Does YouTube Have The Right To Ban Alex Jones?

Alex Jones’ Infowars got banned from Youtube, Apple and Facebook all in one day. His followers are outraged and scream censorship. His many enemies are celebrating the move as a victory for truth. What is going on? Is this just a perfectly legitimate example of free association by private companies, or are we dealing with something else?

Libertarians don’t tend to think of censorship by private institutions as a violation of freedom of speech. A private person, or company, should be free to ban or endorse any kind of opinion he or she likes. This is technically absolutely correct, and an important point to make. It is, however, questionable whether this argument holds when we are talking about big companies like Google or Facebook.

Could there be a legitimate reason to ban Alex Jones? I have known Infowars since the early 2000s. Back then, Jones was the only political commentator I knew off who was already publishing his opinions as videos online. This was years before youtube became popular, when the internet was still very slow and expensive. Jones deserves some credit for very early recognizing the full potential of the internet.

He seemed to have a more or less classical liberal mindset. His videos were hugely critical of the state. The 1993 massacre in Waco Texas was portrait by him as a clear sign that the government had declared war on its citizens. Inforwars, and its sister side Prison Planet, argued that we are going rapidly into a massive police state. Knowing the history of western states since, it is difficult to argue that he was completely wrong about that. Already back then, he clearly seem to have a very conspiratorial view of the world. The new world order, as he called it, was a conspiracy of a small elite of people to enslave the rest of us.

Although I was a lot more susceptible to this simplistic conspiratorial viewpoint back in the day, I always thought that Jones was slightly nuts. But at first I thought he was nuts in a good way. At least he saw the state as a big problem. This was something I did not hear from many people in Germany at the time. So, even if slightly wrong, he felt like a little bit of fresh air.

I particularly liked that Infowars was still asking critical questions about 911. Being the conspiracy theorist that he has always been, he openly advocated that it was the US government itself that was behind the attacks. Again, I was never fully convinced by that, and these theories have now long been debunked as complete nonsense, but at least the conspiracy theorists were still asking critical questions.

That was better than what I heart from most commentators, who had collectively lost their marvels, rallying blindly behind the US flag. Conspiracy or not, the inside job theorists were among the few people, who saw correctly that the government was abusing these terrorist attacks to massively infringe on our liberty. They also saw clearly that going to war against terrorism was a terrible idea.

Since that time, Infowars has of course become hugely successful. Alex now reaches millions of people regularly. He therefore has the power to influence the opinions of a significantly big crowd. But he clearly has not grown very much when it comes to his theories of how the world works. His view on politics is now more conspiratorial than ever, and the theories seem to have got more crazy rather than less.

In my view, he has gone from someone who I thought was valuable, because he was roughly advocating the right things for the wrong reasons, to somehow who is a real liability to people critical of statism. His crazy theories make critics of the status quo look bad. Especially since the rise of Donald Trump in politics, Infowars has become absolutely excruciating. Nowadays, I can never manage to view more than a minute or so of his crazy rants. And ranting is basically all he does. He seems to be one of those people who think that voicing an argument loudly somehow makes it better. He has also become an outright cheerleader of the a state run by Donald Trump.

Why am I saying all this? I am saying it to make the point that I have very little motivation to defend Infowars. I am not a fan. I even think Alex Jones has become a real liability. I also find it hard to defend him with the notion that he is attacked, because the elite fears the truth. The risk that his crazy conspiracy theories about how the world works will become mainstream when people are exposed to them is rather slim.

But I am indeed concerned about his ban from social media. After all, he does reach enough people to at least disrupt the official narrative. I am concerned that Infowars might just be the first to go. Well, it is probably too late for that. But at least one of the first big ones to go. Much more reasonable commentators might be next. In fact, a lot of libertarians are already under attack. Defending these social media giants with the argument that they are private companies is quite wrong, or at the very least naive. There are two flaws in that argument.

