We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Up and down we go

Freedom of speech is on the up in Australia:

George Brandis has given Australia’s racists a free rein

The right’s ‘freedom fighters’ have their wish – law 18C is effectively finished after 19 years protecting and conciliating vulnerable members of our pluralist society

and trending down in Britain:

Cyber-bullies could face two years in jail under new internet troll rules

A change to the criminal justice bill would target abuse on the internet or via mobile phones in England and Wales

36 comments to Up and down we go

  • Sam Duncan

    “Cyber-bullies could face two years in jail under new internet troll rules”

    Oh hell. 15 years ago, we plonked trolls into our Usenet killfiles and got on with our lives. Indeed, one reason – I’m convinced of this – that geeks took to the internet like ducks to water was that it gave them power over bullies. Now the state wants to take that power for itself. As usual.

  • I’ve always thought that cyber-bullying [sic] could be ended simply by a court order to divulge said bully’s name and address to the aggrieved party. On the other hand, this could lead to muzzling of honest commentary by, say, an aggrieved corporation or politician.

    I guess it all depends on content. Like the worthy judge’s comment on pornography: cyber-bullying is difficult to define, but take it from someone who’s been at the sharp end of this, it’s sure as hell recognizable.

    I’m all for freedom of speech, but I’m also insistent that freedom carries responsibility; in this case, the responsibility not to exercise that freedom by acting like an asshole.

  • ajf

    And what constitutes being an asshole; or not being one? Who decides?

  • Nick BTF! Gray

    I decide! You’re an asshole! Case closed.

  • Regional

    We’re all bigots

  • Nick BTF! Gray

    Actually, I can think of one argument in favour of censorship- Art is starting to control Life! An Australian movie has been abandoned because the plot was about a plane disappearing in the Indian Ocean, and now, even before the movie ‘Noah’ has been shown, Sydney has suffered all sorts of rain and flash flooding! Maybe family movies are the only ones we should make and see….

  • Paul Marks

    The way the first story is reported is astonishingly slanted – supporters of freedom put in scare quotes (and so on).

    Especially as the thing that Andrew Bolt was actually “done” for was saying that white people were white – not aboriginal, as they were pretending to be (in order to loot the taxpayers).

  • The State is the biggest bully of them all. And yet, when it comes to so-called “cyberbullying”, or bullying in schools, the State’s role in it is never mentioned.

  • Rob

    Obviously this two year sentence, or even a prosecution, will be class-based, applying only to ugly looking members of the underclass and not, say, to a Labour Party prospective parliamentary candidate who uses Twitter to incite the murder of Channel Four executives.

  • llamas

    One man’s ‘honest commenter’ is another man’s ‘a**hole’.

    I’m sorry, but the very definition of free speech is the freedom to speak, behave and think like a complete and utter ‘a**hole’, regardless of whose delicate amour-propre may be tarnished. And in fact, to go further – speech is not free unless the speaker is not only not hindered by the armed coercers of the state, but actively protected by them against any and all comers.

    The minute you start carving out exceptions for this-or-that ‘special’ group, or against this-or-that subjective definition of what constitutes ‘unacceptable’ speech, then your free speech is gone. You can’t just have a little bit of restriction, it’s like being a little bit pregnant.

    The standard is simple – the only acceptable reasons for restricting speech by forcible coercion is if it ‘picks somebody’s pocket, or breaks somebody’s leg.’ All other forms of speech (no matter how objectionable) are best handled by non-coercive measures.

    The Finest Words Ever Written Upon This Subject:

    “That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all . . . . liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;

    That it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;

    And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.”

    Jefferson, T, 1777, and still as true today as the day he quilled it.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Paul Marks,
    Just to note, the first piece appeared in the “Comment” section of the Guardian and so wasn’t claiming to be unbiased. The writer is an MP for the Australian Labor Party complaining about the actions of Senator Brandis as Attorney General for the Liberal government.

  • Mr Ed

    The obsession of the day today in the UK appears to be that too many people are fat, and a person calling herself the Chief Medical Officer for England and Wales is calling for a Sugar Tax. This is a gross usurpation of this bureaucrat’s role.

    I have just heard that we have a National Child Measurement Programme, my great-uncle had a knife and a door frame to measure my height when I visited, it worked fine.

    The UK is turning into East Germany one way or another.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    The UK is turning into East Germany one way or another.

