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Thursday, July 15, 2021

Who gets to cancel?

Four people have been arrested (and more arrests appear likely) over online racist abuse directed at the three members of the English soccer team who missed penalty kicks in Sunday's Euro finals.

Such arrests would be impossible in the U.S>, because racist speech is protected. (Or likely protected--we would need to know more about what exactly these people said and did and whether the context pushes it into an unprotected category such as harassment or fighting words). Instead, these speakers would have been subject to a range of private consequences. Their identities might have been exposed and they might have been ridiculed, criticized, shunned, and dismissed from jobs and other positions. That is, private people would have expressed their disagreement with and criticism of the original speakers and their racist speech, in the face of more limited government power to do so.

So two points. First, this illustrates the problem with the derisive label "cancel culture." What I described above is counter-speech, the Brandeisian remedy for evil counsels; to write it off is to leave some able to speak but not others or to control how speech is exercised. Second, this illustrates the divide between the U.S. and Europe over hate speech and presents the question of which approach is superior--privately administered consequences or government-imposed consequences.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 15, 2021 at 12:15 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink

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