Firstly, just because something is private does not mean that liberty minded people cannot have an opinion about it. This is the opposite of true. Capitalism works only as far as consumers make informed choices. It is not just acceptable to criticize private companies, it is important.

The reason why amazon works is, because they have a comprehensive review system build into the platform. Everyone is free to review products and sellers. Without this private review system, amazon would probably not be very save to use. The whole reason why capitalism works is, because it allows for quick corrections of mistakes via market feedback. If a company engages is unwanted policies, everyone has a right, and even a duty, to criticize it.

The second mistake in the reasoning that we don’t need to be worried about private censorship is that it is highly questionable how private these companies really are. The whole argument assumes that Apple, Google, Twitter and Facebook are completely free to choose their company’s policies. It assumes that everything we are witnessing is free from state interference.

But very few things are free from government interference these days. We do not have fully private property rights, in which owners can simply do as they please with their belongings. Most usage of property is highly regulated, making it a mix of private and public. And that is certainly true for companies like Facebook and Google.

We don’t know how much they are being bullied behind closed doors. But conspiracy theories are not necessary. What is out in the open is enough to see that there is a lot of pressure on them to comply with the interests of the government. The history of censorship on platforms like Facebook clearly shows that they only started editing political content once they got pressured by the state.

In Germany, Facebook was first attacked by the government when people started to criticize the wave of immigrants coming into the country. These attacks at question were undoubtedly degrading and aggressive. One would hope that a civilized society would naturally criticism, and even ostracize, extreme xenophobes like these people. The comments, however, were made on the private newsfeed of Facebook users.

Germany is not a free country. There are many restrictions on what can be expressed publicly, and even privately, to other people. Therefore, the government in Berlin wanted Facebook to stop users from making such comments. But when it first approached Facebook, and demanded for the company to became an enforcer of German censorship laws, Facebook reacted completely disinterested. As a result, nothing happened.

Being a US company, Zuckerberg was clearly confused by what the government expected him to do. Facebook at the time simply did not have any editorial unit, specialized in policing political opinions. Why would they spend money on something that would make their users less happy? The whole business model was to provide a social network for as many people as possible.

But Facebook was about to find out that you cannot just ignore a state. Politicians started to make sure that Facebook understood that it could not simply reject an offer from the mafia. They threatened Facebook with fines of millions of Euros for each and every single violation of a not deleted post in violation with German censorship laws. In other words the government threatened to destroy Facebook in Germany, if the company did not comply with whatever editorial wishes the state had. It was only after that threat that Facebook become an editor of political content.

This shows very clearly that these companies are not free to simply determine their own policies. It is very naive to believe that governments will just sit there and let a private organization challenge the foundations of their power. Ideas are very powerful. No one who wants to stay in power can afford to lose control over the narrative of public debate. Any state, no matter how liberal on the surface, has always had effective policies to influence, and outright control, the production and distribution of ideas.

Most states therefore still have outright speech prohibition. Most states also still have a media that is openly run by the government. No government currently allows a truly free education system. The difference between dictatorships and democracies is that the former are more overt in their attempt to control ideas. Democracies on the other hand have found ways to control opinions through the backdoor. Interventions are usually portrait as quality controls rather than outright censorship. Someone needs to make sure that schools and universities are “quality” institutions. Someone needs to make sure that citizens are not mislead by “fake news” from evil players.

Historically, laws have not been effective limits to the power of governments. If there ever was an idea that deserved the label naive than it is that governments can be controlled by laws, laws that have to be enforced by the state itself. What does put a lit on the power of governments is the popularity of certain policies. The physical force of compliance by the masses is very important to every state. In democracies, politicians are also at risk of not being re-elected. The reason why there is still free speech in the US is not because the government cannot break the constitution. If the first amendment to the US constitution was unpopular, it would be gone in a heart beat, or simply be ignored.

