Sometimes I wish that people were better at taking or giving criticism or recognising suggestions rather than associating them with insults and automatically taking a defensive position. It creates a hostile work environment that decreases motivation, especially when you’re constantly given the same handful of responses: Having it thrown back in your face and placing the blame back on you, as if you’re the problem. Being told to be patient and wait because it’ll get better after ‘new blood’ is injected into the environment… eight months later.

Perhaps it’s the culture many of us have grown up in, where it’s difficult to receive genuine criticism on your policies and actions without a so-called feminist icon being misogynist and saying you need to get rid of your ill-fitting jackets and that you have a ‘big arse‘ (immediately after claiming you’re good at your job, somehow missing the fact that they just negated any compliment prior) and then defending why they said you have a fat arse instead of apologising for their comments. Add to it that women, people of colour, and many openly and out queer people are often the people who receive most unsolicited advice from people who haven’t quite listened to the problem or the actual concerns of the person, and the people who provide the advice act as if everything they’re saying is novel and has never been considered before.

Before I have to fend off the #NotAllSomething crowd, cisgendered men love giving unsolicited advice to everyone else. Straight people definitely enjoy telling queer people how to exist. White people, we love expressing how people of colour should do a thing (presumably to make us comfortable). Able-bodied people love telling physically disabled people how to do a thing, while people without mental illnesses or learning disabilities pretend they’re really good at knowing how people with mental illnesses or learning disabilities should function or conform. We all give unsolicited advice, but some people give it out a lot more without having the lived experience to even give solicited advice to people from specific demographics.

For example: I’m a cisgendered queer/bisexual woman who lives with ADHD and dyslexia; I’ve been diagnosed as having high anxiety (especially social anxiety) and depression. I’ve also been fat for most of my life. I do not need men to tell me what to do ‘as a woman’, and I do not need straight people to explain to me how to ‘express my queerness’. People without ADHD, dyslexia, anxiety, or depression do not need to tell me how to cope with these things (unless they are a trained profession with whom I’m working to address them, which makes it solicited advice). I do not need people to send me weight-loss regimens because if I want medical advice? I can go to a fucking doctor. As a cisgendered woman, I do not get to pester any trans women, trans men, non-binary, gender-fluid people with advice on how to exist.

Unfortunately, because so many of us deal with constant unsolicited advice because of having a perceived deficiency, sometimes it’s harder for us to actually recognise what we’re getting as a relevant suggestion (such as the ever-constant ‘how can we make the work place more inviting’) or useful criticism (including classics like ‘if you are going to make a big deal out of student privacy, it would also be nice if you practised privacy for your staff’). But we do need to figure out how to decipher the useful criticism and functional suggestions from the garbage we get elsewhere.

In a work environment, however, it is an absolutely vital skill to have. It is also easier to figure out what is actual criticism (‘she needs to focus more on building a cohesive staff because cliques are becoming an issue and having negative impacts’) and what is useless drivel that needs to go find a hole and bury itself (‘it would be nice if she would smile more’). As a person in a leadership role, if someone working for you lodges a complaint that they feel undervalued and neglected by the staff, it is worth considering why they feel that way and examining those reasons. Instead of immediately telling them to ‘be patient’ and ‘deal with it’, instead of explicitly stating that ‘new people will make things better next year’, instead of blaming them for ‘not involving themselves more’ or ‘not participating in events’, it is far better to figure out the exact problems. Many people love focusing on the symptoms instead the cause.

As a teacher in an IB school, it’s highly ironic that I even have to suggest people reflect on their actions to figure out why others feel the way they do. (Credit: IBO / PDF)

Did that particular person try to volunteer for events but get pushed out because a clique made it difficult to have an opinion? Or did they actively stay away from them? If so, why? Were they volunteered for something without consideration for their current workload rather than given an option to participate or asked politely? If you observe meeting structures, do you hear people complaining about the specific work they do in a snarky and attacking manner and frequently without including them? Do you, as a manager, take the word of someone else and place blame on the other without even hearing their side of things? You might get a larger picture if you take a few minutes to reflect on these things.

In a leadership position, if you are hearing talk about ‘cliques or groups causing problems’, it is in your best interests to address it sooner rather than later. For employees who are negatively impacted (overlooked, excluded, or demotivated), it is not enough to simply tell them to ‘be patient and wait for new people to join next year’ or that ‘the schedule next year will fix it’. While the problem may not have an immediate resolution, seeing that you’re doing something will make people more willing to trust that you are trying to find better options. Even if we have to be patient for those Better Options to work, we are more likely to believe in them and to trust your decisions.

