(11a) Does "Freedom of Speech" equals "Freedom of Stupidity or to Insult"?

On Friday July 27 2012, the high court in London overruled the conviction of a man who tweeted on Twitter that he may blow up Manchester airport if the airport didn't open within a week because he wanted to see his girlfriend (no flights were possible due to bad weather). The judge said that it was obvious it was only a joke, although a bad one. Many people are happy with the ruling. But should we really?

Freedom of stupidity

Of course, when it becomes clear that someone made a (very bad) joke on the Internet then one may decide not to punish the person. As far as I can tell, the prosecutor made it clear to the public that some kind of "jokes" are not acceptable on social networks. But, when people continue saying that the whole thing was an absurd operetta, threatening "Freedom of Speech", then I no longer understand people. They even claim that nowadays Shakespeare would no longer be allowed to say "Let's kill all lawyers" (see Henry the Sixth) but this was within a certain context and thus people understood why this was said. A tweet on the contrary is a short sentence, therefore it is often written without a context and without thinking about the consequences.

July 7, 2005, 56 people died in four separate suicide attacks in London, including the four bombers. During many years, the IRA killed people during terrorist attacks. Thus, London and the UK experienced terrorist attacks. When people then continue to claim that tweeting that someone wants to destroy something is only a "bad joke" and that prosecuting the person of the message is operetta and an attack on "freedom of speech", I do not understand it any longer.

Indeed, charges against the person could have been dropped after it became clear that the person wrote the sentence as a joke, but it should also be made clear to the public that "Freedom of Speech" does not equal "freedom of stupidity". The person who made the "joke" should instead of saying that such "bad jokes" should be allowed to appear on social networks should have made it public that indeed he behaved foolish, that he understands the reasons why he was arrested and that he, and other people, should think twice before publishing anything on the Internet. Because, now people get the impression that these "bad jokes" can be published freely on the Internet and this will make it much harder for the Intelligence (who try to protect the public) to act when they notice something suspicious. The Intelligence may fear it will be another "joke" and that they will be ridiculed when they act and thus do nothing. Then of course, when something happens, the public will condemn the Intelligence and police for not acting and thus protecting the public.

Another story published some time ago in the Guardian spoke about a person who run with heavy weights in his jacket because he said it was more efficient to gain muscles. One day, police almost shot him because a neighbour thought a terrorist with bombs in his jacket was running on the streets. After the police accepted his explanation, the man was released but the police asked to run in future with normal sport clothes so he can no longer be confused with terrorists. He refused, saying it was his freedom to run as he wanted even if it looks suspicious. I do not understand this person. On July 22 2005, two weeks after the bombings in London, a person was shot in the London Underground because police thought he behaved suspicious, one of the reasons according to the police was that he was wearing a jacket too big for that warm day and thus maybe he was hiding bombs (although the police should have been more open in their communication about the incident to the public in the aftermatch because as the police behaved it seemed they were hiding something).

Freedom to insult

But "Freedom of Speech" is also used to be able to insult people (maybe those people are racists or other -ists?). Some comedians find it only normal that they use jokes to make fools of people such as people with a handicap. They claim they should be allowed to cross borders. Indeed, people should not be too easily insulted and when one knows a person insults some people one can refuse to watch except when that person is allowed to speak on television. But, persons with a handicap, certainly when they were not born with it, find it often hard and encounter already enough problems in society to accept they are also insulted on stage. Kindness towards other people is now considered as stupid and not funny while one could make jokes involving people with handicaps that are positive and not degrading (a much bigger challenge). But, do not "insult" the comedian by telling it was not funny he/she insulted people, because he/she will claim you want to remove his/her "Freedom of Speech", while in fact it now equals "freedom to insult". Of course, they are against discrimination and they find one should never stop someone with a handicap living his/her dream. They find everyone should have the same opportunities, e.g. everyone should be able to become a doctor even when (extreme example) they can't see. Instead of informing those people there are other ways to serve the community.

Nowadays, also journalists in newspapers feel they have the "freedom to insult" people but when people react against their insults, the ordinary people are condemned. An example: some years ago some newspapers found it obvious they could publish, in the name of "Freedom of Speech", offensive images from prophets, knowing these images would insult many people and they should have known that some people may become aggressive and even kill (later the author acknowledge his mistake). Were these pictures published to show superiority towards another religion and maybe they were some form of racism? Equally, it cannot be tolerated that religious people insult gay people, women, people with another belief as this too cannot be part of "Freedom of Speech" although some will claim it is their right to insult. In both cases, "freedom to insult" results in anger.


Each time reason is gone, the rules become stricter because new laws are made to make it clear what is allowed and what is not. As a result, there is less flexibility for the public but also for the judges to place something within a certain context. E.g. maybe in the case of the "bad joke", governments may introduce more precise laws to specify what can be written or spoken on the Internet and what is not allowed.

A final comment: often people who are in favour of "Freedom of speech" are not happy when others claim their right of "Freedom of Speech". I would say, "Freedom of Speech" should be polite, using reason and without insulting others. Then, people may listen to each other and will be more likely to accept each others argument because mostly, life isn't simply black and white.


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