What are we willing to tolerate to protect free speech?
Free speech absolutism is being put to the test right now with Musk’s Twitter experiment. It would be fair to say that’s not going very well. As the advertisers run for the hills he is already having to put some constraints on his vision. As Apple threatens to remove Twitter from the App Store it just highlights the fact that power over free speech is not just the domain of governments but corporations too.
Today the UK has watered down its Online Safety Bill to exclude content deemed “legal but harmful” citing free speech as the reason.
I am at the front of the queue when it comes to defending free speech. I find the global shift towards authoritarianism and populist rhetoric deeply worrying because of the censorship that comes with it, often in the form of self censorship if not the outright censorship you see in countries where liberal democracy has been destroyed or never existed. The right to protest and the right to vote in free and fair elections are both valuable examples of free speech that we should fight for. But the right to put bucket loads of “legal but harmful” content in front of the eyes of children every day? What kind of warped morality is that? This isn’t protection from cancel culture, it’s child abuse.
Today’s announcement demonstrates just how politicised the free speech debate has become. If we’re willing to trade off the protection of our children from harmful content for a warped idea of free speech, hey, let’s just go ahead and remove the age restrictions on purchasing cigarettes and let our children smoke themselves to an early death. Although, thankfully, generally speaking, Gen Z seem to have figured out that smoking is a dumb idea.