Your words can come back to bite you

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky

Think of it this way. You’re al­lowed to be ig­no­rant and of­fen­sive — ex­cept within the pa­ram­e­ters of hate speech — as you like.

You can get in­vited to a party, tell the host he’s as ugly as a dog, trash the food as “too eth­nic” and tell any­one who’s lis­ten­ing that im­mi­grants are ru­in­ing the coun­try, and talk ex­ten­sively and point­edly about how everyone there is a loser.

You can be any sort of boor you’d like to be.

But there’s no guar­an­tee that your host is ever go­ing to in­vite you to another party at that house — nor is it likely that any­one else at the party is go­ing to add you to a guest list for a gath­er­ing at their home, ei­ther.

You are free to speak in this coun­try with­out the dan­ger of go­ing to prison for the things you say — un­less you’re threat­en­ing some­one or it’s hate speech — but that doesn’t mean there won’t be con­se­quences. You might end up alone at home in your liv­ing room. Chick­ens have a way of com­ing home to roost.

Free­dom of speech isn’t free­dom from the con­se­quences of what you say.

I say this af­ter a se­ries of neo nazi and white su­prem­a­cist pro­test­ers at Char­lottesville, Va., had the un­for­tu­nate ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing their be­hav­iour fol­low them home.

Op­po­nents have done their best to iden­tify the white power sup­port­ers at the protest, and take that in­for­ma­tion back to the em­ploy­ers of those who marched on the white su­prem­a­cist side.

The In­ter­net is an un­wieldy and in­ac­cu­rate tool — there have been peo­ple who were misiden­ti­fied as neo nazi pro­test­ers who have suf­fered as much as those who have been cor­rectly iden­ti­fied as tak­ing part. Us­ing per­sonal in­for­ma­tion on the web as a weapon — doxxing, as it’s called — can be the equiv­a­lent of burn­ing down a house to get rid of mice.

But in this day and age, if you be­lieve free­dom of speech and the rel­a­tively anonymity of be­ing part of a large crowd means you won’t have to bear any re­spon­si­bil­ity for what you do. Well, you’re wrong.

You are wel­come to have an of­fen­sive and racist web­site with­out the gov­ern­ment step­ping in and send­ing you to jail; ad­ver­tis­ers who find you re­pug­nant are wel­come to pull their ads from your sites, and com­pa­nies that host web­sites are wel­come to with­draw their plat­form if they don’t want to be as­so­ci­ated with your bile and find that you’ve vi­o­lated their terms of ser­vice.

The mis­un­der­stand­ing about what free­dom of speech means is one that peo­ple of­ten seem to have about free­dom of the press. Free­dom of the press means that you have the right to pub­lish your views in your own pub­li­ca­tion (within the most ba­sic of stan­dards about hate lit­er­a­ture). It doesn’t mean you have a guar­an­teed right to have any news­pa­per or news out­let pub­lish your tract on im­mi­grants or your on­line com­ment on the pri­macy of white power. Heck, if my bosses dis­ap­prove of what I write, my livelihood van­ishes — I don’t have a guar­an­teed right to use their plat­form to ex­press views that they find re­pul­sive.

“I dis­ap­prove of what you say, but I will de­fend to the death your right to say it,” is of­ten at­trib­uted to ei­ther Voltaire or Pa­trick Henry, but was ac­tu­ally writ­ten by Eve­lyn Beatrice Hall in 1906.

But not one of the trio would have to hire you, let you at­tend their cam­pus or in­vite you over to their house, if the views you were fond of ex­press­ing were morally re­pug­nant to them.

Words have an im­pact — and that works both ways.

They can hurt the per­son you say them to or about — but they can hurt you, too.

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