Another attack on freedom of speech


In praise of Vallaud-Belkacem, or why not to tolerate hate speech on Twitter

The US has made a fetish of first amendment rights. We should follow France’s example in restricting bigotry’s free expression

Minister for women’s rights Najat Vallaud-Belkacem leans to listen to France’s prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, last month in the National Assembly in Paris. Photograph: Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images

By Jason Farago | Wednesday 2 January 2013 08.00 EST

If you’re looking to diminish your faith in the future of humanity, a good place to start is always the left rail of Twitter’s website, whose list of “trending topics” details the most popular inanities of the day. But in France, this December, the Justin Bieber hashtags dropped down the hit parade and a much more sinister one topped the charts. If you clicked #SiMonFilsEstGay (“If my son is gay”), which trended for days, you could see thousands upon thousands of violently homophobic messages – suggesting that young people who come out should be imprisoned, castrated, murdered … you name it.

And that was not the only hateful hashtag of the month. There was also #SiMaFilleRamèneUnNoir (“If my daughter brings a black man home”), which brought together juvenile humor and appalling racism. Earlier in the month came #UnBonJuif (“A good Jew”), whose violent antisemitism seemed to revolve around cooking jokes; and if that was too subtle for you, there was also #UnJuifMort (“A dead Jew”).

This whole vile outpouring may just be par for the course in the wilds of social media. But in France, hateful statements like this are more than contemptible. They’re illegal – and the government noticed.

“These statements are prohibited by law,” wrote Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the women’s rights minister, in an op-ed this weekend. “And those who make them are not less punishable and less likely to appear in court because they appear online.”

To an American ear that may sound chilling, but it sounds quite different on the other side of the Atlantic. Like every other country in the European Union, France has a law that criminalizes incitement to hatred based on race or religion. (Think of John Galliano, the fashion designer, who was convicted of “public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity” after drunkenly ranting about his love for Hitler.)

More at the link.

France’s Minister for Women’s Rights — an office that, to an American, is laughable on its face — Najat Vallaud-Belkacem wants to do more than just prosecute Tweeters who hurt other people’s precious feelings; she wants to have the law imposed on Twitter to make it responsible for censoring speech.

At a moment when the government is putting in place an action plan against violence and discrimination committed for reasons of sexual orientation or gender identity, I want … to call upon Twitter’s sense of responsibility, so that it can contribute to the prevention and the avoidance of misbehavior like this. I want us to be able to work together, along with the most important associated agencies, to put in place alerts and security measures that will ensure that the unfortunate events that we have witnessed in recent weeks will not occur again

Mr Farago is right: to an American, that does sound chilling. When the government has the authority1 to censor speech, it means that whatever people happen to be in charge of the government at a particular time have the authority to censor speech. In Alberta, Canada, the Human Rights Commission has tried to censor and fine a Christian minister for his statements concerning what the Bible says about homosexual activity. Canada’s federal Human Rights Commission investigated Fr. Alphonse de Valk, a Catholic priest for upholding Catholic teaching during debates over proposed same-sex “marriage” laws in our neighbor to the North; given governmental authority, the speech censors can be used to attack legitimate public political debate if the bureaucrat in charge doesn’t agree with the debater’s position.

When I matriculated at the University of Kentucky, it was the liberals who were most adamant about freedom of speech. It was the liberals who were protesting against President Nixon’s policies — as they had President Johnson’s before him — and the killings at Kent State University were still fresh in people’s minds.

But today? It is our friends on the left, from the ridiculous French Ministress for Women’s Right to our own American liberals who want to restrict freedom of speech, who want to use the power of government to prevent opinions that they do not like from being published, to prevent organizations they do not like from expressing their opinions. Our friends on the left claim to be very much anti-fascist, but they are the most thoroughly Fascisti people I have ever known.

  1. I had originally used the word “right” here, but that’s incorrect: no government has the right to censor speech, though some do claim the authority.

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