1357: Free Speech

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
Free Speech
I can't remember where I heard this, but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you're saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it's not literally illegal to express.
Title text: I can't remember where I heard this, but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you're saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it's not literally illegal to express.

[edit] Explanation

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides for freedom of speech for United States citizens, saying that "Congress shall make no law [...] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press". This concerns only government activities, as the Constitution is a legal document that defines the structure and powers of the government. However, many times, both on the Internet and off, people with unpopular (or arguably just plain stupid) opinions will complain that their freedom of speech is being restricted when others make it clear that they don't want to hear those opinions.

An example of this is the incident involving the TV program Duck Dynasty, in which television network A+E Networks suspended the host after he made homophobic remarks, causing some to comment that his rights had been infringed upon. Similarly, controversy erupted when Brendan Eich was forced to resign as CEO of Mozilla because it was revealed he had donated money to anti-gay marriage efforts in California. In actuality, the First Amendment was never meant to provide immunity from any and all consequences.

Cueball is addressing anyone who has used this argument. As the comic says, just because you're legally allowed to say something doesn't mean that everyone is legally required to listen. It also does not mean that a commercial or social entity — such as a TV network, a website, or its community — is legally required to support you in spreading your message, even if it had supported you in the past. If someone says something stupid or offensive, he or she should be ready to accept the consequences.

The title text points out the irony of anyone appealing to free speech as a defense for their argument or opinion. If the only thing that someone can say in support of an argument is effectively that it is not illegal, then they are severely undermining it by essentially admitting that they don't have any better defense for it.

[edit] Transcript

Cueball: Public Service Announcement: The Right to Free Speech means the government can't arrest you for what you say.
Cueball: It doesn't mean that anyone else has to listen to your bullshit, or host you while you share it.
Cueball: The 1st amendment doesn't shield you from criticism or consequences.
Cueball: 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.
Cueball: It's just that the people listening think you're an asshole,
[A picture of an open door is displayed.]
Cueball: And they're showing you the door.

[edit] Trivia

  • One famous example of this is Schenck v. United States, where the expression "shouting fire in a crowded theater" gave rise: just because a person can say anything they want, it doesn't mean that they are protected from everything, even if they are lying.
  • The Speakers' Corner at the Hyde Park in London is another example, everybody can hold a speech but there is no guarantee for a big auditorium.
comment.png add a comment!

Discussion

It would be nice to mention how this applies only to the Federal government; discussions of how it is enforced on the states may be beyond the scope of this wiki. In addition, it might be amusing to note that freedom of association and other freedoms specified in the Bill of Rights have the same scope. That is, there are very few enumerated powers given to the Federal government, the Bill of Rights specifies some limitations on the Congress - but in general, the restriction on Congress was to the enumerated powers, a concept that made the Bill of Rights redundant - and the Bill of Rights does not apply (as written) to anyone but the Federal government. 173.245.54.40 20:08, 18 April 2014 (UTC)

The First Amendment also applies to the various State governments (including their subsidiaries, such as local governments) through the Incorporation Doctrine, which is based on the Fourteenth Amendment (which is about the States). To be sure, the text of the Fourteenth Amendment doesn't spell out this doctrine, so the whole thing is a bit of a stretch, but it's how the courts interpret it now. This (along with the courts' broad interpretation of the enumerated powers) makes the Bill of Rights far from redundant (and I for one am happy to have it applied as broadly as possible). —TobyBartels (talk) 23:55, 18 April 2014 (UTC)

I've clarified the sentence about the Constitution being a legal document. Legal documents are not necessarily limited to government activity (for example, an apartment lease is a legal document but says nothing about what the government can or cannot do). I added the phrase "that defines the structure and powers of the government" to the end of the sentence. Elsbree (talk) 04:55, 18 April 2014 (UTC)

Another recent event (within the past couple of weeks) was a campaign against Stephen Colbert for an out-of-context quote taken from a bit on his show. It was hash-tagged under "CancelColbert". Interestingly, people from Fox News that had supported the Duck Dynasty guy were completely against Colbert. 108.162.237.218 05:09, 18 April 2014 (UTC)

That door in the last frame is a backdoor to fascism. --Mus (talk) 06:27, 18 April 2014 (UTC)

