tweets and social media posts, often politically charged. The latest target is diversity officer Bahar Mustafa of the University of London, who defends the obnoxious tweet in question (hashtag #killallwhitemen) by reference to the notion that “she could not be guilty of sexism or racism against white men “because racism and sexism describe structures of privilege based on race and gender and therefore women of colour and minority genders cannot be racist or sexist, since we do not stand to benefit from such a system.” [The Independent] Uh-huh.

Ken White: “In a sensible legal system [the tweet] shouldn’t generate anything more than an eye-roll. But in a feels-based legal system, it’s actionable.” As for “you censorious Guardians of Feels on the Left: if you thought that the norms you created wouldn’t be used against your ‘own side,’ …[that] is almost indescribably moronic. Go sit in the corner and think about what you have done.” [Popehat] “Purveyors of speech-scandals of every sort: you think it can’t happen to you?” On the use of the law by powerful people, compare also this George Galloway episode.

Police and prosecution roundup

  • mr-district-attorneySheriff’s group wants Facebook to ax “hate speech against police,” “anti-police rhetoric”: what could go wrong? [WDIV, Daily Caller]
  • The “Mr. District Attorney” comic book cover at right is from Jim Dedman at Abnormal Use, who as part of his Friday links roundup for years now has featured great law-related comic book covers related to law, crime, and justice. Check out his archive;
  • “Under the Microscope: The FBI Hair Cases,” on a major forensic fiasco [Al-Jazeera America documentary, auto-plays, via Scott Greenfield]
  • Knock and announce: in case from Eastern Shore of Maryland, Fourth Amendment got SWATted by militarized police [Ilya Shapiro and Randal John Meyer, Newsweek and Cato]
  • Of course the intersection of civil asset forfeiture with sex panic is one big disaster area for liberty [Elizabeth Nolan Brown] “Should Prostitution Be Legalized?” [David Boaz, Cato; Reason panel on “sex trafficking” goes on despite threatened activist disruptions]
  • Doctrine of qualified immunity shields police officers (and other public employees) from most civil liability. How does it work? [Nathan Burney at Radley Balko]
  • The U.S. Department of Justice regularly settles complaints against local police departments by extracting a promise to abide by future negotiated constraints. Federalism and constitutional concerns aside, how well do these consent decrees actually work in reforming conduct? [Marshall Project]

Free speech roundup

  • Weirdly, Europe is more willing to legislate against pro-ISIS views than openly to argue against them [Nick Cohen]
  • City of Inglewood, Calif. sues for copyright infringement over videos by critic of Mayor Butts [CBS L.A., Volokh, Paul Alan Levy]
  • “Department Of Justice Uses Grand Jury Subpoena To Identify Anonymous Commenters on a Silk Road Post at” [Ken White/Popehat, Wired, Scott Greenfield]
  • Bans on the singing of sectarian songs, as in the Scotland case mentioned here recently, are perhaps less surprisingly also a part of law in Northern Ireland [Belfast Telegraph, BBC] UK government “now arresting and even jailing people simply for speaking their minds” [Brendan O’Neill]
  • Broad “coalition of free speech, web publishing, and civil liberties advocates” oppose provisions in anti-“trafficking” bill creating criminal liability for classified ad sites; Senate passes bill anyway by 99-0 margin [Elizabeth Nolan Brown; more from Brown on bill (“What, you mean grown women AREN’T being abducted into sex slavery at Hobby Lobby stores in Oklahoma?” — @mattwelch), yet more on trafficking-panic numbers]
  • Group libel laws, though approved in the 1952 case Beauharnais v. Illinois, are now widely regarded as no longer good law, but a Montana prosecutor doesn’t seem aware of that [Volokh] No, let’s not redefine “incitement” so as to allow the banning of more speech [Volokh]
  • Supreme Court’s ruling in Elonis, the “true threats on Facebook” case, was speech-protective but minimalist [Ilya Shapiro, Orin Kerr, Ken White, Eugene Volokh]

Poll: plurality of U.S. respondents would ban “hate speech”

Most depressing poll of the year? A majority of Democrats and 37% of Republicans say they favor banning so-called hate speech, which would squarely contradict the free speech jurisprudence of the U.S. Supreme Court and thus would implicitly at least call for rolling back the First Amendment to the Constitution. The YouGov numbers favoring such a ban have risen, perhaps influenced by confusion or worse in elite journalistic and academic circles [Edward Morrissey/Fiscal Times, Charles Cooke]

As Ken at Popehat notes in a piece on censors’ tropes: “In the US, ‘hate speech’ is an argumentative rhetorical category, not a legal one.” Related on recent controversies: Paul Berman, Tablet (“it was the Charlie staffers, and not Marine le Pen, whose arrival in New York stirred a protest.”); Art Spiegelman, Time; Mark Steyn (“‘There Is No More Molly.’ Or Luz.”); Erik Wemple, Washington Post (American media’s “crouch of cowardice and rationalization” after Garland attack).

