Bioethics Blogs

Free the trolls

You do not have a right not to be offended,  insulted or verbally abused. You do not have that right because it might be right to offend, insult or verbally abuse you. You might believe stupid things, or even sensible things, and take offence at any and all critiques, rebuttals and refutations. You might be a pompous prig, a sanctimonious sop, an officious orifice. Even if you are not these things, there would be very little wrong in telling you you are. After all, you are not a six-year old child: you’re an adult. You can take it.

What of someone expressing their detestation of you, their hatred of you, wishing you ill, wishing you dead?

No right here, either. Perhaps you deserve to be detested and hated, perhaps you deserve harm, even deserve to be dead. If you do, it may be entirely right to say horrible things of you. If you don’t deserve these things it may be wrong, perhaps very wrong, to speak to you like this. Or it might just be an instance of hyperbole.

The problem here is that these kinds of speech may be right or wrong and whether they are may depend on very subtle factors of context. For both these reasons these are not matters for the law but for civil society. Unfortunately the law is making an ass of itself over all this  and those calling for it to make an even greater ass over itself are making asses of themselves too. There is a very clear a bright line for where the law may impose on speech: speech that threatens or incites what is in some other way illegal, such as violence; or speech that conspires to commit what is in some other way illegal; or speech that defames an individual.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.