All posts filed under: Free Speech

A Policy of Censorship More Extreme Than Google

By now, we’ve all heard about James Damore, the software engineer who authored a memo suggesting that the tendency of more men than women tend to pursue careers in technology may be explained at least in part by biological differences. Qualified scientists have confirmed that the scientific facts cited by Damore are accurate to the best of our knowledge at this time, but Google nonetheless fired Damore for “advancing harmful gender stereotypes,” raising concerns from many that the company is inhospitable to those who do not conform to a very narrow, politically correct ideology.1,2 From my own experience as a software engineer who has worked at several companies and holds degrees from two universities, I can attest that this problem is not unique to Google but is widespread in both industry and academia. In response to the Google memo, one company saw it necessary to lay down the law for its own employees, setting out a policy that is even more censorious than Google itself. That company is MongoDB, a New York-based database startup employing …

Fake News is Old News

“Fake news,” disinformation, and propaganda is saturating social media and driving the content of important political conversations among citizens in otherwise enlightened democracies. News and information thus become weaponized and aimed against the very institutions and values that free speech was supposed to protect. That, at least, is the fear among many politicians and pundits. These fears have been given impetus by the role of alternative and social media in the 2016 American Presidential election and by a number of studies exploring the “eco-system” of alternative media and the misinformation sown, grown, and distributed by such outlets. This scenario has precipitated a collapse of public trust in democratic institutions, and governments fearful of populist nationalism have scrambled to find policies aimed at combatting fake news. Germany recently adopted legislation obliging social media companies to pay fines up to EUR 50 million if they fail to delete illegal content within 24 hours. While ostensibly aimed at hate speech and defamatory slander, German minister of Justice Heiko Maas has blurred the lines between these categories and the ill-defined concept of “fake news.” Italy introduced a bill aimed at “preventing the manipulation …

Mental Health ‘Disabilities’ as Legal Superpowers

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer or a disability rights expert, and I am not offering legal advice. I’m just a psychology professor offering one possible strategy that neurominorities could use to stand up for our free speech rights at American universities. In an earlier article for Quillette.com, I outlined how campus speech codes discriminate against people who show various forms of ‘neurodiversity’ such as Asperger’s syndrome, bipolar disorder, or ADHD. I promised a follow-up article on how neurodivergent people might be able to use the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 to fight these discriminatory speech codes at U.S. universities. This is that follow-up article. I’ll get much more specific about what you can do, at your university, if you have a genuine diagnosable ‘mental disorder’, to advocate for your free speech rights. Mental disorders are highly stigmatized conditions, but they have a hidden upside: they can give you legal super-powers, including a surprisingly formidable set of rights under the ADA. If enough neurodivergent students, staff, and faculty use the ‘ADA strategy’ that …

Richard Dawkins Celebrated by Activists and Ex-Muslims at London Conference for Free Expression

When ex-Muslim Bonya Ahmed reached out her hand to accept an award in London on Sunday, it was missing her thumb. Islamists hacked it off in Bangladesh, 2015. She had thrown her arms in front of her husband Avijit Roy to shield him from machetes as a mob cut the life out of him for criticising Islam. The attack happened in a crowded public street but the people – including police – stood by and did nothing. The ceremony that recognised this brave woman had to be held in a secret location because London is no longer safe for ex-Muslims, atheists or even secular Muslim believers who dare to say that Islam should not be implemented as a system of laws. Let that sink in: these people had to gather in an undisclosed location.. Not in Bangladesh, but in Britain. The room was filled with free thinkers from around the world: Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, Pakistan, Iran, Tunisia, France, Poland, Turkey. They came from everywhere to attend the International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression. Many …

The Neurodiversity Case for Free Speech

Editor’s note: this article was updated on August 6th 2017, to better reflect current terminology relating to neurodiversity. Imagine a young Isaac Newton time-travelling from 1670s England to teach Harvard undergrads in 2017. After the time-jump, Newton still has an obsessive, paranoid personality, with Asperger’s syndrome, a bad stutter, unstable moods, and episodes of psychotic mania and depression. But now he’s subject to Harvard’s speech codes that prohibit any “disrespect for the dignity of others”; any violations will get him in trouble with Harvard’s Inquisition (the ‘Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion’). Newton also wants to publish Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, to explain the laws of motion governing the universe. But his literary agent explains that he can’t get a decent book deal until Newton builds his ‘author platform’ to include at least 20k Twitter followers – without provoking any backlash for airing his eccentric views on ancient Greek alchemy, Biblical cryptography, fiat currency, Jewish mysticism, or how to predict the exact date of the Apocalypse. Newton wouldn’t last long as a ‘public intellectual’ in modern American culture. Sooner or later, …

In Defence of Anonymity

Few recent events have united public opinion more than CNN’s petty, vindictive and astonishingly self-defeating investigation into the life of an anonymous Redditor who had created a mischievous GIF aimed at the station. It had repurposed a clip of Donald Trump clotheslining WWE CEO Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania by putting a CNN logo on McMahon’s face. Many thought it puerile and obnoxious when the President tweeted the GIF out to the world but when the media giant targeted its obscure, anonymous creator—discovering his real-life Facebook page and implicitly threatening that they would expose him if his postings annoyed them again—their bullying angered even Trump’s liberal critics. One did not have to like “@HansAssholeSolo” to dislike the power imbalance. Being so dense as to think that people would side with the multi-billion dollar corporation says something about the delusions of the media classes. Still, some sympathised with the network. Most of them were journalists. David Frum, the Atlantic columnist, proclaimed: Predictably, this did not go down well on Twitter. “Spoken like someone who does not fear for their safety,” wrote “@SaucissonSec”. …

Laci Green, The Matrix, and the Future of Free Speech

Earlier this week, popular YouTuber Laci Green, with almost 1.5 million subscribers, released a video entitled “Taking the Red Pill?” The “red pill,” obviously is an allusion to the famous 1999 film The Matrix, in which one of the lead characters, Morpheus, an infamous leader within the Matrix presents Neo, a hacker seeking to explore the Matrix, with two choices—taking the blue pill or the red pill. According to Morpheus, if Neo takes the blue pill, “you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe,” but if Neo picks the red pill, “I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Virtually everyone has seen The Matrix or has heard of the red pill meme; indeed, a Google search for red pill brings up almost 7 million results. However, what makes Green’s video particularly important and distinguishes it from the thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of other banal red pill videos is the context around which Green’s red pilling has occurred. As Laci states at the very beginning of her video, …