Are you related to this woman? LOL.
Nevertheless, I agree the comic would be stronger and more accurate if it didn't have that last panel. Disagreeing with someone's speech doesn't mean you get to throw them out. Places of public accommodation, such as most businesses, are required to be non-discriminatory. - Frankie (talk) 11:59, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
Reading-comprehension fail. Read the entire bottom row; it is a complete sentence. Removing the last clause negates the first. — Fluffy Buzzard (talk) 14:38, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
Businesses are allowed to throw people out for almost any reason. The non-discriminatory clause has nothing to do with what people say, and isn't even tangential to the First Amendment. And yes. Disagreeing with someone in your domain does mean you get to throw them out. In fact, you can throw them out if you do agree with them. Or don't know them. Or if they're your brother. 108.162.237.218 21:25, 18 April 2014 (UTC)

Can someone add something saying that other countries also have similar laws on free speech? I would do it myself, but I'm new to editing the wiki and I wouldn't know how to word it. Cheeselord99 (talk) 07:19, 18 April 2014 (UTC)

I would if there was some sort of summary of them available. Though there's the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the UN, I don't think it specifically requires any entity (such as a government body) to do (or not do) anything, just like I understand most anything U.N. related to be. I believe it's a guide/declaration/definition/resolution/statement of belief, and it would then be up to any soverienty to actually enforce or comply with it. Brettpeirce (talk) 12:08, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
"Can someone add something saying that other countries also have similar laws on free speech?" Are you implying that you think ALL other countries have similar laws, or SOME other countries have similaar laws? Saying that the local dictator sucks, or that the local religion is bullshit is certainly not protected free speech in many, many countries. --RenniePet (talk) 23:07, 21 April 2014 (UTC)

This is going to be one of those XKCDs everyone is linking to, to make a point.Jkrstrt (talk) 08:27, 18 April 2014 (UTC)

Though, I will say, I'm a bit concerned that the point people may be making is that "Argumentum ad Populum" is totally legit, as there is a suggestion one could infer that if a bunch of people are mad at you for something you say you deserve to be shown the door. And I'm not sure that's the intended message, and even if it is, I'm not sure it's a good one. Speaking an uncomfortable or undesired truth to a community (Which will almost certainly anger them, and make them think you're an asshole, let's say) doesn't mean the door is an appropriate response. On the other hand, when speaking such truths, one probably has a better justification than "Because Free Speech," just hopefully the disgruntled masses will actually listen to it.108.162.216.46 10:49, 18 April 2014 (UTC)

That's the point, if your only defense is "Free Speech" - you should be shown the door. --Jeff (talk) 15:05, 18 April 2014 (UTC)

Both Jeff and 108.162.216.46 are accurate. 108.162.216.46's example of an uncomfortable or undesired truth causing anger is possible. It's up the the messenger to make sure that they frame the point properly and use appropriate supporting materials to justify their claims. A messenger with bad news won't say "free speech," they will say "this is the evidence" if they want to avoid being shown the door. 173.245.55.85 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

The issue, of course, is that a lot of people aren't willing to listen to evidence when told things they don't want to hear. Say, I dunno, if you're hanging out on a particularly conservative forum where people are taking turns bashing "Obamacare," even if you have a perfectly rational, backed up by numbers, etc. reason to say it may not be all bad, or may even be good, there's a decent chance that you could get shown the door simply because that's an unpopular opinion no matter how good your reasons are. And it's the sort of person who wants to punish someone simply for saying something unpopular on a forum, simply because it's unpopular (Or, in the case of some admins/mods, something they just don't personally like), who I'm concerned about using this comic as rhetorical backup. For the message of this comic to work, the community/etc. has to be willing to listen to rational evidence and they frequently aren't. 108.162.216.46 22:55, 18 April 2014 (UTC)

Just happened to see this today, thought it was relevant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJMqYcRgf-A&t=51s 173.245.54.60 16:56, 18 April 2014 (UTC)

This comic has it completely backwards! There are people who say "You're violating the First Amendment." when they're being censored by somebody who's not the government; they are mistaken, and this comic would be absolutely correct if it were addressing them. But it's not. In fact, it doesn't talk about the First Amendment (or similar provisions in other constitutions or other laws) at all; it talks only about freedom of speech. [ETA April 19: Whoops, that's wrong! The first panel has it backwards, but the third panel is perfectly correct. So my complaint is that the comic conflates freedom of speech and the First Amendment, not that it addresses only freedom of speech.] And if you're being censored on Facebook, or in the privately-owned shopping mall, or wherever, then yes, your freedom of speech is being violated.