Do not do nothing or appear to do nothing; show us that you’re working on finding solutions, even if it’ll take time for them to work. Do not tell your negatively impacted employees to ‘try harder to join in’, especially when you also claim that you ‘see how the cliques are affecting the work environment’. Do not let the clique continue as they are, as it hasn’t been working and is making people more uncomfortable; you will lose employees, and that is a waste both in terms of loss of talent and in having to both find and train someone to fit the role again (while also trying to help them fit in with or reluctantly tolerate the clique environment). Do somethingAsk negatively affected people for their opinions firstTalk to cliques and split them up when scheduling duties.

Also, be straight-forward with your own criticisms of staff behaviour. Perhaps it’s the fact I’ve chosen to spend my career as a teacher or maybe it’s the fact that I’m a person who requires others to be more blunt than usual, but it is beyond exhausting to have to decipher half-messages about things that are going badly or what people did wrong. I hate it, students hate it. Honestly, I think most people hate having to try to figure out what’s wrong or what the problem even is. If you can’t directly explain why something is an issue, being a manager probably isn’t for you.

Once upon a time, I had a school manager who liked to overstep boundaries and, whether she intended to or not, undermine the authority of teachers on her staff. When she heard that two of my students took my keys while I was dealing with student drop-off, locked a third student in the classroom, and then hid my keys in a disused locker, she decided that she wanted to come talk to my students about how it was irresponsible. Ignoring the fact that I already dealt with this problem, as it was a classroom/behaviour management issue, frustrated me; I told her that I’d already dealt with it and would contact her should it happen a second time, but she still wanted to come up and talk about it with my students. For me, this showed that she did not trust in my ability as a teacher. After voicing my frustration, I shrugged, said whatever, and she came to my lesson to discuss the problem.

Except she didn’t. She gave them some vague speech about how you should respect other people’s property and that teachers needed some feeling of safety to leave their things on their desks and not have students touch them. She was so vague that my one native-speaking English student didn’t understand her at all. He literally stopped her and said, “Excuse me, I have no clue what you’re talking about. What happened?”

Even the three boys involved had no clue she was talking about them until I asked her to stop and explained to them, asking questions: “Something happened this morning where two people took and hid my keys. Do you remember this event? Could you explain it to me?” At that moment, they realised what it was that she was talking about. At no point did she directly reference the event that happened, at no point did she explicitly state what was an inappropriate and irresponsible action. Had I not intervened — which, by the way, decreased her level of authority in the eyes of my students — they would not have understood what the problem was and why it was inappropriate behaviour.

When I hear this kind of discussion from managers with adult staff members, it infuriates me. If you have adults on your team who refuse to acknowledge their behaviour is hurting others, they are the people you need to focus on. You need to call them out for it, either directly and personally or by calling out the behaviour, because they need to recognise that the person in a leadership position sees how they’re acting and what it is doing to others. You can’t just say things like ‘I see how some groups are affecting staff morale’ or ‘some people have said I’m playing favourites with the duty rota’. Directly address the issues. And do it in a way that puts your staff down, saying ‘Person A can only do this because they can’t teach science’ or ‘Person B can only teach music’. It makes it sound like we have no other useful skills and are just being under-utilised because we’re useless (which isn’t true at all).

And by the way, don’t get defensive. Please.

Recently, I ended up in some online discussion (which I’m glad remained, at the very least, a civil discussion) with someone who was trying to say that it’s cool that Alberta, Canada is introducing ‘safe zones’ around abortion clinics but that it infringes on the anti-abortion protesters’ freedom of speech. (I can’t help but view it as a genuine conversation, rather than something related to a right-wing troll; they weren’t clinging to the typical right-wing troll tactics.)

To start, there are a number of issues with this, but the most glaringly obvious is that people (most often Americans, but sometimes other individuals) internalise United States laws as if they’re a global structure and cease to recognise that some countries have different laws and beliefs surrounding the truths that ‘we hold to be self-evident’.

To be fair, even different locations in the United States have laws that show this to be true, such as Censorship Laws and what topics are ‘banned’ or ‘excluded’ from the curricula of public education. While Congress can make no law that prohibits the free exercise or abridging of freedom of speech, it does not expressly forbid local and state governments from doing so (though we often assume it does based on some legal precedence and culturally agree it should apply at all levels of government). Many people, interestingly, also conflate this ‘right’ to be part of their ability to talk on social media (Twitter, Google, Facebook, Reddit, etc.) and purchase web-hosting. While there are arguments to be made, it’s very clear that many Americans (and people globally) mistakenly conflate private business for government, which is a continuous problem that I know I addressed long ago when I was working on a series of posts about PewDiePie.

