Free Speech Debate Project

Following two 3 Quarks Daily links led me to find the Free Speech Debate project. It’s supported by the University of Oxford but is essentially a global project. It contains two draft principles of free speech and allows people all over the world to vote whether they agree on them or not. I strongly recommend everyone visits, reads the 10 principles and votes.

Below I’ve included the 10 principles, how the votes were looking at the time (“Do you agree with this principle?”) and, if I felt the need, a comment of my own. Personally, I agree with each one.

1. We – all human beings – must be free and able to express ourselves, and to receive and impart information and ideas, regardless of frontiers.

95% yes, 5% no

2. We defend the internet and all other forms of communication against illegitimate encroachments by both public and private powers.

88% yes, 12% no

I’m not happy that there is so much dissent on this point when there have been high profile attempts of governments to control and monitor the internet such India’s calls for Facebook and Google to censor content, SOPA/PIPA, ACTA and, most recently, CISPA.

EDIT: Just saw on Ben Goldacre’s blog that the UK is blocking access to The Pirate Bay. Is it illegitimate encroachment or not? I don’t think it’s helpful at all because it’s addressing symptoms and not the cause of piracy. I’d say something needs to be done about availability and price.

3. We require and create open, diverse media so we can make well-informed decisions and participate fully in political life.

94% yes, 6% no

4. We speak openly and with civility about all kinds of human difference.

94% yes, 6% no

There is a bit of debate on this point with regards to hate speech laws but I will say more about that in a separate post.

5. We allow no taboos in the discussion and dissemination of knowledge.

91% yes, 9% no

This removal of taboos is extremely important, especially when they are not based on evidence or decent reasoning, and is why I have more than once linked to Against the New Taboo which does seek to challenge taboos.

6. We neither make threats of violence nor accept violent intimidation.

85% yes, 15% no

The importance here in terms of free speech is, I think, less about not making threats of violence, something people interested in free speech are unlikely to do, but about not accepting violent intimidation. We need everyone to say that we will not accept violent intimidation and to band together to protect those that are threatened. This is particularly important when looking at religious debates, specifically those involving Islam which continually uses violence to limit debate or as a response to both real and perceived slights. This has been very obvious with incidents where the Qur’an has been burned both deliberately and by accident. Yet, when people get offended and people get injured or even killed, apologies are offered to those that were killing people over a book! That is not acceptable that a group of people can intimidate others and that people are prepared to apologise to them when they attack people over what happened to mass-produced works of fiction. Why isn’t that seen for what it is and treated the same way as if they had kidnapped someone and were holding a gun to that person’s head while making demands. How often do you see the police apologising to such a person because someone didn’t give them what they demanded?

7. We respect the believer but not necessarily the content of the belief.

81% yes, 19% no

This is necessary for productive debate but it can be tricky and open to interpretation, as shown by the various interpretations of Richard Dawkin’s speech at the Reason Rally. It can be very difficult to separate believer from belief at times and I think we must also allow that people will sometimes slip up and while we should go into a debate with respect for the other person it is indeed possible for an individual to lose that respect.

8. We are all entitled to a private life but should accept such scrutiny as is in the public interest.

74% yes, 26% no

This one is tricky, easily noticed as it has the lowest acceptance of any of the points. Privacy is important but at times what happens in a person’s private life is actually relevant to others, particularly when it shows disingenuousness on their part. The sticking point, I think, is defining public interest and how you would know when something should be released for public interest without first violating a person’s privacy.

9. We should be able to counter slurs on our reputations without stifling legitimate debate.

100% yes, 0% no

10. We must be free to challenge all limits to free expression justified on such grounds as national security, public order and morality.

93% yes, 7% no

I was a bit nervous about the “grounds as national security, public order and morality” but I say things should not be taboo and so in the end I support this. After all just because you can challenge something doesn’t mean that that challenge will prevail and I have major doubts that national security actually has any real meaning or value in the context of a global community. National security is a term that separates people into “us” and “them,” which is contrary to the direction in which we should be moving.

Does anyone disagree with any of the points and, if so, why? That’s not to say that reasons for agreement aren’t important too and worth stating.

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2 thoughts on “Free Speech Debate Project

  1. Pingback: Hate Speech | Evidence & Reason

  2. Pingback: The Spear, a test for South Africa’s free expression | Evidence & Reason

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