On free speech and endorsements

Last week’s letter on Roosh V raised questions about The Medium’s views

Freedom of speech has been a difficult topic for me personally to wrap my head around. On the one hand, I’ve generally been opposed to statements that, even if not qualified as hate speech, strictly speaking, promote ignorance and lead to harm.

I’m often reminded of last year’s attacks on Charlie Hebdo and how that created a major discussion about freedom of speech and what, if any, should be its limitations. And while my views on the subject remain anything but simple, I do recognize that forcible censorship of individuals by third parties does at times provoke even worse reactions than what was initially censored.

Furthermore, censoring a person from saying something doesn’t mean that the person will stop holding those views. And in fact, as has often been the case in history, banning or burning specific works doesn’t mean people will stop reading them—in fact, it might just make people more curious about what they say.

So, it was fascinating for me to read last week’s letter on Roosh V and whether or not he should be given the right to propagate his views. I was pleased to see people engage in debate with the writer in their comments on our website. After all, at its heart, last week’s letter was about whether or not someone whose views meet with wide disapproval should still be permitted to continue to share those views. So I’m glad to see that several people who disagreed with the letter took the opportunity to share their own views on the topic rather than try to censor the writer.

And yet, there were some who questioned our choice to publish the letter. One person, for example, commented on the poor choice of The Medium to “endorse” the letter in Roosh’s defence. To clarify, publication in The Medium does not equate to endorsement. Indeed, we have a disclaimer in our opinion section that says, “Opinions expressed in the pages of The Medium are exclusively of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Medium.” We have published and continue to publish opinions that we personally do not agree with—the point of having an opinion section is to engage in thoughtful debate about topics, not promote a specific ideology.

Don’t get me wrong: we do have policies for what we will and will not publish. For letters, it’s that we don’t publish ones “that incite hatred or violence and letters that are racist, homophobic, sexist, or libelous”. And for anyone who’s still in doubt, there is indeed a distinction between arguing in favour of a person’s right to speak and indulging in hate speech oneself. In other words, the letter itself was not a form of hate speech.

But if you have any qualms about last week’s letter or about Roosh V or any other subject, you are more than welcome to write us a letter in response. We almost always publish letters, as long as we have space and it adheres to the policy mentioned above. I should add that another part of that policy is that we don’t publish anonymous letters; so, if you have an opinion, you have to have the courage to put your name on it.

After all, if one person’s views are really wrong, why don’t we just respond and prove it?