A Pew Research Center study released Nov. 20 showed that 40 percent of Millennials think it would be OK for the government to censor offensive speech about minorities. It says something about what this culture is doing to me — I studied journalism in college, and went to law school with visions of working for the ACLU at one point — that I actually asked myself briefly, “Would that be so bad?”
YES. YES IT WOULD.
According to the same poll, only 18 percent of Republicans believe it’s OK to consider censoring offensive speech about minorities (compared to 35 percent of Democrats), which means that I am siding with Republican here (although, in some cases, those Republicans don’t want it censored because they USE that offensive speech). This is not a political issue, however. It’s a free speech issue, and if we encroach upon offensive speech, the slippery slope could be lethal.
Look what we all let happen to our privacy rights. The combination of our fear of terrorist attacks and our embracing of Facebook have completely annihilated our privacy rights, and now it’s part of the bargain of belonging to society. We let it happen. We let ourselves get steamrolled under the guise of safety. Now, our smart phones can scan our emails and somehow offer us the perfect goddamn response to any question. This morning, in fact, someone emailed me to reschedule an appointment, and my phone told me to respond: “Sounds good. Thanks for the heads up” and I did, because I was too lazy to type our my own response. That’s creepy as fuck.
What I’m saying is, we can’t go that way with free speech. We don’t want our government to become comment moderators, because — given a little power — there’s nothing stopping the government from arbitrarily deciding who is and is not a troll based on their own political opinions. Imagine a world in which Donald Trump is President, and he is deciding what speech is and is not offensive to minorities, or Ted Cruz, who would classify Christians as persecuted minorities. We don’t want our country to get caught up in a debate about what is offensive and who is a minority.
Besides — and Millennials should know this better than anyone — that’s what shame is for. The Government shouldn’t be able to censor offensive speech, but there’s nothing stopping the rest of us from shaming those who use it. In the Internet age, that’s a powerful weapon, and in certain cases, it’s an important tool. We should use our own freedom of speech to combat hateful speech, not by stripping it away, but by drowning it out.
(As always, this does not apply to the majority of Millennials (60 percent) and Democrats (65 percent) who are on the right side of this issue.)