The Why Show

Subdivision of The Why Network


Freedom of Speech for Terrorists

Posted on 25 November, 2015 at 16:55

In response to the November 13th Paris attacks, Anonymous recently worked their magic to uncover and take down thousands of Twitter accounts that they claim are supporting ISIS and terrorist efforts. On the surface this seems like it does more good than harm. I know I'm not a fan of terrorism, so what could be wrong with this, right?


During a war, and this undoubtedly is one, it is understandable to attack lines of communication to cripple the enemy. I understand that tactic, and I would support its use against anyone who wants to be aggressive. But that's not what this is.


The terrorist network does not rely on Twitter to coordinate attacks. This is not a tactic of war. This is an attack on free speech. We’ve all heard the Evelyn Hall quote famously misattributed to Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” But somehow we forget about the first bit before the comma. Speech is not free if it’s only free when we agree. We don’t get to decide which ideas get to be discussed. I hope that is self-evident.


This issue is similar to that behind my public criticism of C-51, a largely efficient and acceptable piece of legislation with some entirely unacceptable parts, for example, destroying freedom of speech. Even if all of us reasonable people hate the thought of terrorism, we still need freedom for terrorists to speak about their ideas. I know it is not intuitive, but it’s true. What more harm could they do than to destroy our freedom?


Terrorists should be able to talk endlessly and publicly about what horrible things they want to do. That is a free society. And it has more immediate benefits. People who openly support terrorism could be identified and labelled as fools, and we could keep our eye on them. I’d rather know who is interested in doing horrible things than to have it made a secret by force. As long they are using speech, discussion, and ideas, rather than actual acts of aggression, then there should be no restriction. Ideas must be free to flow, uncensored and unfiltered, in a respectable society. And we are all free to choose whom we listen to.


Even if we were sure that limiting freedom of speech would decrease the frequency of terrorist attacks, it would not be worth it. Our society’s freedom is worth more than those lives lost in Paris. Take that not as a minimization of those victims’ worth, but instead as a maximization of the importance of maintaining our freedom.



Anonymous committed a moral error in stifling free speech, and everyone who supported it and asked why Twitter wasn’t already doing this has done the same. Let’s set our target carefully and fight terrorist actions, not freedom of speech. We need to fix the problem instead of just hoping that terrorist ideas don’t happen to infect people. We should strive for a world where when terrorist ideas do reach an audience, people are thoughtful enough to realize that the ideas are disgusting


Categories: Whitlock's Logs of the Mundane

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