Whew, that was a lengthy way of expressing that “This isn’t the US, and even the US isn’t precisely the US because States’ Rights.”

But in reality, the country in which this issue is happening is very clearly Canada; their laws are a lot more strict than those in the United States are towards defending offensive speech. In particular, they have a harsher legal definition of ‘hate speech’ than the US since we don’t really have an exemption for it; we do have hate crime laws, but they are far more focused on bodily harm and are really difficult to prove. Remember the Gay Panic Defense? My home state, Illinois, just now banned it as a defense for murdering someone, even though it should always have constituted a hate crime.

Having exceptions for hate speech is a good thing. However, it doesn’t exempt them from having the ironic crews of (typically white) people screaming that their rights are being taken away because they don’t have free speech without consequences (much like the lobster-in-charge, Jordan Peterson, is constantly doing). How horrible! How atrocious! You have to endure consequences for intentionally inciting hatred and trying to harm groups of people in the process? You poor baby! (Ugh.)

Anyway, here’s the comment in the thread that I found a bit obtuse, regarding threats vs. harassment:

Are they just saying that abortion is wrong and telling her that she is bad for doing it or are they threatening her? If they are threatening her then that is harassment and you should call the police to have them removed but only then can you stop them because while they may be incorrect in their thinking, they aren’t doing anything wrong. Free speech is a right that can’t be ethically limited because nothing good ever came from silencing information, thoughts, or ideas in anyway

For the record, the fact that any person is standing outside of an ‘abortion clinic’ (in reality: family planning clinic or reproductive health clinic, as they do far more than merely provide abortions) and shouting at someone about how a normal medical procedure is wrong? Is a form a violence. The fact that, while abortion is legal in Canada that it’s still difficult to get? Is a direct result of that violence. From uOttawa:

Abortion services are fully covered in Ontario, but wait times are long (up to 6 weeks in Ottawa). Only one in six hospitals in Canada offers abortions. There is a looming shortage of doctors willing to provide the service; many are approaching retirement and younger MDs are not replacing them, some out of fear of harassment and others because they have not witnessed the dangers of unsafe abortions. Hence, therapeutic abortion services may in theory be available, but they may not be accessible.

Standing outside of a family planning clinic and shouting down the people entering it — whether they are doctors or patients — directly impacts the availability of the service. No person wants to go to work and be harassed, which is only one of the many reasons why there are so few abortion providers in a lot of places. The same is also true for the country that I now live in, Italy. It is technically true that abortions are legal here (and the woman doing the English Civics Class for Immigrants that I was required by law to take was really keen on mentioning this over and over for some reason), but you’d be really hard-pressed to find somewhere that provides them because doctors are legally allowed to be ‘conscientious objectors’ (placing their so-called ‘beliefs’ over the actual life of a person) or heavily influenced to avoid doing so by a highly conservative Catholic lobby (citing ‘fear of harassment’).

So when someone tries to split hairs over “Are they saying she’s bad for doing it?” and “Are they threatening her?” The answer to both questions is yes, because by being there in the first place, they are threatening her well-being and access to necessary services to maintain her health (mental, emotional, and/or physical). These people, the ones who are standing outside legitimate family planning and reproductive health clinics like Planned Parenthood are there so often that they need to have clinic escorts to help people get inside, even if they’re not going there for an abortion. (By the way, clinic escorts are super amazing people.) These people stalk individuals online, especially clinic staff. Even if they’re there and not directly beating people up, their very existence is a form of terrorism because they are mentally abusing and manipulating people who provide or use these services. It’s a way of deterring people, scaring and terrifying them, forcing someone into your beliefs because you can’t handle them making decisions for themselves.

That, in all honesty, should be illegal. And that shouldn’t matter which country you’re in, to be quite honest.

As an anecdote, I went to a Planned Parenthood in the United States to discuss birth control methods. I was barraged with the kinds of hyper-evangelical, anti-abortion rhetoric so much in that one time that it made me, a potential patient, not want to go back. I was left with so much anxiety after that one time; I cannot fathom how the people working in clinics like Planned Parenthood are capable of dealing with that day after day. It stressed me out once. They are more than happy to harass you for “getting an abortion,” even if that isn’t why you’re there.