When faced with popular laws which cannot be ignored, governments often will prosecute opponents for the violation of other laws. The people in power tend to not care why an opponent is fined or goes to jail, as long as he is knocked out. Given the huge quantity of laws in existence, almost everyone is always in violation of some law. Does anyone believe that Julian Assange is trapped in the Ecuadorian Embassy because of rape allegations? Maybe, just maybe, his imprisonment has something to do with the fact that he was exposing the corruptions and criminality of western governments.

And does anyone believe that Zuckerberg really helped to rig the last US elections? The real reason why he was dragged before congress is, to intimidate him. The message was clear, we, meaning the US government, are not able to directly censor Facebook because of the first amendment. But make no mistake, if you don’t play ball with us, we will get you for something else.

It is very obvious, that the social media giants are not private in the sense that they can freely determine their policies. They are heavily bullied by governments to comply with the needs of the powerful. Sure, one might criticize them for not putting up too much of a fight. But the real villain is the government. Infowars being banned by independent companies on the very same day is hardly a coincidence. It serves as another evidence that these companies are not independent, private players.

And if governments think, they cannot yet get away with outright banning an unwanted commentator, they will secretly ban the opinions by making sure that posts do not appear in the newsfeed of followers. They also often sabotage the funding of unwanted organizations. Libertarians like the Ron Paul Institute, Anti-war.com or Scott Horton are already targeted like that. All have seen the views of their posts on social media deteriorate recently without formerly loosing any followers.

So no, what we are dealing with is not simply private companies using their right to free association. What we are dealing with is a classic attempt by governments to win control over the distribution of ideas.

The solution to all of this can therefore not be to demand more government interference. This would assumes that the problem is the social media companies themselves. But all the evidence points to the fact that it is the government bullying of these companies that is the real problem. And this is not going to change, no matter who the most popular social media platform is going to be.

Any company, with a headquarters and centralized servers, will get under enormous government pressure if it actually becomes big enough to make a difference. The only solution seems to be to create more decentralized platforms for the distribution of ideas. In that case, the state would need to go after everyone individually, which is much more difficult to do. Decentralization is therefore the only way to escape the bullying. But it is easier said than done. States are a hard problem.

Letter: Re: Crackdown on university students silencing free speech

We welcome news that the Office for Students will enforce the expectation that universities should once again tolerate all legal viewpoints. The OfS must tackle not only bureaucratic meddling in speaker meetings but also the violent and disruptive protests such as the recent no-platform attack at Kings College London. At that event, security staff were hospitalised but non-violent saboteurs succeeded in shutting down the event by setting off fire alarms and shouting the speakers down. There must now be a clear commitment to enforcing existing law to ensure lawful speech is not prevented by force of any kind.

Simon Gibbs
Martin Keegan
Danny Al-Khafaji

ENDS

[Address provided]

In reply to https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/sam-gyimah-crackdown-on-students-silencing-free-speech-x28jx85fc

More on this topic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8V2T4xAzx4

 

 

Context and Intent Must Matter. Royal Babies Don’t

It has been shown that, in complex domains, punishment is an ineffective means of controlling behaviour. The reason is that if someone cannot tell whether a decision will lead to punishment then they cannot rationally incorporate that factor.

Communicating your ideas in a way that is both accurate and also funny is a complex domain. Locking up a comedian for making a bad joke is therefore unlikely to be effective. Pragmatically, it is a stupid idea.

Markus Meechan, Count Dankula, is today being sentenced for the crime of using “gas the jews” as a cue for a cute dog to make a Nazi salute. The context was a joke about cute dogs not really being so special. The intent was to ridicule Nazis. Making jokes to illustrate what aspects of a thing are genuinely special and valuable is an unequivocal social good. Ridiculing the third most evil political movement in recent history is an unequivocal social good. I wish people would make similar jokes about Stalin and Mao.

