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Freedom of speech

I didn’t expect to have to talk this out, but here we are. Freedom of speech applies to the government, not private entities such as (but not limited to) twitter, facebook, schools, work, and basically any private place you congregate. Freedom of speech also does not mean freedom from consequences of that speech, you can’t talk about blowing up a school for example without consequences, even if it was a “joke.” More importantly, the government already ruled that certain hate speech isn’t protected. Why is this important? Well it’s a good reminder for the internet in general, but this time it’s a little closer to home reminder, namely the lab I work in.

There is nothing inherently virtuous about centerism. You cannot come to a middle ground between two groups when one of those groups is trying to eliminate the other. White supremacists, neo-nazis, the GOP, all share the same ideology, yes even the GOP. Let’s not do that thing where we pretend because they aren’t outright saying it they can just imply it and it’s okay. You can’t have a little white supremacy as a treat every now and then, it doesn’t work that way. Schools don’t need to and frankly should not pander to centerism.

Apparently someone in my lab forgot about this and conveniently forgot about the law regarding freedom of speech. Let’s just say for the last month or so in our lab discord he has been single handedly posting every and all vile, racist, and disgusting articles he could find. Articles from known white supremacist groups, articles talking about how the pandemic isn’t real, articles saying that white people are dealing with racism and not black or brown people. He’s gone on to call COVID-19 by some of the more… racist terms, granted Trump was doing the same thing, but again why we lump the GOP in the white supremacist group.

The ironic thing is our lab is extremely diverse. In fact, in my entire academic career this is probably the most diverse lab I’ve ever worked in and I’ve worked in or collaborated with over a half dozen different labs over the years. We have people from all over the world, including China. Which is probably why not a single person has used the discord server since he started this mad tirade. Ironically he hasn’t even really been a big part of the lab, so he’s just been this ever present racist spewing background noise to the rest of the lab.

Well he finally went a step too far, and let’s be honest we’ve all cut him a lot of slack for doing this consistently over the past two or three months now. He got called out, made a few vague threats, and fought with basically all of us over his right to free speech. Thanks to him, we’re shutting the discord server down, it’s just not worth it anymore. He may or may not be getting kicked from the program. That is out of our hands, but our PI has been informed and it’s not like we have any power besides shutting him down as best as we can.

The overarching point is simply that freedom of speech means simply the government can’t limit what you are allowed to say. That doesn’t mean you are free to say whatever you like and certainly doesn’t give you the right to say anything you like without consequences. I don’t know what will happen to this person, frankly I hope it’s severe and enough to make him realize that he is holding onto racist viewpoints. Hopefully then he will understand that there are consequences to saying that kind of shit. I doubt it will cause him to rethink his life or make him a better person, but at the very least it will make people in the lab much more comfortable.


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