Trump has been banned from Twitter and Parler has been taken offline. Proponents of so-called free speech cry foul and all the old arguments about the role of social media companies and the media in general have come to the fore again. Yet over the last few days we have seen how devastating words can be. Words stir passions, incite feelings and lead to action. Incitement to action can be both good and bad.
People have died on the back of what prominent people have said. They claim that it is never their fault, they were taken out of context and that they were only invoking their right to free speech.
I ask though, how can speech be free when people pay for it with their lives?
I have said before that I don’t accept that people can divorce themselves from the consequences of what they say. Saying abhorrent things leads to feelings of abhorrence, saying disgusting things leads to disgust and saying things that are hateful leads to hatred. Unfortunately, once again I have been vindicated.
Speech is only free up to a point. Like services from the National Health Service, speech is free at the point of use yet for many of us it has to be paid for.
Inciting riots through hate speech is free until we all have to pay to mop up the mess that it has caused. Spreading lies and fake news is free until we all have to suffer the social and political fallout for years into the future. Climate deniers and anti-vaxxers are all expressing free speech yet they are doing untold and potentially irreparable damage to the world and its peoples.
Free speech is not free, it comes with consequences. I defend everyone’s right to say what they think but they then cannot abnegate or abrogate responsibility for what comes next. We should all learn to be careful when letting our words go free.