I’ve written before about how speech precedes politics and should not be regulated by political action. Setting that aside for a moment, there are social goods embedded in  Meechan’s intent. We know punishing people in complex domains won’t work, but what it will do is force people out of the complex domain. If there is a clear line between the complex and the straightforward it will mean fewer people crossing that threshold. It will force them out of attempting to create edgy jokes about bad people. It will force comedians to make safe, tame, infantilised rubbish, and will stop people taking the time to ridicule Nazis.

If we want good comedy, if we want bad people to get a hard time, if we want good ideas and good humour to come to the surface, then we need to tolerate dark dank corners where people are allowed to get it a bit wrong. Context and intent matter both as a way of filtering genuine evil and make believe evil (Meechan’s evil was make believe), but also as a way of guiding our eye to what is valuable.

If you forget them, your TV will be full of bad comedy and Royal babies.

Free Speech In The Age Of The Internet

Not too long ago, the internet used to be a very free space. It seemed out of reach from governments, and was almost entirely unregulated. Users felt free to publish almost anything they liked, and they could do so anonymously. The internet, therefore, was a hope for everyone with non-mainstream opinions that their voices could finally break through the protected consensus of the mainstream.

This hope was certainly justified. The internet still is very much a force for good. But like all forces for good, the government tends to hate them. And so Leviathan has been eager to jump on it. The state is trying to make the internet a force for its own good. The progress made in that endeavor during the last decade is very worrying.

Edward Snowden, who worked for the NSA, was the first to blow the whistle. His revelations revealed that western governments had very advanced programs to use the internet to control society. Before Snowden, few people had thought about the consequences that most of what we do these days leaves some traces on the internet. I certainly was not worried about it. But Snowden made the public aware that, by hovering up all these information, the government could potentially know about almost everything we are up to in our lives.

This is not just a problem for really bad guys, like terrorists. The secrecy of private lives has been an effective tool against a lot of government tyranny. Whenever the official rules of the state became too silly, a lot of people just secretly stopped following them. The state essentially needed to be good enough, so that most people followed the rules out of conviction. The prospect of the state being able to take away this kind of effective protest is truly frightening. For the first time, Snowden revealed that the internet did not necessarily have to be a force for good. If we are not careful, it could turn out as a tool for real enslavement.

Nevertheless, the fact that everyone can now publish their opinions cheaply, and on multiple platforms, remains extremely powerful. After all, in many western countries there are still laws in place which, at least formally, guarantee a certain amount of free speech. These laws date back to times, when it was significantly more complicated and costly to make one’s voice heard. The establishment therefore usually did not see free speech as too much of a threat.

In fact allowing people to express their opinions, while at the same time not giving them a platform, can be an effective tool for controlling opposition. The moment the government locks up dissidents, they can claim to be a victim of an oppressive regime. This tends to draw support to them. At the same time, leaving someone alone without platforming him, but giving him hope that his voice might be heard in the future, gives that person an incentive to not go too far with his opposition. As long as he believes he can make his voice heard in the future, he might still play along with the system, even though the system is very much rigged against him.

But with the internet, people now have a very real chance of finding an audience. The internet has indeed shown to be the game changer that it was promised to be at the beginning. Since the people in power often believe their own propaganda, they have been very late to realize, how much they have been loosing control over the narrative of debates.

The big wakeup call came with Brexit and the election of Trump. Both events were completely unexpected to the established forces. They were so hit by surprise that it took them a while to realize why voters had turned against them. A lot of people simply do not get their information from officially briefed sources anymore.

Since the establishment had this epiphany, we have seen frantic attempts to win back control. There has been an increase in legal speech prohibitions in almost every western country, with the possible exception of the US. Only last week we saw Scottish YouTuber Markus Meechan, who goes under the name Count Dankula, being convicted in a court of law for hate speech. His crime was to make a joke for his girlfriend, by teaching her pug to perform a Nazi salute to the words “gas the jews”. Meechan is not actually a Nazi. Far from it, he explains at the beginning of the video that he thinks Nazis are the most offensive thing he could imagine. The goal was not to spread hatred, but to teach his girlfriend wrong, who claimed that her pug could not possible do anything that is not cute.