It's not illegal, and it may not even be wrong (why should my blog have to display your speech, after all?), but it's still a limitation on your freedom to speak. And if you want to argue that Facebook or the shopping mall (or even my blog) should not do that, then that's a perfectly legitimate position to take. As long as you say nothing about the First Amendment or the like, but instead complain about freedom of speech, then my only response (if I want to respond) is to explain why you shouldn't have free speech on that forum, not some irrelevant blather about the government. —TobyBartels (talk) 23:41, 18 April 2014 (UTC)

The comic does not address the concept of free speech itself; it addresses the *right* to free speech. Sure, your speech might be restricted on certain forums or in certain communities, but you generally have no actual *right* to free speech there. It's simply that the forum or community does not want to support your ideas. --V2Blast (talk) 02:37, 19 April 2014 (UTC)
Who decides whether that is a right or not? 108.162.217.47 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Rights aren't just for governments. Any entity can grant you rights and then uphold or violate them. (Facebook actually calls its terms of service a "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities", which it is, even though it's primarily their rights and our responsibilities.) So one might argue that Facebook (as a public forum intended for everybody and everything) ought to grant freedom of speech (which it kind of does, with a few exceptions, but only implicitly), while a personal blog should not (and then there are also forums that should maybe grant freedom of on-topic speech or something like that). People also consider natural rights (which is how the Declaration of Independence treats them, although free speech is not on its list), but personally I think that it's clearer to discuss what rights should be rather than what natural rights are. So if somebody claims that FB (eg) is violating their right to free speech, then at best you have them on a technicality (because that is not a natural right and also not a right explicitly granted by FB), but their real point is that FB is violating their freedom of speech (which FB sometimes really does, including in ways that its terms of service does not authorize, hence various complaints from time to time like this one). —TobyBartels (talk) 17:30, 19 April 2014 (UTC)

I see 2 ironies: 1. Those from the BGLT+ side tend to use the 'Free Speech' argument, too. 2. This was posted in Good Friday. Greyson (talk) 23:52, 18 April 2014 (UTC)

On the first irony, I think this article rather misrepresents the uproar around the Duck Dynasty incident (which is mentioned in the article explanation). It wasn't just that people felt the guy's rights were violated (the merits of which argument I am not commenting on), but that A&E essentially ambushed him after he gave an opinion, in an interview, that no one should expect he didn't have. It's essentially the same issue with the Chik-fil-a incident, where people became extremely angry over an open Christian donating money to anti-gay groups, even though he was doing so for several years previously. It's not just the first amendment rights, it's that A&E, a company who is so prideful about being open minded and tolerant with the BGLT community, would drop the hammer so hard on someone who was already well-known for having opposite opinions. The point is, while A&E does technically have the right to show the Duck Dynasty guy the door, they cannot seriously do so without seriously undermining their own reasons for firing him. 173.245.54.45 18:49, 19 April 2014 (UTC)

I've had the situation where I express disagreement with someone and they accuse me of violating their right of free speech. A possible response to this, which I wouldn't actually use, is "I absolutely defend your First Amendment right to behave like a jerk." Mark314159 (talk) 15:14, 19 April 2014 (UTC)

Well, while it is correct to say that the kind of actions talked about in this comic don't violate the First Amendment, it's not at all beside the point to point out that there are problems with the free speech involved. Basically, Randall Munroe is repeating a popular line of argument these days, and one that unfortunately sidesteps the entire issue of whether non-state entities can be censors. If you think the issue through for more than two seconds, it's pretty clear that they can be. Take for example some group of armed thugs physically threatening a journalist. (Hardly a hypothetical - there's a lot of that going on in the world today.) If they don't represent a government, according to a strict interpretation of the argument just made in the above xkcd, they're just providing consequences and "showing the door" to someone who's speech they don't like. So, obviously, there are very clearly non-state actions that amount to censorship.

OK, what about non-violent actions? That still can run into a lot of grey areas. Most certainly, nobody owes anybody else the use of their venue or platform for someone else to make their point - *that* would be a violation of free speech rights to be compelled to do so. And certainly, boycotts of those who's views one disagrees with in order to influence public opinion have a solid history in democratic societies. What is problematic, however, and crosses the line into a kind of privatized censorship is the kind of "no platform" activism that seems to be in fashion these days, that seeks to deny *any* venue to those who are deemed to have unacceptable views or are practicing "hate speech" - slippery and ever-expanding concepts, it seems to me. Who is it that should have the power to "show the door" into outright silencing? BTW, a recent blog post raises these concerns in response to the above cartoon here, and I blogged about this at length last year here in regards to some of the more censorious actions of Ada Initiative. Iamcuriousblue (talk) 04:17, 20 April 2014 (UTC)

