Meet the Free Speech Warriors

The term “social justice warrior” (SJW) is a funny one, isn’t it? Depending on who you ask, it means either anyone who talks about systematic oppression, or just those who refuse to talk to people who disagree with them. According to Urban Dictionary, the latter definition is the right one, although even then it’s easy to throw the SJW label at anyone who doesn’t do respectability politics (I know I have!). Regardless, if the term SJW is meant to differentiate the “good” social justice activists from the “radicals,” then I propose a new term to describe another group of radicals: Free Speech Warriors.

Like the so-called SJWs, Free Speech Warriors (FSWs) are those who take a wonderful thing and totally ruin it for everyone. In this case, the ruined wonderful thing is free speech. I’m not patriotic, but I am glad I live in a country where the government can neither imprison nor execute me just for saying religion is bullshit. I support everyone’s legal right to share their opinions on social media, no matter how shitty. Having said that, though, just because I support one’s legal right to spout bullshit online doesn’t mean I can’t use my legal right to call them out on their bullshit. Also, even though I’m not a legal expert, I’m pretty sure harassment and threats aren’t covered by the First Amendment. As the old saying goes, “Your right to swing ends where my nose begins.”

The FSW, however, says, “Your nose shouldn’t get in the way of my right to swing.” For the FSW, a private individual saying, “That’s racist, don’t say that” is just as bad as the government outlawing racist statements. Also, as we’ve seen from the #FreeMilo hashtag, FSWs apparently think free speech covers harassment as well.

For those that don’t know, two weeks ago Twitter permanently banned gay alt-right blogger Milo Yiannopoulos for his involvement with harassing actress Leslie Jones online. Although Twitter did not specify a particular tweet that broke the camel’s proverbial back, the Washington Post says, “Yiannopoulos was subject to several warnings from the social network over the course of his Twitter career and had lost his blue verification check mark in January for violating Twitter’s rules.” The Post also mentions that conservative pundits Charles Johnson and Robert Stacy McCain have been permanently banned from Twitter for similar reasons.

Of course talk-show host Dave Rubin must have missed the memo that Yiannopoulos was banned for harassment because shortly after the ban, Rubin tweeted his support of Yiannopoulos. According to Rubin:

“#FreeMilo situation is not about 1st Amendment, which is govt. coming for speech. My defense of him is a defense of exchange of ideas. . . .Twitter/Facebook have become the roads we have to partake for exchange of ideas. There should be convo about their responsibilities.”

I don’t know about you, but I like to think stopping online harassment should one of Twitter and Facebook’s biggest responsibilities. In fact, so does Twitter. In a statement released two weeks ago, Twitter says:

People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter. But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others. Over the past 48 hours in particular, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of accounts violating these policies and have taken enforcement actions against these accounts, ranging from warnings that also require the deletion of Tweets violating our policies to permanent suspension. [Emphasis mine.]

And then there’s the brief spat between American Atheist president David Silverman and DJ Grothe about the Reason Rally’s Code of Conduct. After Silverman wrote on his Facebook wall that everyone who was offended by the Code of Conduct should unfriend him, Grothe responded:

Dave, do you honestly believe events that refrain from adopting unenforceable and overreaching policies against “harassment” (including attacking religion, like the Reason Rally’s own “Code of Conduct” does) actually therefore *allow* harassment?

These policies are just for show, and are meant to quell some of the more unhinged parts of the atheist movement. Only in a sense are such policies effective. But in reality, such illiberal policies treat adults like children, and create all sorts of liability issues for organization that adopt them if they actually try to enforce them seriously. They are also inconsistent with the ideals of the event – deliberately offending someone because of his or her beliefs constitutes clear harassment in an HR sense. Attendees of the Reason Rally better be sure not to say anything offensive about religious people and their beliefs. And someone should send Dawkins the memo ASAP. [Emphasis mine]

To which Silverman responded:

These policies set out details for how the illegal activity of harassing people (a far cry from “harassing religion”) is handled, and they definitely work. They are most definitely not for show – I’ve had them at AA conventions for year and yes, they work great, and they provide a more welcoming and safer environment without stifling speech in the slightest. The Reason Rally, as well as the other conventions I’ve run, have theists on stage and attendance. It’s not okay to harass these people. You can say anything you want about their religion, but getting in their faces and badgering AFTER they’ve asked you to stop is harassment and it is not okay, and our policies lay out what happens if you do it. [Emphasis mine]

Silverman hits the nail on the proverbial head. Unfortunately, FSWs believe free speech means freedom to say anything without any consequence whatsoever. It’s a fundamentalist libertarian idea that you should have not only the legal right to yell fire in a crowded movie theater when there is no fire, but also the moral right. Anyone who doesn’t like it, according to FSWs, just needs to stop being offended all the time and grow up.

Which brings me to another defining feature of the FSW: FSWs believe people are way too sensitive these days, yet don’t like it when other people use their free speech to criticize FSWs. As I mentioned a few months ago, YouTube blowhard Sargon of Akkad loves to make fun of the concept of safe spaces, yet once started a petition to have all social justice teachers banned from college. Then there’s the Amazing Atheist’s epic shitfit after Martin Hughes called him out on his racism. Apparently TJ Kirk thinks it’s fine to for him to be a racist, but when people call him a racist, that’s “true racism.” Don’t try to reason that out or else you’ll get a headache.