None of that of cause matters. Free speech is meaningless if it is not allowed to offend people. Unless someone is issuing a concrete and believable thread, or is involved in planning a violent crime, everyone should be free to say whatever he or she likes. A Precedence like the Meehan case clearly shows that the government is trying to clamp down on free speech.

Last year, we saw the UK government even proposing punishments of up to 15 years in prison for people who merely watch “extremist” content online. This is allegedly targeted at supporters of terrorist groups. However, all it takes is a precedent from a judge to extend this law to cover all kinds of opposition to the government. True opposition can easily be portrayed as extremist. But if merely watching content online becomes a crime, punishable by multiple years in prison, we are truly in deep tyranny territory.

The bigger strategy to get back in control of the narrative, however, does not seem to be outright speech prohibitions. Especially in the US, these would face some serious legal hurdles. Instead, the strategy seems to be to somehow go back to the good old days of being able to deny someone a platform.

After the Trump election, a narrative has been spun to make alternative news sources look like tools for evil forces. The phrase ‘fake news’ was introduced to differentiate between legitimate, meaning establishment, information, and uncontrolled news sources. Introducing the label ‘fake news’ would be little more than amusing if it had stopped there. But unfortunately, we are seeing an outright criminalization of everything that is not approved media content.

This would usually look like a cause doomed to fail, giving how easy it is to publish anything on the internet. But unfortunately, the way the online distribution of information appears to work at the moment does give the government a chance of succeeding. While it is true that everyone can publish anything easily on the internet, that is not to say that it is easy to find an audience.

Social media has a huge effect on which content people consume. What does and does not appear in the news feed of Facebook and Twitter, or in the search results of Google and YouTube, very much influences opinions. And these few companies very much control a huge amount of the distribution, and advertisement of alternative media.

From a libertarian perspective this could sound like good news. If distribution is in the hands of private companies, then there is little to worry about, right? Private companies, for the most part, do not have political agendas. They just want to make a profit. That means, they have an economic incentive to make as many customers happy as possible.

Unfortunately, this is only true in a free market system. What we have today, however, is crony capitalism. In today’s system, whenever a company reaches a certain size, or whenever a company crosses political interests, a collusion between the government and that company can be observed. After all, the government can make business very difficult for pretty much anyone. It is therefore difficult to say no to the mob.

How do we know that this is happening? Well, first of all, it is naïve to believe that the state would simply stand bank when one of its core interests is threatened. Many people have long suspected that the reason google is the best search engine is because they get help from the intelligence community in the US.

But we don’t even need to go into conspiracy theories. The collusion is happening very overtly. Governments simply have declared the media platforms to be responsible for the content that its users post. As a result, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, who have a quasi monopoly, have started to censorship user content. And they are not just censoring posts that are against some laws. They are keenly censoring anything that even remotely might get them any negative criticism from the establishment, just in case.

There clearly is no will to resist government influence. These companies are more than happy to go along with an established agenda. On the other hand, the pressure they are put under by the government is certainly huge. Campaigns to demonize content are being lounged very aggressively. Anyone who is on the wrong side of the news, is attacked as being an illegitimate actor.

The most prominent villain has been made out to be Russia, who is accused of “interfering” in elections by simply talking to people on social media. I wrote about this here. But there are other scapegoats. The latest scandal is the use of Facebook data by the company Cambridge Analytics. As already in the Russian scandal, there is a lot of noise, but it is actually not so easy to find out what the exact accusations are. I might be wrong, but as far as I can tell, Cambridge Analytics is not actually accused of breaking the law. Instead, the company is accused of unethically collecting user information on Facebook, by burying the agreement to share these information in the terms and conditions of its apps. And we all know that no one reads those. It then used these information to provide a superior advertisement service.

