Sweat The Small Stuff, Revisited

Kemi Badenoch MP

Previously on this blog, I’ve written about the need for activists to be an ‘awkward squad’ — a group of people who can be relied upon to kick up a fuss about small and innocuous infringements of human rights. If we wait for the egregious human rights violations to happen before we speak out, its already too late.

A good example of this might be the recent spat between Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch MP, and The Huffington Post. Last week, the Minister tweeted out screenshots of an email exchange between her communications team and Nadine White, a news reporter at the website’s UK Bureau.

No-one has been censored here. The minister simply expressed public annoyance with the journalist’s slightly pushy email manner. So its not a free speech issue, right?

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The Semi-Public Square

Commenting on the social media banning of Donald Trump, Adam Wagner describes Twitter as a “semi public square”

In reply, a few people assert that there is no such thing. Twitter is a private company with its own T&Cs that can be enforced as it sees fit. This allows them to dismiss the President’s suspensions as “not censorship” and “not about free speech.”

This might be true in a legal sense but it is certainly not in a moral or social sense, where the term ‘semi-public square’ is useful and instantly understandable.

Semi-public squares are places where there may be no formal right to expression, but where the particular historic, societal or cultural circumstances have created the expectation of that right. In the case of social media, that expectation is actually cultivated by the tech companies themselves.

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There’s Something Frustrating About The Assange Extradition Decision

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser today handed down her decision in the USA v Assange extradition case.

The Americans were attempting to have Julian Assange shipped to the USA to face espionage charges for his role in the release of the Wikileaks cables. Press freedom advocates argued that to prosecute Assange would be a violation of his free speech rights (Padraig Reidy wrote a good summary last year).

Today, district judge Baraitser ultimately denied the extradition application, and human rights advocates are celebrating the judgment.

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Sometimes ‘Cancel Culture’ *Is* A Free Speech Issue

A letter in Harper’s Magazine, supporting the principle of free speech and bemoaning ‘cancel culture,’ has caused something of a stir. At least, on Twitter.

In itself, the letter is unobjectionable. However, many people think it is an ill-timed, coded rebuke to the social justice campaigns of the moment:

I think the uproar is more about the timing and the context in which this letter engages (BLM, TERF wars etc), which feels very dog whistle-y.

@sysh

Others have ridiculed its premise and the signatories. They say that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences, and that if an audience reacts negatively to something they find offensive, that is merely a manifestation of free speech.

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