In fact, there are (admittedly rare) situations in which the "right to free speech" can require a private entity to host a speaker. Marsh v. Alabama involved a Jehovah's Witness handing out literature in a company town completely owned by a corporation. The Supreme Court held that because the admittedly private spaces in a company town were akin to public spaces, the company could not enforce a trespassing law against the Jehovah's Witness without violating the First Amendment. So long as one is talking about the "right to free speech" (which goes beyond the First Amendment), the Pruneyard Shopping Center case, in which a mall owner was forced to allow participation by a speaker due to a California law expanding free speech rights in commercial areas, serves as another example of where a private entity can be forced to accommodate another's speech. 173.245.54.13 10:25, 21 April 2014 (UTC)

TL;DR --Dgbrt (talk) 18:52, 21 April 2014 (UTC)

A very recent article that pretty much shreds this comic. XKCD is usually on point, but this one goes a bit too far. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2014/04/22/freedom_to_marry_freedom_to_dissent_why_we_must_have_both_122376.html 173.245.56.86 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I find it very disturbing that one of the most popular science-themed comics on the Internet gives a free pass to the Catholic church like this. The Catholic church is not a government, it is an international cultural institution, therefore, if the Catholic church bans people, ideas, speech, and behavior from all domains of its organizational influence, this comic clearly supports such a move. (I doubt the author needs a primer on that part of history.) The stated position that free speech only means that government can't come after you, but cultural institutions can and you just need to be quiet and leave if you disagree with that. 108.162.215.85 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

As an atheist, the Catholic church's policies have no relevance to me. I do not visit Catholic churches, I do not attend Catholic schools, and I do not use Catholic businesses. If anyone doesn't like what they do, they -can- just leave. When enough people are fed up, they'll be a cultural institution of zero. Or one, or whatever. A number too small to have any bearing on society at large. Unless you're suggesting that people somehow have a right to impose things on someone else's property, which is false. 108.162.237.218 09:54, 1 May 2014 (UTC)
I believe that Randall made this comic without fully thinking of the implications of the stance it takes. I mean, it certainly is a backlash against currently so-called homophobic (I have problems with this word) community, but it also essentially justifies a whole lot of other stuff this society wouldn't deem right. 173.245.56.86 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
I'd like to explain all the ways I think this comic is ridiculous- if, indeed, he;s talking about what everyone thinks he's talking about:
1. His casual and condescending dismissal of actual, seriously held points of view as mere trolling.
2. His pretending that all these debates are about is so much trolling, akin to a website choosing to remove someone disruptive.
3. Every who's protested this has stressed that they have no argument that Mozilla had a legal right to do as they please; they are making a more moral argument. To many, alas, *anything* is government action or it's nothing at all, so moral arguments, interestingly, end up having no weight.
4. Many on the "other side" have had no problem calling "Freedom of Speech!" with little to no actual legal basis. Turnabout is...
5. Those same people have often had no issue with actual repression even when government (e.g., a state university) is involved. One wonders what the argument would be like if, say, Woolworth's refused to serve blacks at their lunch counters. Oh wait. Well, turnabout again.
That's most of what I can think of off the top of my head.141.101.88.224 20:52, 23 April 2014 (UTC)

HAAY GUISE I HAS A OPINON AND YOU ALL MUST LISTEN TO ME OKAY HERE GOES WAIT DON'T DELETE ME WAAAGH!!! 199.27.128.71 06:16, 26 April 2014 (UTC)

How recent was the Clippers scandal in relation to this comic? I just saw on Facebook's trending bar that sponsors are pulling away so they won't be associated with racism, and people are crying about the First Amendment. 108.162.237.218 05:03, 29 April 2014 (UTC)


Off topic — Free Speech Schtonk!
At The Great Dictator, the greatest movie Charlie Chaplin ever did, the Führer shouts: "Demokratsie Schtonk! Liberty Schtonk! Free Sprekken Schtonk!“ The word Schtonk! was also used as the title of a satirical German movie, retelling the hoax of the Hitler Diaries.--Dgbrt (talk) 18:59, 29 April 2014 (UTC)
Personal tools
Namespaces

Variants
Actions
Navigation
Tools

It seems you are using noscript, which is stopping our project wonderful ads from working. Explain xkcd uses ads to pay for bandwidth, and we manually approve all our advertisers, and our ads are restricted to unobtrusive images and slow animated GIFs. If you found this site helpful, please consider whitelisting us.

Want to advertise with us, or donate to us with Paypal or Bitcoin?