Since we've had a number of conversations on here that have wound up dealing, at least tangentially, with the concept of free speech (both online and off), it's worth exploring the elephant that always winds up in these threads. Over the past few years, we've seen the position of "free speech" raised in a number of arenas, being used to argue for why social media needs to be regulated with a light hand, or that bigotry should be allowed to be expressed publicly. The concept of "free speech absolutism" seems to be something bordering on sacrosanct in the tech community, which has had a number of repercussions for our society as a whole. And we seem to be ignoring an important question -Is freedom of speech a means, or an end?
For myself, I'd argue that in the long run, freedom of speech is the former - we push for it in order to further the ends that we want to see for society, like equality and justice. And as such, being a means, that means that it has to bee tempered in balance to those ends that we're looking to achieve - for example, if allowing bigots to openly espouse their hatred causes those they target to retreat from open participation in society, then we have a case where freedom of speech is undermining the ends that we are looking to achieve. The problem that I see in the conversation about free speech is that more and more, it's treated as the latter - that free speech is the end, and thus should be defended even if it may be undermining other ends we look to achieve. The core conflict stems from the fact that "free speech absolutism" is ultimately an impossible position to hold, because of the chilling effect of hate speech - those targeted by hate speech will be forced out by it, conversely keeping them in the public conversation means not allowing hate speech to push them out. Ultimately, a decision has to be made as to who will be kept in the discussion.