If this is true, than it is not clear what the huge scandal is about. Sure, Cambridge Analytics might have got some information about users that the users were not really happy to share. While that would not be very good, the harm done in this case does not seem to be huge. After all the company did not use these information to steal or harm users in any other way. It simply used it for tailor made advertisement.

The fact that Facebook excessively collects its user’s data, and uses it to influence people on the network, has been well know for a long time now. Many users feel uncomfortable about it. I know a number of people who have left the platform for that reason. I myself have a ‘strictly no private stuff’ policy when it comes to using Facebook. As a consequence, user numbers are declining, and the average time spend on Facebook is down 24%. That is huge. If the Cambridge Analytics scandal will turn the psychology of users against using Facebook even more, than that is certainly a net positive as far as I am concerned.

Still, one has to ask why this particular case sparks so much outrage. One cannot help but get the impression that the real “crime” of Cambridge Analytics was to work for the wrong team in the last US election. What if they had worked for the Clinton campaign, or to promote an officially accepted cause, like climate change? I am willing to bet anything that in that case, we would have never heard much about it. And if we did, the media would have presented Cambridge Analytics in a very different, much more positive, light.

In fact, we don’t really have to wonder about this. As a number of commentators have pointed out, Obama employed very similar advertisement tactics in the 2012 election. This was not a big scandal at all. No one seemed to have be bothered by it. And the difference between the two cases is clear – advertising the election of Obama is officially approved, while advertising Trump is not.

All of this makes it increasingly obvious that the domination of distributing content online by a very few big players is a real problem. It gives governments a handle on attempting to control the narrative. Making distributers of information responsible for the media content on their networks is a quite clever stroke of genius. That way, we will likely overshoot on the censorship side, without the government having to formally make it look like they are clamping down on freedom of speech. But this strategy would not be so easily possible if it wasn’t for the fact that we have quasi social media monopolies.

What can be done about it? I have heard a lot of people suggesting that we need to get the government involved in controlling these monopolistic platforms. This would apparently guarantee more fairness. At the very least there should be strict regulations.

Unsurprisingly, this seems like a really bad idea to me. I really do believe that the government is the real villain in all of this. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were not too bother censoring information before the state threatened them, and made a lot of noise about it. Putting the state officially in charge of these platform would only make things a lot worse.

It seems that the only possible answer to this problem is more consumer responsibility. Users need to demand less interference, and move to alternative platforms if possible. This is certainly easier said than done. The reason why there are so few players in this field is, because one of the major benefits of big platforms is a network effect. As consumers, we want to have as easy as possible access to all information. More importantly, content providers want to use platforms on which they can reach a maximum amount of people. If, however, all information are in the same place, we are necessarily talking about a quasi monopoly.

So the only solution seems to be to make a compromise to reduce one’s benefits of a network effect in exchange for having fewer interferences. But this could turn out to be a too big compromise for many people to make. Still, with the degree of interference that we are seeing at the moment, it seems likely that a large enough number of people will eventually make that compromise and move to alternative platforms.

In fact, this is what we are seeing already in the last few months. As mentioned, user time on Facebook is down 24%. Market monopolies don’t tend to last forever. Very few of the biggest major companies from a century ago are still around today. I shell be very surprised if Facebook will still be the dominant platform 20 years from now. At some point users will have enough of it. If nothing else, Facebook will at some point become old and not hip anymore. All the cool kids will be on the new popular platform X.

I witnessed the speed with which such change in psychology can happen myself when I was still living in Germany. Before there was Facebook, another social network called StudiVZ was very popular there. Within a very short time, it was so popular that one had to be on it in order to maintain a normal social life. Then, suddenly, people liked Facebook more and an exodus from StudiVZ began. Within a year, the network went from being so popular that no one could afford not to be on it, to being completely dead. That is how quickly it can go. Something similar happened of course to myspace.

