Freedom to offend versus freedom to harass


Harassment on Twitter is a part of being a female online writer. The culture of silencing women has existed for centuries but now it is fuelled by the anonymity and artificial courage provided by the mask of the internet. Though the usual rolling of the eye and ‘you are a woman and don’t know what you’re talking about’ attitude still exists in real life (come on, darling, you know it happens every day) harassment on Twitter is worrying because anonymity brings out the true character and beliefs of thousands of masked users.

Rolling your eyes at a feminist isn’t nice but threatening her with rape, bombs or murder is out of line. This sentence shouldn’t even be written, this should be common knowledge but somehow this kind of harassment is now allowed because it is an expression of ‘freedom’. Considering that the NRA’s biggest argument for the right to bear arms is ‘freedom’ internet stalkers and creeps aren’t in the best of companies.

It is not as if freedom hasn’t brought humankind amazing things. Many of our rights depend on it, but the word is being used to defend actions that threaten others’ freedom of just being. In that, the meaning of the word freedom is lost and we are left with a broken world of hostile people who think freedom is the right to be a complete arsehole.

#Twittersilence is not about freedom of speech. It’s is not about shutting down people with ideas opposing that of the female community online. It is not about taking away the freedom to offend like journalist James Delingpole has written in a piece that completely ignores the point of the whole campaign (besides it being a personal attack to Caitlin Moran, which quite frankly doesn’t prove anything).

“(..) if you genuinely believe in freedom of speech, then an inevitable part of that freedom is the freedom to offend,” he writes.

Yes, we can offend people by tweeting our views.

I am extremely pro-LGBT rights and I’ve gotten tweets off straight men saying that offends them because they are proud to be straight and feel silenced because everyone is so pro-LGBT. Well, tough because I have a right to tweet my opinions and that might offend hundreds but I still defend the right to do so. I am extremely pro-immigration rights and I’ve lost followers because of it. This is completely within the rights of both parties.

But threatening people online with rape, murder, bombs and God knows what else, calling feminists lesbians (as if it’s some kind of insult. Grow up, people) who haven’t been ‘fucked properly’ is not and will never, ever be classed under ‘freedom to offend’. It’s called harassment and it’s against the law. It has nothing to do with freedom of speech. If anything it is the opposite of it because aggressive, threatening tweets like this are meant to silence, not contribute to rich debates between opposing points of view.

Delingpole points out the Caitlin Moran, the brain behind #twittersilence, has also offended people. Who hasn’t? Everyone makes mistakes, it’s completely unavoidable. She can offend people if she likes, I can offend people if I like because aside from the obvious no-no’s online who knows what people will take offense at?

But the problem is when people start harassing – women in particular as they seem to be the ones who receive this intimidating kind of response more often. Offend me all you like but harassment is a completely different deal.

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4 thoughts on “Freedom to offend versus freedom to harass”

  1. It feels like the “freedom of speech” line is the new “politically correct” way to tell someone to shut up. Threatening to rape someone for their pov is wrong, immoral, and illegal and hiding behind freedom of speech and anonymity is cowardly.

  2. The idea and background of Twitter silence isn’t one that I disagree with, but I do disagree with the idea of responding to men trying to silence women by, well, allowing ourselves to be silenced for a day. Surely there must be a better way to address this – very real and important – issue?

    1. YES! I specifically DIDN’T do #twittersilence because I didn’t want to shut up like they want me to. It’s silly to shut up because you feel threatened, surely if we all did #twittersilence they win? I think blogging things like this might be a baby step in the right path.

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