    At least in East Germany if the State got really interested in your body shape you’d get to score free drugs!

  • Mr Ed

    Yes Natalie, but you probably didn’t get much choice if you got them or not. Lottery funding for sport i. The UK is perhaps one other good legacy of John Major, along with Sunday trading in England and Wales.

    Sugar, you can’t beet it.

  • B. O'fama

    In the view of the left, freedom of speech allows one to say anything. Really – anything – as long as it is previously approved by the left. That is, as long as each word (definitions of course as provided by a leftist) and phrase receives prior approval by leftist thought-monitors, you are perfectly free so say it.

    Of course, any statement which does not comply requires prosecution.

    What did you far far far right wing extreme extremist fanatical fanatics think you could do? Say something that was not approved by your betters? Do you not understand these rules are for your own protection? Really. Next you will want freedom to think unapproved thoughts! We can not have that! It would be racist!

  • No, when the Left says, “We need to have a conversation,” what they really mean is “Shut up while we scream at you.”

    To them, that’s the sole meaning of freedom of speech. As you say, all else is worthy of censure or prosecution.

  • Paul Marks

    That explains it Natalie.

  • For all those doctrinaire free speech supporters who wanted to know who decides when someone is being a dick online: this is what a cyber-dick looks like. Feel free to explain to me how precious is this tool’s freedom of speech, and why he shouldn’t face some kind of consequences for exercising his freedom.

  • Mr Ed

    Kim, your post appears to comment on an ongoing criminal trial in England. That is a matter that may stray into a legal minefield risking contempt proceedings, and one must presume innocence under English law.

  • But… but… but I was expressing my opinion under my right to freedom of speech!

    Tricky stuff, the penumbra to this argument, isn’t it?

    Anyway, I’m a U.S. citizen. I can comment on anything I want, according to the First Amendment to our Constitution. If the appearance of said opinion may cause legal trouble for the proprietors of this website, they are free to take it down.

    There’s more irony in here than in a Chinese foundry.

    And he’s still a scumbag.

  • llamas

    Regarding Kim du Toit’s example -

    Yes, he’s a scumbag.

    But his freedom of speech is no less precious that yours, or mine, or anybody else’s – no less, and no more. And nobody – not me, not you, and certainly not some soi-disant ‘celebrity’ such as Ms Marsh – has any special call on the armed coercers of the state, to prevent anybody from merely speaking what they think, or punish them for doing so.

    In the instant case, we see that the scumbag was not prosecuted for the vile and offensive things he wrote to Ms Marsh – which is as it should be. He was prosecuted for actual ‘overt acts against peace and good order’ – which is also as it should be.

    The practical fact is that Ms Marsh – like anybody else – really did/does not have to pay the slightest mind to any speech she does not care to hear. Letters can be binned, e-mail can be filtered. Her claims of ghastly fears for her welfare seem a little overblown in light of the fact that she had already referred the matter of his letters to the police, who found that he had not made any real or credible threat against her. He just said a lot of creepy things to her face – the sorts of things which (if we’re honest) many men would express more-privately. It was only when he was found to be following her around that he ran afoul of the law.

    Consider the restaurant scene in the movie ‘Notting Hill’. (Yes, it’s a crappy movie, but it has its moments). Should the boor at the next table be prosecuted for thoughts he expressed – in public, nota bene – because the object of his comments happened to overhear? Or at all – whether she overheard them or not?

    Of course he shouldn’t. What he does – what the scumbag in the instant case did – is crass, and offensive, and unpleasant. Welcome to the human condition. But under no circumstances should mere speech be any sort of a criminal offence. The day when the boys in blue and m’learned friends are given the power to enforce some subjective standard of gentlemanly discourse is the day when you can kiss any pretence of freedom goodbye.

    It’s not ‘tricky’ at all. Once we lose the idea that there is any blanket, subjective right to never have to experience anything which offends us in any way, the principle is stark and simple. Offence is transitory, and will pass away. Freedom stolen is stolen forever. For that reason, we should firmly resist any attempt – no matter how well-meaning, or how benign it appears on its face – to prevent anybody saying anything they want about anything they want.

    JMHO, your mileage may vary. Let’s hear your opinion.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Andrew Duffin

    “I’ve always thought that cyber-bullying [sic] could be ended simply by a court order…”

    I’ve always thought that cyber-bullying could be ended, or at least rendered pointless, simply by ignoring it.