And then there’s Peter Boghossian, who has a habit of saying provocative things on Twitter and then crying foul when people criticize him. Many remember him tweeting why LGBTQ people would be proud for something they didn’t earn, only to complain about the Regressive Left being offended by everything when people tried to explain why he was wrong. More recently, he predicted on Twitter that “the number of black on black homicides will substantially increase over the next 6 months.” After several people asked him to elaborate, Boghossian sarcastically tweeted, “I want to show my moral community I’m a good person and on their team, so I’ll interpret tweets uncharitably and accuse tweeters of racism.”

To be fair, according to the Pew Research Center, 40% of Millenials polled believe the government should be able to censor things that offend marginalized groups, and that is a problem. As my friend Matthew Facciani wrote a few months ago, “Suggesting that the government should intervene when something is offensive is a clear violation of free speech.” I agree; bigoted assholes should have the legal right to let everyone know they’re bigoted assholes. However, where the FSWs and I disagree is that I believe I should have the legal right to tell bigoted assholes they’re full of shit. For the FSW, calling a racist a racist isn’t “civil dialogue,” and that the worst form of fascism is not giving a platform to fascists. I’m not an expert on John Stuart Mills’ work, but I have a feeling that the FSWs would make him say, “Damn, son!”

I don’t know if the term FSW will catch on like SJW, but there certainly seem to be more FSWs than SJWs out there.


  1. inquisitiveraven says

    I really hate the “Shout fire in a crowded theater” example, largely because 95% of the time people miss an important detail: the problem isn’t shouting fire in a crowed theater, it’s doing so when you know (or believe) that there isn’t one. It’s not a problem if there’s actually a fire.

    It does seem to me that FSWs are trying to stop social justice activists from pointing out real, if metaphorical, fires.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    inquisitiveraven @ # 1: I really hate the “Shout fire in a crowded theater” example…

    Plus the historical context: the phrase comes from a Supreme Court opinion which absurdly compared that to the case at hand, which involved handing out anti-draft leaflets during World War I.

    Moreover, I suspect the best action to take if one did become aware of a fire in a crowded theater would entail quietly notifying people nearest the exits first, to get as many out as possible before/instead of a panicked rush.

  3. says

    FSW : SJW : : WLM : BLM

    Funny how those whine about “free speech” (to justify and defend their harassment of others) can’t grasp that private businesses (like twitter) can dictate seech. It’s akin to ammosexuals whining when a privately owned business on private property puts up a “No Guns Allowed” sign.

    No one’s “free speech” is violated by telling a visitor to leave after spewing hate speech in someone’s home. And the same goes for an organization’s event, even if it were in a public park and not a hotel or convention centre.

  4. comprimidos says

    Ahh, free speech. The last refuge of the misogynist, the transphobic, the racist, and, ultimately, of the fascist. Randall Munroe, the XKCD guy, said it best:

    ‘Public Service Announcement: The Right to Free Speech means the government can’t arrest you for what you say. It doesn’t mean that anyone else has to listen to your bullshit, or host you while you share it. The 1st amendment doesn’t shield you from criticism or consequences. If you’re yelled at, boycotted, have your show canceled, or get banned from an Internet community, your free speech rights aren’t being violated. It’s just that the people listening think you’re an asshole,

    And they’re showing you the door.’

    It always amazes me how it is always those screaming for less government intervention, the self-proclaimed libertarians, who want to do what they like with their business, are always the ones that get hissy fits about businesses exercising their right to remove obnoxious people from their premises.

  5. polishsalami says

    “SJW” is a term that has been so overused that it is starting to lose its meaning.

    Rubin is another right-winger who has convinced himself that he’s a sensible, moderate voice of reason. His opinions can be safely ignored.

    Milo lost his blue tick for stating that he worked for BuzzFeed in his bio; he lost his account for presenting fake Leslie Jones tweets as real. It had nothing to do with the ‘exchange of ideas’.

  6. hoary puccoon says

    Twitter is essentially a vanity publisher. Its users aren’t required to pass through an editorial board in order to publish. But, like any other vanity publisher, the Twitter staff can refuse to publish a user’s writings for any reason or no reason, just as a newspaper can choose which letters to the editors it will publish. There’s no right of free speech involved.

    The fact that FSWs think that they have a right to say whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want, says nothing about the US constitution and everything about the FSWs’ parents’ regrettable child-rearing practices.

  7. secondtofirstworld says

    Okay, this is something we’ll disagree on, at least on the government and free speech part, since it has recently flared up again because of a proposed German law to punish Facebook or Google financially if they don’t comply with requests of removing hate speech.

    What gives the Germans the idea is their constitution and who gave them that constitution? Roughly the same guys who prepared the Nuremberg Trials, so you see, this is an ouroboros. You disagree with something your country created. Where was this First Amendment outrage when the Sedition Act shut down all voices critical of DC?

    Not to mention, this is a have your cake and eat it too situation. You want people to be able to incite violence and property damage through speech, but you also want to criminalize violence. You forget that instigation of a crime is also a crime, and when a violent group, which is formed for no other reason then to destroy other groups, use speech to reinforce why they are violent, then correlation is causation.

    Erring on the side of caution is one thing, but this is not it. This is exoneration of extremism in order to grant the same liberties to all built on the hope that the majority will always know what the right thing is. They don’t, that’s why mass manipulation exist. I urge you to not forget: you were not founded on the liberties you have today, the first voters were land owning white men because Benji and friends thought the populace can be dangerously stupid and unreliable, like voting for the British to come back. You can’t make a social contract with psychopaths, much less give them an agency.

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