by Daphna Whitmore
In a recent debate on free speech I closed with a true story.
A woman I know – a writer – tweeted a joke in response to a man having just insulted her on the platform. The joke featured some violent imagery, but it also featured absurdist imagery and could not have possibly been taken seriously.
Now this woman had been in the crosshairs of activists for a while for views she held and many of them conspired – you could see them actively doing so very openly on Twitter – to call the Police on her to report what they were mischaracterising as a genuine threat.
They were encouraging each other to contact the Police.
Well, the Police did visit her sparking off a lengthy process, that came at some personal expense to her and was only just resolved in her favour.
Now, the activists who reported her did so knowing they were misrepresenting her. So, it follows that they knew they were wasting Police time. This was a malicious misuse of the Police to target a political opponent.
I am telling you this story because this case is a dress rehearsal for the proposed new hate speech laws. This is what we should expect. This will be the new norm. Activists using the Police to settle their petty political squabbles, as indeed it happens overseas. It will empower the worst faith actors we have across the spectrum.
We don’t have to imagine this. We know.
This should surprise no one however because speech restrictions are a political project. When Prof. Paul Morris said in a recent talk for the religious diversity center that speech restrictions are not about addressing racism but are more about imposing the conditions for the type of society we want to live in – this is a political project. Morris – and I would suggest all the supporters of such laws – don’t trust the people to create culture from the ground up. It is to be dictated from the top down – undemocratically – under the threat of imprisonment.”
The woman was Rachel Stewart, an award winning journalist, farmer and straight talker. She tells her side of the story on this Free Speech podcast