Monday Night Q&A: Free speech


After Milo Yiannopoulos sent abusive tweets to Ghostbuster’s actress Leslie Jones and later posted fake tweets that made out as if Jones had called him a ‘faggot’, his account was permanently disabled. Closer to home, Sonia Kruger has copped a barrage of flak for speaking against a scholarship program for LGBTQI+ high school students and for calling for a ban on Muslim immigration.

Is the conservative voice being discriminated against? And is banning someone on Twitter akin to revoking the right of free speech? Representatives from Macquarie Uni’s Liberal and Labor clubs hash it out.


Kieren Ash, MQU Labor

Conservatives believe in very little, but you expected them to believe in at least two innate rights: speech, and property.

In their haste to turn Milo Yiannopoulos and his infamous Twitter account into a culture war martyr, their belief in the latter must be sacrificed on the altar of the former.

Yiannopoulos is a notorious troll who is just another agent in the mainstreaming of sexism, racism and other bigotries in the age of Trump. He unleashes mockery and vitriol against his foes, and gleefully endorses the abuse and harassment that is popular amongst the anonymous trolls and nameless misogynists that make up his fan base.

Milo is the sort of person who thinks saying something like ‘Feminism is cancer’ is terribly funny, and has a legion of followers who find this sort of thing deeply insightful. If Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson had a love child, it’d be Milo.

Yiannopoulos was sensationally banned from Twitter last month when his latest campaign of hatred left Twitter with no choice but to ban him permanently from the platform. Right wing cretins are at pains to defend Milo, and claim his right to free speech has been infringed. In this case, Milo has no such right. Twitter is a private platform, provided by a business, and its use is governed by a set of rules and a code of conduct, which Milo voluntarily agreed to at the point of sign up. Milo violated these rules time and time again and was banned, just like you can be turfed from a pub or someone’s home for behaving obnoxiously.

The traditional definition of free speech is the right of the individual not to have their speech censored or infringed by government, and so far no one is alleging the government had anything to do with his banning.

Milo wasn’t censored. He was banned. End of story.

Free speech is not speech free of consequence. The right to express your opinion comes with a corresponding responsibility to use that freedom wisely. You might have a right to offend, but that doesn’t mean you have an obligation to.

This goes to the broader point of just how thin-skinned right-wingers are. Closer to home, we have the example of Sonia Kruger, who expressed her ill-informed view on Muslim immigration and was roundly mocked. To the Right, this is evidence of a culture hostile to free speech, where conservative thought is censored.

The problem for the Right is that there has never been more speech than right now, and that’s also true of conservative speech. Kruger’s critics merely exercised their free speech. It is not their fault that Kruger looked foolish and out of her depth, because that’s what free speech does: it exposes idiocy. The demand by the Right for free speech is actually for speech free of consequence or criticism.

Modern conservatism is a hollow, bankrupt ideology, eaten from the inside out by corporate interests and bigots like Trump, Hanson and Milo in their search for an intellectual and moral justification for hatred.

The people who complain about the censorship of conservative speech often do so from the desks of nationally broadcasted panel shows, in column inches in syndicated newspapers, or on top-rating radio stations.

So don’t take these whiners seriously. There should be more to conservatism and free speech than Milo’s performative bigotry.


Satyajeet Marar, Macq Liberal Club

The rise of political correctness and a toxic culture of thought and word policing driven by self-styled ‘social justice warriors’ has brought on an environment where free discourse about legitimate albeit controversial issues is increasingly difficult or ‘problematic’. Their actions actually infantilise, patronise and breed resentment against minority groups they claim to support. It is no coincidence that the rise of a regressive left dismissing any concern about issues such as immigration and affirmative action as simply notions of ‘privilege’ and ‘bigotry’ rather than attempting legitimate argument has occurred alongside the rise of the ‘hard right’ throughout America, Europe and Australia, including the rise of Donald Trump and resurgence of One Nation.

In America, controversial conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos had his Twitter account shut down after accusations of racial harassment against Rashida Jones following critical appraisal of the actor’s performance in ‘Ghostbusters’. Meanwhile, tweets from Rashida have surfaced using racial slurs and explicitly asking followers to attack and target Milo – while there is simply no evidence that the opposite occurred. On Facebook, posts critical of Hillary Clinton or Black Lives Matter – which claims to fight African-American racial profiling while some of its sections actively call for the murder of innocent police officers and violent tactics in civil protests – have been taken down for violating ‘community standards’. Meanwhile, ISIS-endorsing posts, those calling for the deaths of Trump supporters and pictures of actual human shit remain at large. It is clear that ‘community standard’ is being defined as that which is contrary to the left narrative rather than objectively repulsive content which threatens or intimidates.

‘But these are private companies, they can do what they want!’ Sure. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak out and use our power as consumers of these services to demand that they support free discourse.

In Australia, Sonia Kruger has faced repeated death and violence threats for expressing support for a moratorium on Muslim immigration. This is strange considering the silence of organisations like White Ribbon meant to fight against violence directed at women and the oft-repeated claim that ridiculous comments like Sonia’s are directly linked to death threats against minorities.

I strongly disagree with her views. I don’t even agree with Milo. There may be reason why these acts merit strong, legitimate criticism. But this is only possible when we support the right of people to express disagreeable views and strongly oppose those who try to shut down dissenting voices in the name of benevolence, no matter our views on the actual opinions. Shutting down an opinion or someone’s right to express it is not winning the argument – it is running away from it. It has the power to turn those we dislike into martyrs for their own causes.

Minorities can only be empowered when they are allowed to stand on their own feet to oppose, on their own terms and on a level playing field, those opposing them. They are disempowered when individuals claim to speak for them as a single, homogenous collective group or push paternalistic notions of what views they should be ‘protected’ from. I have personally been accused of trying to pander to ‘white people’ simply for being politically centre-right. The irony is that many people claiming to know what opinions brown people ‘should’ have are whiter than Chandler Bing from Friends.

The Macq Liberal Club is proud to support the concept of free speech to promote discourse and to empower minorities and ALL individuals to have a say.

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