These are the same people who:

  • Create fake clinics (which they often call “crisis centers” or “women’s health centers”) so that they can con women into going to them and they can then manipulate their emotions, provide intentionally false information, and try to force them to not get abortions (and also feel bad for even thinking about getting one). These clinics provide nothing for any form of family support, by the way. (And they are annoyingly easy to find on Google Maps, making it harder for people to access the services they genuinely need.)
  • Not to mention that, in those clinics, they pose as medical professionals without having any of the credentials or education. This should shock no one, and it definitely explains the excess of intentionally false information.
  • Use deceptive advertising in order to get women to visit their clinic, which often showcases out-of-context information or genuinely harmful images (that also show they don’t care at all about people who miscarried or were forced to get an abortion for medical reasons — so much for being pro-life). Some companies, like Google, are trying to remove advertisements like these. Also, the Supreme Court in the US is going to be reviewing the case NIFLA vs Becerra, which is trying to challenge California’s Reproductive FACT Act as something that ‘infringes First Amendment rights’. I swear, these anti-abortion jerks don’t care about living people or facts. (The fact that someone is upset that they cannot intentionally mislead someone and are required to provide facts about who they are is a clear indication that they’re Not Good People.)
  • Delay people from getting an abortion, which is incredibly important as a lot of places have time limits (especially the US, which keeps shifting to shorter and shorter time limits).
  • Receive tax dollars that are funneled to them by American Republicans, even though they literally do nothing helpful at all for anyone. They also continue making ludicrous laws about clinics that provide abortions, which also have also included things as absurd as the width of doorways.

This list is severely US-heavy, but cities in Canada have been removing the same deceptive advertising, and they have also dealt with the same kinds of fake clinics. Unsurprisingly, they still see the same anti-abortion protesters outside of clinics harassing and abusing women, which they are trying to deal with by enforcing safe zones.

And the fact that any clinic needs these safe zones at all is ridiculous. The protesters who are “exercising their right to free speech” are content to continually silence those who also talk against them, terrifying them into a course of action that is deemed “acceptable” or shaming them for receiving a normal medical procedure.

If these people want to exercise their right to free speech, write a book. Make a pamphlet, create a website (but remember to host it on your own private server), whatever. But stop saying that protesting these clinics is “free speech” when it’s nothing short of harassing and shaming people for receiving a treatment that impacts their well-being.

These anti-abortion protesters are trying to game the system, and we need to stop allowing it.

Previously: I briefly discussed Free Speech and Censorship in the United States.

Note: I’ve been busy with preparing for the new semester; trying to get my lesson plans in order has been wonderful but stressful.

Over the years, there have been several articles and TV segments on how there are consequences for free speech and that (majority white) people need to stop acting as if they’re entitled to consequence-free speech. This idea is consistently addressed every time there is a major upset regarding someone, usually after a high-profile person of some sort, who has engaged in harassment and hate speech toward specific individuals or groups of people. In the case of this segment, when Twitter banned Milo Yiannopoulous for harassing Leslie Jones and Disney completely decided to drop PewDiePie.


There have even been comics dedicated to this concept, such as the one by Randall Munroe at XKCD.


I feel like this concept is summed up in a scientific theory that most people first learn in physical science, which can also be applied to social situations. If you’ve forgotten Newton’s Third Law of Motion, it’s the following.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Just as this law is true in physics, it can also be seen in pretty much every social situation. This is largely why people have to take a lot of things into consideration such as social cues, context, location and environment, and the other people who are involved or could be impacted by their actions or speech.

It’s not uncommon for people who scream about the consequences that someone has “suffered” to also respond with “it’s the death of free speech,” as if they’re completely incapable of saying the derogatory slurs and are being forced to self-censor just because one company removed a platform. They get upset, feeling as if those social media companies should be providing space for people to say whatever they want even if it contradicts the policies and rules that a user agrees to obey upon signing up for an account. This completely neglects one glaring fact: they’re not bound by the First Amendment. These users continue to get angry at companies for distancing themselves from certain high-profile people, as if they’re not allowed to protect their brand from someone who is clearly incapable of creating content that coincides with their current interests. So let’s look at how different social media companies have “censored” their users:

Reddit, after Ellen Pao resigned (following a slew of racialised misogyny in the form of complaints after it had been announced that they’d ban harassing subreddits) and was replaced with Steve Huffamn, decided that they wanted to appeal to both potential advertisers and their users by hiding racist subreddits. They wanted to encourage a ‘free marketplace of ideas’, keeping free speech open by ‘quarantining’ the more questionable subreddits. Clearly, that option was wildly successful because advertisers mostly just stayed away (and the users’ behaviours and responses toward advertising didn’t help). Then again, the fact that they can’t seem to get organised probably hasn’t be very beneficial for them, either. Recently, however, they banned a few prominent subreddits dedicated to the alt-right for doxing people and excessive harassment. All of these go against Reddit’s (loosely and sparingly utilised) content policy:

Reddit is quite open and pro-free speech, but it is not okay to post someone’s personal information, or post links to personal information.