Meaning, if there is any major shift in psychology against Facebook, the social network could very well go from having a quasi monopoly to being out of business very quickly. This seems inconceivable to most people now, and I am not predicting this to happen within the next year. But it seems almost certain to me that social media platforms will be subject to fashions. And that means that at some point in the future the network effect will work against Facebook.

In free markets, consumers have powers and responsibilities. Simply complaining about the policies of a company, without being willing to take action and move to the competition, is usually not very effective. On markets, everyone acts according to incentives. And the big companies have no incentive to resist the influence of governments. An institution that has a monopoly on physical force has the ability to make offers that no one can refuse. We therefore need to educating internet users about their responsibilities as consumers in order to change the psychology against companies that have become too powerful. I am not saying it is easy, but it is the only way, and it can clearly be done.

#BrusselsAttacks Are Not an Excuse for Arresting an Idiot

As many of you will be aware earlier this week a group of crazed jihadists brought death and destruction to the streets of Brussels. They killed over 30, injured hundreds and damaged important infrastructure.

After incidents of this nature emotions often run high and some people react in stupid ways. One example is Matthew Doyle from South Croydon who supposedly confronted a Muslim women and asked her to explain the attacks. He allegedly posted to Twitter…

I confronted a Muslim women yesterday in Croydon. I asked her to explain Brussels. She said “Nothing to do with me”. A mealy mouthed reply.

As a result, according to the Daily Mail, he has been arrested, charged and held in custody…

A talent agency boss alleged to have posted a controversial tweet about confronting a Muslim woman over the Brussels terror attacks has been charged with inciting racial hatred.

The tweet, said to have been posted by Matthew Doyle, 46, from south Croydon, sparked social media outrage and countless parodies after it went viral in the wake of Tuesday’s atrocities in Belgium.

Doyle, who attended private Wellington College, was arrested on Wednesday, and police today said he had been charged with with publishing or distributing written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, likely or intended to stir up racial hatred, under the Public Order Act.

A spokesman said he was being held in custody, and was due to appear at Camberwell Green Magistrates Court tomorrow morning.

There is little doubt that My Doyle potentially posted something stupid, some may even find it deeply offensive — it’s certainly something I wouldn’t do. However it is an outrage that this man has been arrested and charged.

It seems that there is no actual evidence that he did what he said he did in his Tweet, which explains why he has only be charged with making “racist comments”. Quite how someone can be charged with “racist comments” when the target of his idiocy was a global religion is beyond me though. Remember there over 1 billion practicing Muslims worldwide and the country with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia. It is a non-racially defined religion just like Christianity.

But enough quibbling, the true outrage is that we have a law that can be used to lock people up for “publishing or distributing written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, likely or intended to stir up racial hatred”. The important point here, and I’ve stated this before, is none of these things are objective, they are all subjective and open to interpretation.

What someone finds threatening, abusive or insulting is entirely down to them. When a drunk man in a pub recently called me a “boring ginger bastard” it didn’t particularly bother me, I was more concerned that he was harassing my friend’s wife. I certainly wouldn’t want to see him locked up for a drunken remark. I just wanted him to F the F Off…

This sort of law places untold power in the hands of the prosecutor, AKA the state, as it could be applied to almost any scenario. For example, imagine I shouted at someone in the street, “F*** off you McDonalds eating pleb!”. Is that not insulting or abusive? Yes it is. Should I be locked up for it? In a free country, no. Under this law though I probably should be, because associating someone with McDonalds may be very distressing…

It seems a little pointless to me to claim that the ‘Free World’ is fighting the scourge of Barbaric, Anti-Freedom, Salafist Jihadism when the ‘Free World’ criminalises certain forms of Free Expression. Even if that Free Expression is completely idiotic. In a free society you allow society to deal with the idiotic, not the state.

As one Twitter user proved, social ridicule is often the best ointment for the idiotic…

Confronted a self-service machine in Tesco, Asked it to explain Brussels. It said “Please place items in bagging area”. Mealy mouthed reply.

