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Common Myths about Free Speech

Myth Busting Four False Free Speech Stances

“Words can never hurt me.” “We must be tolerant of all opinions.” “Facebook is censoring me!” We hear claims like these all the time, but are they true? Watch Steve Simpson and Tara Smith discuss and debunk these and other common myths about free speech.

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“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.”

“We must be tolerant toward other people’s views and ideas.”

“Facebook and YouTube are censoring my opinions.”

You may have heard variants of these statements, at some point, in one of the many ongoing debates about freedom of speech. But are these claims valid? It’s true that names can’t hurt us—but does that mean that we should just ignore racist comments or tolerate racism? And if Facebook is truly censoring speech when it filters content, isn’t the New York Times doing the same thing when it decides what to publish and what to leave out?

Most people accept statements like the ones above without considering their implications, or what they mean, precisely. Indeed, not many people understand what freedom of speech actually is.

But if you care about the issue, and are curious to find out the right way to think about it, you’re in luck—two ARI experts, who do understand what freedom of speech is and the principles behind this right, recently sat down to discuss the common myths that surround it.

In this video, Tara Smith, professor of philosophy at University of Texas at Austin, and Steve Simpson, ARI’s director of Legal Studies, debunk four myths about free speech. In doing so, they provide clarity on what freedom of speech means, how to think about it, and how it should be defended.

Among other questions, they cover:

  • What is free speech, why is it a right, and what is its value?
  • What does “censorship” really mean?
  • Is the right to free speech an absolute? If so, how can libel, threats, and fraud be illegal?
  • Should we tolerate all views? If so, where do judgment and integrity come in?

Free speech is immensely important, but to preserve it, we need to understand what it actually means and how best to defend it. Watch this video to find out more about this important right, and to understand why the myths mentioned above are just that—myths.

Audio only:

Another resource:

“The Free Speech Vernacular: Conceptual Confusions in the Way We Speak About Speech” by Tara Smith

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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.

Agustina Vergara Cid

Agustina Vergara Cid, LLB and LLM, is an associate fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute and an opinion columnist at the Orange County Register.

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