We do not tolerate the harassment of people on our site, nor do we tolerate communities dedicated to fostering harassing behavior.

Do not post content that incites harm against people or groups of people.

Facebook has a policy that has been contested over time for some egregious errors in how the platform functions. Focusing on censorship alone, Facebook has had issues in the past of banning or deactivating accounts of women posting pictures of breastfeeding (a perfectly normal human function); on Instagram’s platform, they deleted photos Rupi Kaur posted that showed how periods affect those with uteruses (later apologising to her). It wasn’t until mid-2015 that both Facebook and Instagram, challenged by these and other similar instances, decided to change their definitions about cdxwhat constituted ‘nudity’ (but you still can’t show nipples on a woman).

However, they have had issues about how banning people works. Because users are capable of flagging comments as abusive, Facebook ends up banning people who have been swarmed because of groups who disagree with them. Meanwhile, there are actually awful groups that never get removed and are allowed to perpetuate hate speech. This goes directly against their own views about controversial, harmful and hate speech on their platform, while stating that they don’t tolerate bullying and harassment in their terms:

You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.

This is despite a history where people, such as Angela Merkel, have challenged Facebook to ban neo-Nazi groups, having to pull pages of Italian neo-Nazis after people lodged complaints, and watching the US government get sued by grandstanding anti-Muslim groups for Facebook “censoring” them. And then it’s been found that the secret groups on Facebook can actually be harmful and act as echo chambers.

I don’t feel the need to quote more than two social media companies since their rules are essentially the same, and it is largely dependent upon them to enforce them. The point is this: When you sign up for their service, you agree to obey the rules they set. If you don’t, you risk having your account deactivated or deleted, and you might even be banned; it’s entirely up to them. It’s their service that you’re using (usually for free), which means that crying about ‘free speech’ is absurd. So if you decide to post a picture of your Nazi salute on Twitter, be prepared to get banned. Posting alt-right propaganda and hate speech? Possible ban (and then people who were rightfully banned will go and claim it’s because of PC culture instead of them harassing people and then go create fake black accounts). At no point in the process is your ‘right to free speech’ being impeded.

Take all this information and now apply it to contracts with other companies. Milo clearly doesn’t have the right to publish a book through a specific publisher; they get to have the final say. CPAC doesn’t have to allow Milo or Richard into their space if they disagree with them on anything (but still allow known white nationalist, Steve Bannon); it’s not a requirement that they give them a platform should they say something that is found disagreeable. Breitbart can fire Milo, should they decide to, in response to the fact that their staff will leave if they don’t; it’s their choice. PewDiePie doesn’t get to make the decisions for Disney’s Maker Studios because it’s their contract, even though he was given “editorial freedom” (and may have ruined it for everyone after him).

Here’s a personal anecdote. My last few contracts for work, and this is not uncommon where I currently live, have stated that I am not allowed to do anything that “harms the reputation of the institution.” This even applied to people who made a complaint on a private Facebook account that only your friends could see, as I have worked with numerous individuals who’ve had their co-workers friended and had screenshots reported to their bosses and superintendents even though the account was not public and couldn’t possibly hurt the institution in question.

All contracts have variations on this concept, regardless of whether or not it directly references ‘bringing harm to their reputation’. This is part of at-will work, in most cases; there are numbers of employees who have been fired for their comments, regardless of if they are benign or legitimate complaints about where you work on social media or if you’ve said something harmful that later leads to you being fired because they don’t want you to represent them as an employee. This is because there is no Constitutional free speech at work.

And, for people like these men, social media is their workplace; they don’t have a right to be there.

So one of the arguments that people keep making in regards to racist language – whether it be the “thoughtless prankster” PewDiePie, the blatantly neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, or the clearly white supremacist Milo Yiannopoulos – is that everyone should have access to the Freedom of Speech. This divorces a lot of what’s happening in these events and the context surrounding them with what Freedom of Speech actually is and how it functions.

Note: I said I was making a multi-part post, and this is the first of the set. I may make reference to the consequences of free speech, but I’m not discussing it here directly. Yet. Also, I’m not a lawyer, but I have at least some understanding of the difference between governments and corporations.

In all three cases I’ve mentioned, we’re dealing either with people who live in or work with companies in the United States. As such, that’s the perspective I’m going to take. This right has been written into the First Amendment of our Constitution and adopted in 1791:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The key word here is Congress, which implies that iall public spaces shall allow for freedom of speech. For reference, ‘public’ in this instance is referring to something that relates to government; it’s referring to spaces that are maintained (usually) by the government and relate to or affect people of the nation.

