Fuck Rappler! The bastardisation of democracy and freedom of speech

Fuck Rappler! The bastardisation of democracy and freedom of speech

- in Opinion
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Sass SezSass Sez

In their #NoPlaceForHate article, Rappler declared that they are going to “aggressively” delete “crude and disrespectful posts and comments that violate standards of civility.” In other words, they will start to CENSOR objectionable views.

Rappler said they have “zero tolerance for comments that curse, trash, degrade, humiliate, and intimidate.” Rappler asserted that such comments and behaviour are inimical to “intelligent and informed discussion that is the foundation of a vibrant democracy.”

Then Rappler went on to defining the limits of freedom of speech: it’s not “license to smear reputation and ruin credibility. Nor does it mean the freedom to be irresponsible and to defame.” I agree. Freedom of speech is not a trump card against consequences of your speech or against any reaction to your speech. Then Rappler started bastardising the freedom of speech. “Freedom of speech, rather, is the recognition of the right of anyone to speak his or her mind, and to express a contrary view without being objectionable.”

Rappler is selling Filipinos a cheap and infantile version of democracy and the freedom of speech. By censoring anything it deems to be violating standards of civility, Rappler has shielded itself and their writers from one of the most potent tools of the common people against power: VULGARITY.

In Vulgarity and Authenticity: Dimensions of Otherness in the World of Jean-Paul Sartre, Stuart Zane Charme unpacked the notion of vulgarity. Vulgarity “is a phenomenon of social class and custom. It is the quality that the dominant social class attributes to other classes as a way of maintaining its position.” The other layer of vulgarity pertains to its original meaning. Vulgar once “referred to the common people of a society and their kind of language…These common people were considered only marginally civilised.”

Standards of civility is always associated with being polite. Being raised by a bourgeois polite family led the feminist Simone de Beauvoir to despise “the vulgarity of the lower classes,” Charme said. As Beauvoir renounced the “bourgeois ideals” of her father, her behaviour became more vulgar. This transition was spurred by the tension between truth and politeness: “Politeness and truth seemed to exclude one another,” Charme argued. When Beauvoir’s friends and family began to notice her vulgarity, she was soon regarded as “a kind of monster of incivility.” Rappler is no different from Beauvoir’s friends and family.

Rappler is really telling us that they love freedom of speech but not “objectionable views.” By saying that, Rappler betrays its ignorance of the why freedom of speech exists. A view is objectionable if it’s offensive, unpleasant, or repugnant. Freedom of speech doesn’t exist in order to protect non-objectionable views or to protect anyone from offensive views.

As Noam Chomsky once said,

If you’re really in favour of free speech, then you’re in favour of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favour of free speech.

Thus, freedom of speech isn’t really freedom of speech if it doesn’t protect objectionable views.

By censoring objectionable views, Rappler is promoting an infantile version of democracy. Rappler is infantalising its writers and readers by baby-proofing their feelings from being offended. Rappler has forgotten that the price of living in any society is living with difference that is bound to offend you. Hell, as Sartre once put it, is other people.

Rappler’s zero tolerance on objectionable views is actually inimical to democracy. In Handyside v. UK (1976), the European Court of Human Rights identified the three principles that serve as “the hallmarks of a democratic society”: pluralism, tolerance, and broadmindedness.

Pluralism refers to diversity. Diversity and not intelligent and informed discussion serves as the foundation of a vibrant democracy. Diversity is not a gathering of people singing praise to one another, massaging each other’s personal or supra-personal egos, intellectually masturbating each other, living in a blissful state of duplicates singing Kumbaya my Lord. Diversity is friction: a ceaseless encounter with the abrasive, offensive, and obnoxious. Broadmindedness demands us to get out of our comfort zones and to face with courage the fire of Otherness.

What tolerance entails is best expressed by JK Rowling’s reaction to Trump’s offensive views:

I find almost everything that Mr Trump says objectionable. I consider him offensive and bigoted. But he has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there. His freedom to speak protects my freedom to call him a bigot. His freedom guarantees mine.

In other words, you cannot use freedom of speech to silence objectionable views; you can only use it to protect your right to respond to them. Thus, Rappler’s zero tolerance policy is against freedom of speech. And in the guise of protecting democracy, Rappler is actually diminishing, infantilising, and cheapening it. F*ck Rappler!




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About the author

Sass Rogando Sasot
A transpinay based in The Hague, Sass Rogando Sasot is studying at Leiden University, pursuing an MA in International Relations, working on a thesis on how a systemic change led to the rivalry of the coastal States of the South China Sea. In 2013, Sass became the first Filipino to receive the ECHO Award, given annually to excellent migrant students in academic and higher professional education in The Netherlands. In 2014, she graduated magna cum laude at Leiden University College-The Hague, with a Combined Major in World Politics and Global Justice, minor in International Development, with courses on U.S. Foreign Policy and International Relations of China take at UCLA. She has at least 10 years of practical international experience.

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