Free Speech is Essential to Find Truth

There is a growing debate between free speech and censorship on the internet. Many believe certain controversial figures with large followings should be banned from their platforms. But why would a tech company ban any single user entirely from its platform, so long as they aren’t breaking the law, no matter how controversial they are deemed to be? After all, “controversial” doesn’t mean “bad” or “wrong,” it just means provoking disagreement—meaning many agree. Though some users will indeed want a controversial user banned, many others will not—and most won’t care at all. Therefore, let the choice be up to each individual user for who they do and do not want to ban. If you don’t like what someone is saying, personally block them, and you’ll never have to hear from them again—but those who do like that user will still get to hear them. This way, everyone wins.

But who wins when a platform bans someone entirely? The banned person loses. Their family, friends, and fans lose. Any users who were hurt or offended by the banned user may win, but they could have that same “win” by simply blocking the user personally. The true winners when someone is completely banned are the competitors to that person, such as traditional media institutions who were losing trust and readership to alternative independent sources on the internet. And if the user was critiquing corporations or politicians, then those corporations and politicians are the ultimate winners when that user is banned. Often it is those very politicians and corporations behind the efforts to get certain figures de-platformed.

The main objection to free speech is that certain ideas are “too dangerous” and will lead to violence. But first of all, the direct incitement of violence is not protected under free speech, so that should not be a concern, as those who do promote violence will be banned and prosecuted by law enforcement. Second, many people and groups label ideas as “dangerous” when the only danger those ideas truly pose is to their political and economic power, not their safety.

Another common objection is that people support free speech, but they only want to ban “hate speech.” But what is hate speech? Speech that hurts someone’s feelings? Well, often the truth hurts. So should truth be censored in the name of niceness? Then society would become embroiled by lies (perhaps it already has been). Furthermore, what one person considers hateful, another does not. Hate speech is impossible to objectively define. Regardless, hate speech still falls under free speech—unless someone is breaking a law not protected by the First Amendment. As despicable as some language may be, it is not a crime to hate someone, nor is it a crime to spread misinformation. If hating and lying were against the law, every human would be in prison. This doesn’t mean you must listen to speech you find hateful—again, you can personally block it.

Sticks and stones may break my bones
But words shall never hurt me.

It would be nice to have the CEOs of internet platforms support free speech, but a better solution for the future is for these platforms to be decentralized, with no company or CEO able to ban any user or censor any information (not already illegal) from their platform. But of course, individual users will have the option to block any other user or information they don’t want to see, for whatever reason. People are different, with vastly different cultures, values, and interests. Something that offends one person will amuse another. No central power should be able to selectively choose who and what to ban from the top down. Rather, individuals should have the freedom to customize their internet experience exactly how they wish. You can block the people and things that bother you, but you cannot force others to do the same.

The moment a central authority can define truth, that authority will be corrupted to distort truth in its favor. To prevent this, the truth-seeking process needs to be decentralized, with no power to corrupt. Free speech will allow lies to spread, but it also allows the truth to spread. A centralized authority, however, can censor the truth, label falsehoods as true, and ban those who try to challenge them. The central authority need not be knowingly lying—they could be honestly mistaken. Which is all the more reason not to trust centralized authorities to dictate truth.

If you’re worried about those people you personally block still spreading misinformation to others, guess what: you’re probably spreading misinformation too. You just don’t yet realize your information is flawed. Truth is nebulous and “facts” are often changing. Yesterday’s dangerous misinformation is today’s scientific consensus. It is difficult—if not impossible—to discern which information today will stand the test of time; therefore, it is best to let all information spread online and trust the truth to outcompete lies in the long run. The truth is never absolutely clear but becomes less occluded over time.

Time is essential to the discovery of truth because it requires all prospectives and hypotheses to be put forward, debated, and experimented upon. This is a process that can take decades, if not longer. To claim truth prematurely hinders truth from being found.

With current events and breaking news in particular, an open mind and wide array of discourse is needed, even though many of the early ideas will be wrong. Often the initial narrative that seems most plausible is either incorrect or incomplete, and one of the thousands of alternative narratives will prove to be closer to truth in the end. But you cannot know at the outset which of those alternative narratives might be true, so you must let them all percolate—or incubate. If all ideas are tested, the strongest will stand while the weakest will fall.

Of course not every individual can consider every possible narrative about every story—there’s barely time to consider every angle on a single story—but everybody doesn’t need to study everything about everything. That is why free speech is so valuable. Let the various different media sources, independent journalists, and internet subcultures pursue and investigate their own narratives, then, with time, they will or won’t be proven correct. Absolute truth may be impossible but free speech absolutism is essential to getting as close to truth as possible.


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