Update 2016/03/26: It would seem the CPS have seen sense and forced the police to drop the charges. The fact that the police have the idea that they can arrest people for this sort of thing is very worrying though.

Dear Mehdi Hasan, I Am A Free Speech Fundamentalist and This is Why You Are Wrong…

Dear Mr Hasan,

I read your recent article on ‘Free Speech Hypocrites’ and the Charlie Hebdo attack with great interest. However I found it to be poorly thought out and flawed in many places. Therefore I believe it appropriate and worthwhile to debunk some of your points…

Either you are with free speech… or you are against it

Simply put you are either for freedom of expression or you are not. There is no middle ground. People and Government’s attempts to find a middle ground will fail and will end in disaster. You cannot question one person’s right to free expression without questioning everybody’s. That includes Salafi Fanatics, Holocaust Deniers, Flat Earthers and the many other lunatics we share this beautiful planet with…

There is no “Clash of Civilisations”

You are correct there is no clash of civilisations. Many Muslims are just as liberal as Westerners and the histories of both the ‘West’ and ‘Islam’ are equally pot-holed with acts of liberalism and acts of barbarism. There is however a clash of ideologies. One between those who believe in freedom, its associated rights, and those who don’t. Salafi Jihadis are definitely one of the enemies of freedom and they must be defeated. The same stands for the many and various Western statists who oppose freedom too.

None of us believes in an untrammelled right to free speech

Some of us do because, basically, there is an untrammelled right to free speech. What there is not is a right not to be offended. The reason is simple, offence is entirely subjective. What offends one person may not offend another. You cannot possibly write a law that defines what is offensive and what is not. All that will ever happen is the state will define and outlaw what they find offensive, not what you or I find offensive.

Also self censorship does not stand opposed to free speech. Self censorship is again subjective and based on our personal beliefs on what is stupid or wrong. It does not mean we oppose other people’s right to say those things. For example I am not an athiest so I am not going to call Catholics “mental, sky-fairy worshippers”. I would deem that statement insulting. However if an athiest wishes to say that, they are free to do so as we have different preferences.

The Prophet Muhammad and the Holocaust are comparable

This is simply ridiculous, even for an agnostic like myself. For an athiest it would be utterly insane. You simply cannot compare the Holocaust or 9/11, both evil events that definitely occurred, with the Prophet Muhammad.

Islam and its Prophet are a matter of faith not a matter of fact. For example there is little evidence for the existence of Muhammad or his ‘Word’ until the 9th century, two centuries after his death.

There are magnitudes of difference between lampooning something that is definite and something that may or may not be so. This holds even if I believe neither should be banned.

Parisian mourners would have killed a person holding a cartoon lampooning the dead cartoonists

You are probably quite correct that an angry, distressed mob ‘may’ kill a fool. That though does not mean the fool is not free to do something idiotic and dangerous. So long as the law does not turn a blind eye to the murder of a person expressing themselves in a foolish way freedom of speech has not been undermined. The actions of the mob or the murderer do not taint us all.

Charlie Hebdo was a racist and hypocritical magazine

This may well be the case, I have never read nor researched said publication so I am not entirely aware. This though does not undermine their right to say and act as they please. It also provides no justification for the murder of their employees. Nor does it undermine the fact the attack was an attack against free expression. They were murdered for expressing themselves, regardless of what they expressed.

Westerners are hypocrites and there foreign policy is wrong

I agree on both points. The West’s foreign policy has both been wrong and very, very stupid. And yes many Westerners are hypocrites who are easily offended too. You could even draw comparison between some Western ideologies and Salafism. The latter after all has significant Platonic overtones — an irony seemingly lost on many Jihadis.

Again though, neither of those points undermine the importance or inalienable nature of free expression. Nor should it water down our opposition to those who oppose freedom of speech — such as our ‘friends’ the Salafi Jihadis.

I do hope you will consider my points and look at free speech in a more positive light.

Yours Faithfully,

Robert Waller