Maybe they’ll think a little about why they are embarrassed.

That’s me, quoted in today’s Lincoln Journal Star, in an article about the UNL Haters Tumblr blog that I wrote about last week.

If you’re interested, I have a lot of other things to say, both in my blog post and in the article, about the use of social networking sites to express racism, sexism, homophobia, and the like.

But one thing I didn’t anticipate is that the people who commented on the article immediately — and bizarrely — decried my attempts to limit speech.

One commenter writes:

The larger issue here is who decides what is hate speech? Seriously. who made Ari Kohen the official moral authority? Is is okay to hate Christians, anti-abortionists, overweight people, WalMart shoppers, Republicans, people who oppose illegal immigration, etc. or any comments, just because they are don’t fit the political beliefs of Prof. Kohen? We see these political moral extremes in Europe and the Muslim world, where any comment becomes a crime. Free speech is free speech, even if you don’t like it.

Another writes:

Only freedom of speech for the speech you support.

And finally:

Well! I see the thought police have taken a whole new step towards censorship! Remember when you went to college so that you could actually study for a degree?

I think I’m always going to be surprised that people don’t understand what freedom of speech actually means.

The students (and even one faculty member, it seems) who are featured on the UNL Haters Tumblr blog, and who I think should be embarrassed about being featured there, are nonetheless completely free to write or say whatever they’d like.

The government isn’t legislating their ability to post hateful things about Asians on Twitter because, as private citizens, they can say whatever inane things they want to say. That’s free speech right there.

But there’s no problem with a blog publicizing the things they’ve said, just as there’s no problem with me suggesting that I hope they’re embarrassed. You see, having the liberty to say anything you want doesn’t mean there won’t be any consequences at all when you say things that other people find offensive.

To use a pretty obvious example, I should probably think twice about calling my friend a smelly idiot whenever I see him because he probably won’t like that. Throwing up my hands and shouting “free speech!” probably isn’t going to do me a lot of good. I’m right: I can say whatever I want. But I’m also being a jerk and he’d be right if he chose to stop being my friend.

The same is true of the UNL Haters concept. You might not like it when someone points out that you’ve said something that demeans other people. But you said it. And freedom of speech doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to listen to your inane pronouncements with a smile on our faces.

We reserve the right to tell you that we disagree and maybe even that we don’t want to be friends with people who say the things you’ve said.

Can you still say whatever you want? Sure thing. Might there be some interpersonal consequences to saying whatever you want? You bet.

# Tumblr # racism # Nebraska # Twitter # education # media

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