I have recently come to the conclusion that the main reason why so many people misunderstand the nature of “freedom of speech” is that large chunks of the mainstream media deliberately confuse the issue. Simply put, pundits benefit from a situation wherein they can throw out their arms beatifically and play the martyr every time someone tries to hold them to account for anything that they say. Thus, whenever their is any outcry over outrageous comments, gross incompetence, or bad behaviour by a public figure, you can inevitably expect the same chorus of tut-tutting editorials whining about how the poor, poor dears are having their free speech trampled by the mouth-frothing hordes of the Internet. The people who write these editorials, by-and-large, have training in journalism, and have worked in the press for years or decades. They must know that Freedom of Speech does not mean what they are claiming that it does, and yet they deliberately obfuscate.
The latest beneficiary of this deception is Canada’s worst-dressed political strategist, Tom Flanagan. My Canadian readers may recall that last year, Mr. Flanagan was caught on video during a lecture on the Idle No More movement, claiming that he thought that owning child pornography was a “victimless crime.” Needless to say, he had his career spontaneously evaporate out from under him, as it want to happen when you publicly reveal yourself to be a terrible (or at least terribly oblivious) person; he was not, however, arrested for the comments, nor is anything stopping him from saying them again: thus, his freedom of speech was in no way impinged by those* who found his comments abhorrent.
Now he’s back. Tom Flanagan has just come out with a new book whining about “the death of free speech in the Internet age.” For those of you keeping score at home, Tom Flanagan is a professor of political science at the University of Calgary. As such, he must be aware of the definition of free speech, and its legal implications. Thus, there is no other way that this work can be interpreted but as a deliberate misrepresentation on his part. And the media, who benefit enormously from a complete lack of accountability, have his back on this one.
I will conclude by pointing out the pathetically obvious: actually having to face accountability for what you say is not an impingement of your fundamental freedoms. In reality, what Flanagan and the others are raging against is the certain knowledge that they would never have been able to rise to positions of such prominence in the first place if social media had existed when they were getting their start. In their hearts, they know themselves to be hacks, and they are terrified when social media, like a magic mirror, reveals them for what they truly are.
*Whom I hope comprise the overwhelming majority of the Human race.