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Dialectic: Free Speech

by Kathy Fang and Jin Tuan

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In our recurring Dialectics, two authors with contrasting viewpoints discuss an issue of prominence in the local or broader community. We hope to use these multiple view stop provoke deeper thought among the student body and help readers explore new perspectives.

Winged Post: The first amendment protects “free speech,” but the exact meaning and extent of that protection has been hotly debated. As journalists, what does the first amendment mean to you?

Jin: The first amendment means to me that as a basis in this country we are allowed to report on anything within reasonable bounds as long as it’s not completely threatening or slandering someone. Then, there’s also the boundary of what’s morally correct and what your specific organization allows you to publish.

Kathy: For me the first amendment essentially guarantees the people a voice in five different aspects: press, speech, assembly, petition, and religion. I think that voice should only extend so far as to not infringe on others which as I read it is the subtext of the first amendment.

Winged Post: Many argue that the first amendment protects hateful speech. What, to you, classifies as “hate speech”?

Jin: Personally, I classify hate speech as anything that’s casting negative aspersions at people. However, I believe that even though it is hate speech, as long as you are just stating your opinion and nothing of bodily or emotional traumatic harm is coming of it, I think it should be able to be spoken out lawfully wise. Morally wise, I would disagree with that. If you can measure the emotional or physical trauma of it, it’s wrong.

Kathy: For me hate speech is any speech that is not backed by reasoning, is discriminatory, and is more than anything harmful, both physically or emotionally. The effects of hate speech limit other voices which in my opinion goes against the first amendment.

Jin: I feel, additionally, that the reasoning can often be flawed, so that sometimes people who do spread a lot of hate speech believe that they do have reasoning, so it’s hard to use that as a parameter. 

Winged Post: This month, various social media platforms removed content from conservative/(far-right) radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in response to Jones’ posting of “hateful” content that violated company policies. To you, was this action an infringement of free speech or a removal of hateful speech?

Kathy: I would say that because a company is more or less a private domain that you sign an agreement with when you post things on their platforms, their actions and their decisions recently would classify more as removal of hateful speech to promote the environment that their company aims to create for themselves.

Jin: I would agree with Kathy. Additionally, because Alex Jones has been reported for giving death threats; that’s going against the first amendment itself, so there is no gray area in removing his content in my opinion.

Winged Post: Twitter stated when deactivating Alex Jones’s account that some of his posts had “violated their rules.” As private companies that hold sway over how information is shared, should social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter strive to guarantee users the same freedoms that the first amendment upholds or can they create their own rules and guidelines?

Jin: I think that they can create their own rules and guidelines. There’s multiple different platforms for different ideologies and groups of people. Twitter and Facebook seem so far to be for everyone and there are more specialized social medias. However, in general just not talking about those two which are the rather large ones, because they are owned by private companies and because you can choose whether or not to participate in that space, they should be able to make their own rules and guidelines.

Kathy: I think I more or less agree with that because as I see it, the role of social media is to create an ideal environment for expression whatever ideal means to that specific company. Since you do sign an agreement when you create an account or page on this particular platform, it makes sense and it is legally sound that the company should have the right to remove anything that takes away from or does not contribute to the environment that they are aiming to build. Of course, contrasting opinions and perspectives on issues should be welcomed, so that a diversity of conversation can be maintained within this environment of expression. At the same time, no one should feel threatened or in danger when browsing through social media.

This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on Aug. 31, 2018.

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Dialectic: Free Speech