    But I guess I come from an older, tougher world where the saying about sticks and stones was actually believed.

  • Llamas:

    Or, as I like to say more crassly, Roman Polanski could only rape one girl at a time. Destroying liberty harms all of the children in one go.

  • Laird

    I agree with everything llamas has said here. Yes, that guy in Kim du Toit’s example is a scumbag. Big deal. Unless he made some sort of credible threat against her (which, apparently, the police concluded had not been done) he has done nothing which should be cognizable in a criminal court.* Restricting the freedom of speech of the worst among us invariably ends up restricting all of us. It’s not acceptable.

    * Actually, I have a bit of a problem with governmental prosecution of most things which are called “crimes”. With few exceptions they should be handled in civil actions. But that’s a different discussion.

  • I guess my opinion has been colored by facing over a thousand emailed threats of violence against myself and my family (nothing “credible”, according to the authorities) over a space of two days.

    Most of them disappeared after I offered to meet said threateners at a place of their choice, but suggesting that if we were to meet, they should be armed, because I most certainly would be. For over a year, I left the house with a heightened sense of danger and a Colt 1911 on my hip (granted, no change there from the norm). Anyway, it wasn’t a very pleasant experience, and clearly not one encountered by llamas and the other armchair theorists in here.

    I would imagine that for a child or single woman, this would be even less pleasant.

    I am always loath to invoke governmental power in cases pertaining to freedom; that said, however, I do feel, as I said above, that freedom entails responsibility, and irresponsible people who abuse that freedom need some kind of reprimand. And from the above comments, it’s clear that most people were able to identify at least one scumbag who needs a severe ball-kicking. The only question that remains is who should wear the appropriate boots.

  • Kim, threats and insulting/offensive speech are two entirely different things. Consequently and at least on its face, your case and the case of Ms Marsh are also two entirely different matters. The fact that your local police did not take the threats seriously is also an entirely different matter.

  • llamas

    @ Kim du Toit – well, I guess I can make allowances for your desire to see something – anything – done to a person who makes threatening noises at your family.

    Before you so airily dismiss me as an ‘armchair theorist’, I would remind you that I have served as a LEO and so, from time to time, have been offered actual threats by live persons whose intentions were much-more-likely to be realistic than some nameless, faceless internet presence. Such threats, even when made live by someone who might be considered to be serious to some degree, are generally laughable – what’s known in that trade as doing ‘the monkey dance’. They are, to an extent, ritualistic posturing which actually has very little to do with the person being ‘threatened’. Not to diminish the reality of what may have been offered to you and yours, merely to remind you that your situation is not special or unique.

    Another lesson I learned in that sphere was that verbal or written threats can almost-always be entirely discounted. When it is obvious that the next stop is going to be Fist City, the person to look for is the one who is NOT yelling ‘I’ma kick your ass!’ at the top of his lungs. The person who is going to kick your ass is already on his way, and he’s not sending you any postcards to announce his arrival.

    But, to return to the basic point – the miniscule real threat to life and limb offered by the occasional clown whose threats are slightly-more than empty posturing does not outweigh the gross threat to the liberties of the great majority that result from ANY restriction on mere speech. The time it will take for the armed coercers of the state to use benign and well-intentioned restrictions on speech to curtail speech that should not be curtailed can be measured with an egg-timer. A soft-boiled egg-timer.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Paul Marks

    Kim du Toit – the famous 1911 Colt Automatic?

  • Paul, I’m just a 1911 man in a 2014 world…

  • Laird

    Paul, as far as I know the 1911 is not an automatic; it’s a semi-automatic. Big difference.

  • thefrollickingmole

    Hmm I can emphasize with Kim to a point.
    I was part of a middling large blog group (which folded when one of our members died). We attracted a deranged loon whos initials were RR.
    He found out one of our writers had cancer and was in recovery.
    This loon sent dozens of “enjoy your cancer/have fun dying young” etc emails a day, even when he was banned from commenting for over 4 years we still found stuff from him in our spam filter.

    Now before computers a cock like that would either seethe powerlessly, or out themselves and be punched in the nose.

    Now having said that I cant support restriction on freedom of speech unless it comes down to threats of violence.
    Any threat of violence should be treated seriously enough to warrant a copper knocking on your door and asking you “are you serious or are you a blowhard” in order to let them know they have crossed the line (no charges though).

