Tag Archives: censorship

Free Speech 101


Updated to add: PLEASE READ MY APOLOGY AND RETRACTION. Autism Speaks did not do this this time. Anything not pertaining to Zach’s t-shirt is still a concern, but the thing with Zach’s t-shirt is no longer a concern. Please read my retraction for more links on the topic.

Someone just asked me why it was that I could oppose the kind of censorship occurring in my last post, when I am involved with two different organizations (ANI and autistics.org) who both have rules about what can and cannot be posted in their forums, and will put people on moderation if they break those rules. And, presumably, because I have a blog in which I don’t allow certain kinds of comments to be posted either.

I will try to explain the difference as well as I can, in case anyone else is wondering the same thing.

Edited to add: But first, please read through the ad hominem fallacy, tu quoque. Even if I were really engaged in censorship, it would not make me inaccurate in pointing out someone else’s. But, I’m not.

Basically it works like this:

Censorship (or in some people’s view, the bad kind of censorship) is preventing someone from doing the equivalent of printing their own totally legal material on their own paper.

Whereas, what autistics.org and ANI have as policies, is the equivalent of saying that you can’t print certain views on paper that we happen to own. You can’t do the equivalent of coming in and using our printing presses to just print whatever agenda you feel like, there are boundaries there. That’s totally fine.

I could decide to create a mailing list that had a rule that anyone whose name started with F could not post there, ever, and that everyone else could only post every other Tuesday. I could then put people on moderation if they tried to break those rules, or even remove them from the list. That would not be censorship — people whose names started with F could go and post somewhere else, and same with people who wanted to post on days other than alternate Tuesdays. I would not be preventing them from doing that.

What would be censorship is if I started such a list, and then went around trying to keep other people from breaking my rules on their own lists that I didn’t even own.

I would have no problem if the Autism Speaks message board moderated or banned perfectly legal posts that disagreed with the mission of the organization. They have every right to do that. It’s their message board, not mine. I would have no problem if I were moderated or thrown off of a mailing list dedicated to chelation of autistic people, because I clearly disagree with that procedure. People are routinely thrown off such lists and that’s just fine.

They’re not doing that.

If people printed up a batch of t-shirts saying “autistics.org doesn’t speak for me,” I wouldn’t try to do anything, I wouldn’t even really care. I certainly wouldn’t sue them for copyright infringement for saying the word “autistics.org”.

If someone tried to disseminate the idea that autistics.org was run by a bunch of child molesters, that would be defamatory, and that would not be okay. Defamation is not protected free speech.

If someone tried to sell a book with the writings from autistics.org in it, without obtaining permission (and this has happened in at least one book that I came across completely by accident one day), that would be copyright infringement, and that would not be okay.

But a t-shirt saying “autistics.org doesn’t speak for me” or “Autism Speaks doesn’t speak for me” is well within protected free speech, at least in the United States, where both autistics.org and Autism Speaks are based.

Now, if someone tries to come to, say, ANI-L, with the express purpose of trying to talk everyone into believing that it’s horrible not to want a cure, then they will probably eventually get themselves banned.

If someone tries to come onto my blog and violate my comment policy (say, telling people here we’re not autistic enough to understand the needs of real autistic people), then their comments will be moderated, and if it happens consistently enough with them not providing much if any useful content beyond that, I might chuck their name into my spam filter and forget about them. (I so far have not had to do this very often, most people are more respectful than that.)

But people are totally able to go off and make their own mailing lists or blogs with the totally opposite set of rules. Free speech means that you can go make a mailing list or blog dedicated entirely to wanting a cure, and throw off anyone who argues against it because it gets in the way of your goal of finding or funding a cure.

Free speech means that you can go off and form a mailing list entirely full of people that you believe are “autistic enough” to comment about autism, and moderate comments from anyone you don’t think is autistic enough.

Free speech doesn’t mean that you have every right to, no matter what your viewpoint is and what organization it is, come onto someone else’s forum, or use someone else’s printing press, to disseminate your own viewpoint.

So there’s no actual contradiction here: Autism Speaks is attempting to interfere with other people’s totally legal and protected free speech. They are not just restricting what can be said on their own forum (which is their right, whether they choose to do so or not), they are attempting to restrict totally legal (non-copyright-infringing, non-defamatory) content that people print on their own t-shirts and websites, just because it expresses dislike of their organization.

And that’s all the difference in the world.