Faisal Saeed Al Mutar founded the Global Secular Humanist Movement and Ideas Beyond Borders. He is an Iraqi refugee, satirist, and human rights activist. He is also a columnist for Free Inquiry. Here, we continue a series together.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: When it comes to social media, many people are being banned from across the spectrum. These can be people we agree with. These can be people we disagree with.
However, I note people tend to be in support of the banning of people they do not agree with, but not in support of banning of people they agree with. This seems inconsistent with freedom of expression or what is more narrowly termed free speech.
What are your thoughts on this? What are your observations about this?
Faisal Saeed Al Mutar: What is happening, there is a distinction, which is important for people to know, between the First Amendment and freedom of expression. The First Amendment is about protecting individuals from government censorship, while freedom of expression is more of a culture that tolerates different opinions.
and also there are hate speech laws in some countries in Europe who doesn’t follow the American tradition of the first amendment and they arrest people for what they refer to as hate speech.
Hate speech laws happen in multiple countries in the world including countries in the free world. In Germany, for example, Holocaust denial is viewed as hate speech. Therefore, people who propagate these ideas get prosecuted.
In the UK, there was a case where a comedian got his girlfriend to do a Nazi salute. it is going to the court. There is government persecution and what is referred to free speech or freedom of expression.
In the US, “hate speech” in many cases is legal if it doesn’t call for direct incitement of violence.
For platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ – not many people use it, and YouTube, which are the major ones, they are private companies, but at the same time, they became platforms for many people around the world to spread their ideas and discuss them with other people.
These platforms have been constrained by very, in my opinion, vague terms and conditions. Up until today, many people do not know the specifics of the terms and conditions. There has been, in my opinion, different standards applied to different people about what can be considered hateful speech.
Somebody can make the argument that Ayatollah Khamenei, who is the Ayatollah for Iran at the moment, is involved in hate speech because he spreads many conspiracy theories against the Jews and other bad ideas, but he is available on Twitter.
Even though in his country, he does not allow people to access Twitter, but he and others in the regime can access it. Same with other extremist groups. What is happening is that some of the people who can be considered within the spectrum of the Far Right in Europe or the United States, they are having their accounts shut down.
There is a relevant double standard ongoing. Many critics of Islam who are not alt-Right, but who liberal Muslims or ex-Muslims. Their work is also being censored due to not supporting it or some people being offended.
Some people do not understand that free speech is in some ways a one-way street. What some people find offensive cannot be offensive to other people, many of these social media companies who were invented by IT and software people.
There are so many ethical questions that they are dealing with, which I do not think they are dealing with in a reasonable manner. Freedom of expression is not about the people that we agree with.
If we agree on something, we do not need any sort of laws or policies, or a culture, to protect us. It is exactly what I am talking about with opinion. If you do not support unpopular opinions, no matter how offensive they may be, you are naturally not supporting free speech.
Unless, there is a direct incitement to violence, where you can say, “These people in this group, certain ethnic group, need to killed right now at this venue or at this place.” That is different as it is incitement to violence. But in my opinion, what can and cannot be offensive can be very subjective.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Faisal.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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Image Credit: Faisal Saeed Al Mutar.