    Ive also seen the “old” version of cyber bullying when I had a nice little old lady before me in court… who was up on communications/harassment offence because she was calling the object of her hate up to 90 times a day.

    Free speech is tricky, but should be kept as broad as possible, better to have a neo-nazi out themselves than still in your circle of friends.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Laird – one press one bullet.

    I apologise for my misuse of language.

  • Paul Marks

    Kim do Toit – good luck Sir, to you and to your family.

  • I think Alisa has it exactly correct. Kim’s mistake is the same false dichotomy used to challenge freedom of speech by saying “you are not free to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre”. Sure, but that is simply not an issue of “free speech” (category error).

    Similarly I would not be denying someone else’s “right to freedom of expression” by not letting them enter my home in order to spray paint their ideas on my walls, because the rights in question there are mine, not theirs. They are perfectly at liberty to write what they like on their own walls.

    I am all for the people who were griefing Kim and his family to have the hammer of law used on them. Indeed I fully support the legal and common sensical notion of “pubic nuisance” and it can coexist just fine with the notion of “freedom of expression” (indeed it goes hand in hand).

    To think otherwise is rather like the marvellous Paul Coulam’s example of the “Propertarian Absurdity” which suggests rights generate no consequences. His splendid example goes thusly: Joe is an avid collector of land mines. And he keeps his land mine collection buried in his front yard, with candy placed on top of each one to mark their position. But should a passing child venture into his garden unbidden and blow themselves up, not only is Joe not liable for that death, he demands the right to seek compensation for trespass, the attempted theft of his candy and the loss of a lovely land mine from his splendid collection. Property rights uber alles!

    Bonkers obviously, yet I have heard some defenders of property rights make equally bizarre suggestions.

    But the issue is not one of ‘property rights’, any more than some genuinely threatening scumbag on the internet is an issue of ‘free speech’. It is an issue of “public nuisance”.

    Public nuisance is not just a concept, it is a self evident fact. The problem comes when people make the same error the other way around, and use notions of “public nuisance” to indeed restrict fundamental liberties. The issue is not ‘trade offs’ but rather tricky definitional and demarkation issues. Differentiating behaviour that is a “nuisance” from behaviour that is merely “unpopular” is the crux of the matter.

  • Perry, it’s the age-old problem thrown up by the Enlightenment: in an enlightened society, where people are properly educated and schooled in matters of manners, morality and ethics, very little authority is necessary. It’s the way that most Samizdatians think, too. And that’s perfectly true.

    Unfortunately, in the grubby world we live in, there is a large number of people who are un-Enlightened (rogues, robbers and malcontents). We all know who they are, and the scumbag whose story I linked to above is a fine example thereof. Those are your public nuisances.

    The really awful group of people are not un-Enlightened, but deliberately anti-Enlightenment — people for whom individual freedoms are anathema, and who deliberately set about curtailing and undermining those freedoms in the name of power over the individual.

    Unfortunately, in taking care of the un-Enlightened, we give power to the anti-Enlightened because the principles of freedom are universal.

    It’s always been a tricky argument: libertarians such as yourself simply draw the line at a different point along the freedom:slavery slope than conservatives like myself do. I am fully aware that occasionally this makes me sound uncomfortably like the modern-day “progressives” and authoritarians — pragmatic people are often caught in this trap.

    But in all the talk of freedoms of speech for scumbags, let’s just say that I’m also supportive of people to live their lives free from the influence of (for example) the online bullies and nuisances.

    I’m also uncomfortably aware that the tools used to curtail the activities of the public nuisances will be used by the same authorities to curtail the freedoms of people like you and me, and that we need to fight that wherever we can with whatever tools we have at our disposal, i.e. the four boxes* of liberty.

    It’s a never-ending conflict, innit?
    —————————
    *4 boxes of liberty: soap box, ballot box, jury box and cartridge box.

  • Paul Marks

    Kim du Toit.

    Sadly where the people are no good, the police tend to be no good either.

    In the area you live, if the police went on strike would the shops be looted?

    It is not worth living in an area like that – it really is not.

    And, eventually a society like that produces a government (including a police force) in its own image. As with Argentina and so on.

    If Thomas Hobbes is correct (that people will not protect the lives and property of other people) then his solution (all mighty government) FAILS – as the government is made up of people.