More from commenter DensityDuck:

Given the modern attitude of “anything I don’t like should be illegal”, this isn’t surprising.

When Bradbury wrote “Fahrenheit 451?, he wasn’t suggesting that the government would censor ideas it didn’t like; in his story, it was the people themselves who called for censorship of bad, scary, offensive ideas. Someone who writes of microaggressions and triggers and hate speech would be the bad guys in F451.

On the Garland cartoon show attack

Much can and will be said about the attack in Texas and its aftermath, but here is what came to mind for me. On current trends, many outspoken Americans will soon be living in hiding or under guard. To me that’s a bigger story than whether I find their views unsavory. And of course it’s going to happen to many whose views I don’t find at all unsavory. That’s the lesson of Salman Rushdie and his translators, the Danish cartoonists etc. And even when many respectables are living in hiding, under guard, or dead, a large bloc of polite opinion will still look the other way. Something is wrong in that.

As for what can be done, as a writer, I naturally think in terms of what writers and editors can do. The PEN gala award was a good example of a positive step that deserves our applause. It would be a positive step if Yale University Press had printed the (very tame) Danish Mohammed cartoons when it published a book on that episode. It would be a positive step if CNN and other networks did not black out or crop out even very tame cartoons when covering the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the Danish Jyllands-Posten episode, or the winning Garland contest entry. When there is no solidarity, the minority of publications that remain uncowed stick out more, and so are in more danger.

The threats are nothing new: mobs ransacked newspaper offices and lynched editors in the Nineteenth Century, 21 died when unionists bombed the L.A. Times in 1910, and so forth. Somehow it didn’t shut them up, and I hope we have the resolve not to let it shut us up either.

Controversial speech, the Texas attack, and the murderer’s veto

The unsuccessful attack on an exhibition of Mohammed cartoons in Garland, Texas, near Dallas, is the most recent attempted mass murder on American soil endeavoring to silence expression bothersome to radical Islamists; it is unlikely to be the last. Some thoughts assembled from Twitter:

One early, ill-considered reaction from the legacy media:

But the legacy media coverage didn’t necessarily improve after a day for reporting and reflection:

As commentators have pointed out, the narrow “fighting words” exception in today’s First Amendment law is generally reserved for (at most) face-to-face insults likely to provoke an on-the-spot brawl, not to derogatory speech more generally:

Echoes of the PEN awards controversy going on at the same time:

On which memorably, also, Nick Cohen in the Spectator.

Earlier on the Charlie Hebdo and Copenhagen attacks.

More: Ken White skewers that awful McClatchy piece with its misunderstandings about “fighting words.” And don’t miss Michael Moynihan on those who would “make a bold stand against the nonexistent racism of 12 dead journalists by refusing to clap for the one who got away,” or related and very good Caleb Crain.

Free speech roundup

  • Yikes: Granby, Quebec, “moves to fine people insulting police on social media” [CBC]
  • “Plaintiffs in foreign ‘hate speech’ lawsuit seeking to subpoena records from U.S. service providers” [Eugene Volokh] Visa for Dutch politician Geert Wilders aside, Reps. Keith Ellison and André Carson imply they’d like to limit speech for Americans too [same]
  • “Why The D.C. Circuit’s Anti-SLAPP Ruling Is Important” [Popehat]
  • Federal court strikes down Pennsylvania law allowing “re-victimization” suits for “renewed anguish” against convicts who speak about their crimes [Volokh, earlier]
  • How different are judges? Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar marks an exception in Court’s preference for speech over regulation in campaign cases [SCOTUSBlog symposium, Elizabeth Price Foley/Instapundit, Daniel Fisher, Ilya Shapiro, our coverage of judicial elections]
  • “New Jersey’s Sensitive Victim Bias Crime Unconstitutional” [Scott Greenfield]
  • Amazing: Wisconsin John Doe prosecutor suggests criminally charging Gov. Scott Walker over remarks critical of probe [Journal-Sentinel, Volokh; more at Cato, Roger Pilon and Tim Lynch; earlier from me here, etc.]