Meanwhile, if you search for “pewdiepie freedom of speech” on Twitter, you get a whole slew of people who fail to understand this basic concept:



The point in highlighting this is that businesses are not the government. This means that any time someone is crying about Milo losing his freedom of speech because Twitter banned him, they’re wrong. If people are mourning PewDiePie’s loss of a platform because Disney’s Maker Studios cut ties with him, it makes no sense. Their right to freedom of speech is not guaranteed in these instances. Disney can silence and remove people from their platform just as easily as Google, Twitter, Facebook, and any other company can.

Disney – unless there’s been a significant change in the way that the United States’ government works, which is probably not beyond the realm of possibility considering what’s been happening in the past 24 hours with Michael Flynn – is not the government. They are a private business; the same applies to Google, who owns YouTube. The right that we’re guaranteed in the First Amendment was meant to keep citizens safe from the government; it wasn’t written to tell businesses that they were obligated to host people on their platform so that they could make offensive “ironic” jokes or actually spew hatred.

While we’re at it, let’s look at a brief history of American censorship by the government, since we’re probably moments away from the Sedition Act of 2017. (I honestly wouldn’t put it past President Agent Orange, his administration and cabinet, and the Republicans to make it happen.)

In the early stages of the United States but after President Washington left office, the Federalist Party pushed three harmful acts that were collectively known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. This consisted of the Alien Friendlies Act of 1798, the Alien Enemy Act of 1798, and the Sedition Act of 1798.

In effect, what the Sedition Act did was make it a crime to publish anything against the US government and Congress that was considered to be “false, scandalous, or malicious” and had the “intent to defame” them or “bring them into contempt or disrepute.” The original goal, or so John Adams claimed, was that they were enacted to decrease the amount of libel in the press; during this time, more and more partisan papers were coming into existence, which meant that there was a lot more of the partisan fighting taking place than had previously existed. Or, at least, more fighting that had existed in print than previously seen. (Adams was also well-known for having an ego but also being incredibly fragile to any criticism or slight. I know, it’s really difficult to imagine that as a combination of personality traits.)

Fast forward to 1918 and we find that Wilson’s administration decided to create and enact yet another Sedition Act, which was developed as an extension to the Espionage Act of 1917. Again, it makes it illegal for people to say anything that could be perceived as showing disloyalty or negativity towards the government; it was meant to get rid of the dissent that was voiced by groups like the socialists, anti-war activists, and pacifists. In notable examples, it silenced (or, at least, attempted to silence) people like Eugene V. Debs (socialist party member and union leader), Mollie Steimer (a Russian immigrant, anti-war activist, and anarchist), Marie Equi (a lesbian who aligned herself with both the anarchists and the radical labour movement), and William Edenborn (a German businessman who was a naturalised citizen who was also 70-years old at the time of his arrest).

Obviously, both of these Sedition Acts either were allowed to expire or were repealed. Thomas Jefferson ran on a platform in the election of 1800 that denounced the Alien and Sedition Acts and allowed both the Sedition Act and the Alien Friendlies Act to expire (the Alien Enemy Act still remains today but has been recodified), and many historians credit theses events with providing a helping hand in the rise of the Democratic-Republican Party and the fall of the Federalist Party. Wilson’s Sedition Act was repealed in 1920. which happened some time after Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote a dissenting opinion in Abrams v United States (1919) that expressed his views on the “marketplace of ideas.”

But then in 1940, the United States Congress enacted the Alien Registration Act, which is also known as the Smith Act. This law targeted non-citizen adults who were alleged to be communists, fascists, and anarchists. Because of a fear of the fifth columns that might betray the United States’ government from within, they decided to create this law to “protect” themselves from unknown radical elements that may have immigrated to the US. However, it included the following:

… with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any such government, prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence, or attempts to do so; or … organizes or helps or attempts to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any such government by force or violence; or becomes or is a member of, or affiliates with, any such society, group, or assembly of persons, knowing the purposes thereof.

Effectively, this entire law enabled the US to target the speech of non-citizens and determine whether or not it “advocated the overthrow or destruction of the US government.” Interestingly, despite its name, American citizens were tried under this law. Many of the people who were targeted by this were Communist leaders who were largely pro-union and workers’ rights – including Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a founding member of the ACLU who was expelled from the organisation because she was a Communist, and Claudia Jones, who was a Black activist and journalist that immigrated to the US from Trinidad as a child – and some (not nearly as many) were militant racists and actual fascists.

So clearly, the United States a bastion of free speech and the ability to say whatever we want and whenever we want, right?

