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Killing Free Speech: Snowflakes, Censorship, Sit-ins and Social Media

Free speech is increasingly under attack in America, although the causes and culprits are the subject of much debate. Are “snowflakes” on campus the problem? Social media companies that bar conservative voices from their platforms? The culture of “victimhood” in America? In this video, the latest installment in ARI’s free speech series, Dave Rubin, Heather Mac Donald and I address these and many other issues in an event at the University of California at Berkeley.

My take: The fundamental problem is that people don’t understand the right to free speech, why it’s important, and what it entails. For example, there is widespread confusion about what free speech is supposed to protect. We constantly hear that social media companies are “censoring” content on their platforms and that colleges are “censoring” certain views on campus. But this isn’t correct. Private companies, colleges, and individuals have no obligation to provide anyone with a forum. When they refuse, that’s not censorship but simply an exercise of their rights to property, free speech, and association. The right to free speech does not guarantee you a microphone or an audience. It only requires that the government and others leave you free to speak using your own resources. The rest is up to you.

At the same time, though, we have to distinguish between speech and force. When students shout down or physically block speakers—or worse, attack them—this is a grave threat to free speech. Often, students who do this claim that speakers with whom they disagree are “threatening their safety.” But this is badly mistaken. Speech, itself, is not force, no matter how objectionable, and therefore it can’t render anyone physically unsafe. When we conflate the two, we lose the right to free speech and to rational discourse in general.

A free mind and a free market are corollaries,” said Ayn Rand. What she meant is that freedom requires both civil rights, like the freedom to think and to speak, and economic rights, like the freedom to work, earn money, run businesses, and own property. Unless we understand this—unless we understand that we can’t have one without the other, we will never be able to achieve any kind of real, lasting freedom.

Other Resources:

Defending Free Speech by Steve Simpson

Can the First Amendment Tolerate Hate by Steve Simpson

Ayn Rand and the “New Intellectual” by Ayn Rand

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Steve Simpson

Steve Simpson, a former constitutional litigator, was director of Legal Studies and a senior editor at the Ayn Rand Institute from 2013 to 2018. He is the editor of Defending Free Speech.

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