Well, not quite. There are far more events in history that I haven’t even remotely had a chance to look at. Here are more examples:

  • Prior to and during the American Civil War, the US Postmaster General openly refused to allow any mail that carried pamphlets about abolition.
  • The First Amendment didn’t apply to states and municipalities until the beginning of the 20th century (1900s), allowing many places and institutions to go ahead and censor things they didn’t want.
  • Prior restraint wasn’t even considered unconstitutional until the 1930s.
  • Let’s not forget the Office of Censorship was an actual thing during WWII.
  • Remember the Pentagon Papers that a lot of people like to cite for helping to end the US involvement in the Vietnam War (1955-1975)? Do you remember what happened to Daniel Ellsberg? He was charged with conspiracy and espionage, among other things before the charges were dropped (because Nixon’s White House were performing unlawful actions to attempt to discredit him). They weren’t declassified until 2011, either.
  • The entire premise of McCarthyism. Have fun with that. You could literally take an entire university course on the subject and not finish.
  • How about that good ol’ Protect America Act (2007), which actually amended FISA (Nixon-era legislation)? Despite my distaste with some of their other actions (shown elsewhere in this post), the ACLU provides a pretty good analysis of it.

And those are all the times that Congress has enacted laws that directly went against the First Amendment or where our state and local governments didn’t have to guarantee those rights to us and it only completely applied at the federal level. We’re still living with many of those and others that I haven’t even listed.

But honestly, we have a whole list of restrictions and exceptions on our ‘free speech’ because the judiciary has tried cases where it found that things like hate speech are not protected, especially when it urges people to act out. I mean, if we pick out some of the people discussed, much of what Dick and Milo say falls under both incitement and ‘fighting words and offensive speech’. Even if Twitter were a public (read: government) institution, they would still have every right to ban them because what they’re saying is meant to cause harm and incite some form of violence. It’s impossible to support them (and I’m still massively disappointed in the ACLU supporting Lee Rowland as she continues to add to their awful history of supporting hate speech and imagery as she supports Milo in their name).

Using Milo as an example, he outed a trans student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His “free speech” was not impugned, but he decided to cross over into harassment. This led to the student, Adelaide Kramer, receiving a deluge of hateful messages, which wouldn’t have happened had Milo said nothing. And the administrators, who were in the audience, are just as guilty of allowing it to continue; they could have stopped it the moment he singled her out but chose not to. The protests at UCB erupted only because the university refused to acknowledge that Milo wanted to out undocumented students. In both cases, the ‘talk’ is inciting violence; these people are left feeling unsafe, especially in a world that is already dangerous for them.


Known Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, in response to the Quebec City Mosque Shooting, decides to post this. The intent is clear: He’s trying to further incite people against Muslims. You know, people who now have to ramp up security because of people like him.


We recently watched a very high profile example of someone losing her right to free speech take place on the Senate floor, especially as she was reading the letter of a Black woman. Elizabeth Warren was silenced as she read Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter addressing the judicial nomination of Jeff Sessions at the time. Let that sink in for a moment. One of the few women in the Senate took it upon herself to give a voice to a Black civil rights activist (leader) during Black History Month about a person who we know has a negative record with Civil Rights because it is so incredibly well-documented. I saw so few of the same people decrying this event in the way that I see them supporting people like Milo. And when they did talk about this, they focused entirely on Warren being silenced; they neglect the fact that she’d entered other evidence against Sessions from the same time and was allowed to keep talking. It was only once she started reading King’s letter and describing his history of racist actions that she was silenced for “impugning a Senate member.”

But instead of actually acknowledging the harm that these men and others like them are doing, we’d rather clutch pearls about their “loss” of free speech on platforms that don’t legally have to allow it (and, in many cases, could legally disallow it on the basis of safety for others). Yet, I don’t see the same support for people in Black Lives Matter; I don’t see the same support for people protesting police brutality and violence. I don’t see the same support for Muslim people of all backgrounds.

We, and I’m looking directly at white liberals and progressives, are too quick to support the Freedom of Speech when people who’ve abused that right don’t deserve it. Simultaneously, we don’t support the people who need it, and we’re ridiculously silent when it comes to amplifying their voices. It’s absolutely infuriating.

Next: Freedom of Speech is Not Freedom from Consequences.

Warning: There is some of discussion of anti-Semitism. Some links and images may include racial slurs, Nazis, anti-Semitism, and racism.

Something’s happened recently that’s massively interesting: Disney decided cut ties to PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg) after he posted videos with anti-Semitic imagery and statements (or “jokes”) this past month. It’s partly interesting to me because he’s made headline news for this, which is probably because he has the most subscribers on YouTube’s platform. It’s also interesting to me because he finally was shown that even jokes that utilise “ironic bigotry” have consequences.

You know, that peksy responsibility that everyone seems to conveniently overlook or outright ignore that comes with their favourite right: freedom of speech? Yeah, that one.

Now, I don’t want to focus specifically on PewDiePie because I’m more interested in the overall conversation, especially as his supporters scream about how it was “just a joke” and we’re “too sensitive” and that “none of his supporters support anti-Semitic views because they know it’s just a joke.” He’s another in a long line of people who we keep defending when they make offensive statements without even considering that there are consequences for doing so.


Twitter user @Pyle1987 providing another example that people who are validated by “ironic jokes” also openly engage in further bigotry.


I’m also not interested in debating the “is he or isn’t he” question in regards to his racism; I just know that he did things that were racist. First, he intentionally selected two Indian men to do something that ended up getting them banned from Fiverr. Why? What was his logic in asking them to do this? I’m sure there were people on Fiverr who would’ve openly denied his request, as he seemingly “wanted,” because they were far more familiar with the language, the context, and the cultural issues of what he was requesting. Why didn’t he bother to ask them to do it? Was it because, as he states, he thought these guys would refuse his request? Even if it wasn’t an event intended to be racist (and that’s being polite, since it also reeks of remnants of European colonialism), we have to argue that his subconscious still overlooked the issues that these two men might have after doing what they were hired to do and selected them over anyone else; he may not have been intentionally racist, but he certainly engaged in actions that were.

As a result of his actions, these two men from a less privileged background than his own lost access to an important source of income because of a “thoughtless prank,” which also was anti-Semitic (even if meant as “ironic bigotry” or “just a joke”). People keep claiming that it was a “thoughtless prank.” The only part of the phrase that’s even remotely correct is thoughtless; he didn’t think, and that’s more than obvious. And while, yes, I know he ‘apologised’ and requested Fiverr to unban them, the fact remains that he did something he clearly knew was wrong and got two men of colour in trouble for it without first thinking of the potential consequences. He didn’t even consider the possibility that these men would do what he requested because it was”too absurd,” and he never thought that they’d get in trouble for it should they have done it at all; he’s said that he thought they wouldn’t do it. This implies that he understood it was wrong and also expected others from a different linguistic and cultural background (who state that they “did not know what ‘the Jews’ meant,” which I would believe) to have the same knowledge.

Then there’s the problem of his anti-Semitic “joke.” Since he openly acknowledges that what he did was wrong and still did it anyway, we should be able to recognise the problem. Clearly, we need to have the discussion again about how jokes shouldn’t punch down because that does nothing but support the status quo; it also does nothing except validate the people who do believe in such things (as seen above) and prompts them to act out more because they believe that others around them agree with those ideas.

In much of the discussion I see, I keep running into a few themes that I feel need to be addressed:

  1. What is ‘Freedom of Speech’ and how does it apply in these situations. Maybe a discussion about censorship.
  2. Dealing with the consequences of your ‘Freedom of Speech.’
  3. Impact vs. Intent and Ironic Bigotry still being bigotry.
  4. The rights that Disney and other companies have to sever ties with people (History, Modern Context, CSR)

There clearly are a lot more to address, but these are the ones that I feel more comfortable tackling because I’m not going to start speaking over Jewish people who have had to live with instances of anti-Semitism and have been watching its overt resurgence the entire election cycle and well into the first month of the presidency. And I don’t want to talk over people who had to watch a White House completely ignore Jewish people on Holocaust Remembrance Day, even when this is a very significant cultural event for them.


White supremacist and former Imperial Wizard of the KKK, who is also known for losing a gubernatorial election in 1991 where the slogan was “Better a Lizard than a Wizard,” continues abusing his right to freedom of speech in order to spread his hatred of Jewish people.


If our president is being supported by the KKK, is reported as removing them from the list of hate groups, and being linked to an increase in hate crimes, we need to be talking out and protecting people who will be harmed by such groups and individuals. We don’t need to be defending people who abuse their rights and use them to harm others; we need to be giving our support to people who are trying to speak out about actual injustices that are taking place (and ‘coming out as conservative’ and ‘having everyone ignore you’ doesn’t exactly count as an injustice, since you’re also ignoring the context of the entire situation by equating your changeable political stance to a person’s unchangeable identity).

We need to do and be better than this.

Next: I’m addressing those points in order, so I’m going to be discussing the Freedom of Speech and America’s history of ‘upholding’ it.
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