Should all free speech be allowed in all circumstances? Or are there some instances where some kinds of speech may be considered distasteful or vulgar? How do you combat these sorts of undesirable speech without limiting free speech? That’s where counterspeech comes in!

Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Ronni: Hey Brittany.

Brittany: Hi, Ronni.

Ronni: So, as you know, we are big fans of Free Speech here at Tuttle Twins, and we talk about free speech a lot. In fact, we just did a podcast just recently about free speech as well. So, in which we talked about marketplace ideas. But there’s another term that I hadn’t heard before in reference to free speech and I thought it was interesting. And so I wanted to do an episode about it and it’s the term counter speech, and it’s used in reference to free speech, but specifically kind of like free speech, hate speech. So, I did some research on it. Have you ever heard that term before? Counters speech?

Brittany: I have. I don’t really know what it means, but one thing because obsessed with language and root words that counter usually means or con means against something or a response to something thinking like pros and cons. So, I’m assuming it’s against something.

Ronni: What’s so funny that you mentioned that is when I was drafting notes for this episode on counter speech, I thought Brittany really likes breaking down words. Love, we should break down this word.

Brittany: So, I love it.

Ronni: We could talk about it. So it’s great that you jumped into that. So, yes. So, we break apart counter-speech. Now I was only going to break it apart into counter and speech, but we could also break counter into a con. So, con would be negative. So counter means, well Brittany.

Brittany: So, because con is the root of the word counter, it’s all one thing. So, counter it actually works together. So, a counter is not like a counter in your kitchen. Counter means against or in opposition. Or in opposition too. So that would be, so just think like pros and cons.

Ronni: Actually, we should point out that counter actually has a lot of different meanings, but I did mean it in the verb sense, not as a kitchen counter way, but okay, so, we’ve talked about, we’re going to come back to counter speech now that we know what it means. So, it means speech in opposition to, but let’s go back to free speech. So, what is free speech? Free speech is basically, you can say whatever you want, but then there’s another term that’s become very popular lately called hate speech. And what is hate speech? Well, that’s considered to be speech that encourages violence towards someone usually in a protected class such as race or gender. But generally, any speech that could incite some kind of violence is considered hate speech. However, hate speech can be difficult to define because how do you know what is hate speech and what isn’t? Can anybody call anyone else’s hate speech just because they don’t like it? And can we say, oh, they’re inciting violence because they hurt my feelings? Should we limit free speech to not include hate speech? And if we eliminate hate speech is free speech, really free speech, right?

Brittany: A lot of questions there. Ronni, where do we begin?

Ronni: There’s a lot of questions here. So, let’s talk about counter-speech. So, counter speech, which would be speech in opposition to, well actually here, Brittany, I’ll throw this back at you. So, we know that counter speech would mean speech in opposition to, but how would you think that free speech is different from counter speech?

Brittany: That’s kind of a hard one. I mean, I would say it’s not different. I think all forms of speech are free speech. So, I would think that it would still count as free speech.

Ronni: Very good point.

Brittany: So, that’s my take. Yeah.

Ronni: So, free speech is just all speech. We can say whatever we want to, even things that are mean to others. Counter-speech would mean speech that runs counter to the other speech. So, if someone’s saying something mean about you or about a group of people, counter-speech would be someone else saying, I disagree with that. Here is the opposition, here is the other side. The reason why counter-speech is an interesting topic to think about right now is because in today’s world, as we’ve talked about, there seems to be kind of a war against free speech. What are we allowed to say? What are we not allowed to say? People are often punished and censored for saying certain things, and I think most times most people would agree deep down that censoring people is wrong. But a lot of times people have this little kind of kernel of, well, are there cases in which we should stop people from talking? If you find a certain kind of speech distasteful or wrong or vulgar or you consider it hate speech, should these kinds of speeches be outlawed? What do you think Brittany should hate speech be outlawed?

Brittany: No, I don’t think any form of speech, but I’m kind of a radical in this, I think all speech should be loud. But the thing is, just because it’s allowed doesn’t mean you get to escape the consequences of it. If somebody doesn’t like your speech, they don’t have to be friends with you. So, I think it’s, yeah, there’s more to it than that, but yep.

Ronni: Cool. What about if enough people in a group wanted to see certain languages excluded? An example, if you have a school that says students aren’t allowed to use swear words, or yet you’re in an environment community group or something and they say, oh, we can’t use this kind of language to refer to people, or you can only refer to people in gender-inclusive language, or they specify how language should be or shouldn’t be. Do you think that the free market of people’s language should be able to dictate and enforce the boundaries of speech?

Brittany: So, what I think is that, well, first of all, it comes down to voluntary association, right? So, I don’t think a public school, a public school can make a rule. Well, that’s a good question. So, I mean when it comes to schools, I think no swearing and stuff is a simple rule. But if somebody made a speech like let’s say pronouns where some people decide that they can pick whatever pronoun that means instead of she, he maybe they just want to be called they. It’s a whole thing that instead of that, if you didn’t say the correct pronoun you’d get fired or you’d get in trouble. And that’s happened. That’s happened on college campuses and in other schools. So, things like that, schools can’t do because they’re especially public schools. Any school that receives public money can’t do that because freedom of speech should, that has to be, that’s part of the constitution. But let’s say a private school wanted to make that rule, they would be allowed to, because when you choose to go to that school and you pay money to go to that school, then you’ve signed on to their rules and you’re free to leave if you don’t like them. But at public school, you don’t really have a choice. So, I think it depends on private now this gets tricky though because I do tend to think Facebook is a little different and Twitter is a little different, but we’ll get to that later.

Ronni: But no, these are good questions to ask I think because it definitely depends on your environment, your social group, whether or not it’s a voluntary association. These things do matter. Is it Twitter? Is it a public space? But having come just recently moved from California and the entertainment industry, which was a very different world where there were definitely social ramifications for speaking about certain things, and you could almost argue that the free marketplace of speech, as I say, I’m at a party and someone asks me for my opinion on something and I decide to be brave and share my true opinion on it, but I can immediately tell, Ooh, that was the wrong opinion. And I started to feel kind of that social shunning. I mean, should that be allowed? Sure, it was a voluntary association, me going to that party. But still, there’s that self-censoring of then me feeling like, oh, I’m not allowed to share this. And so some people would call that kind of a free market in a way, a free market of speech. So, you shouldn’t have said that. So, me shunning you is your fault. You have to change your speech to match us anyway, this is where counter-speech comes in. So, counter speech is the idea that for if there’s distasteful or wrong speech or I’m at this party and I shared my opinion, and it’s not an opinion that people want to hear, instead of shunning or censoring, we adopt a practice of countering. So, for example, if someone posts medical information online on Twitter, maybe others consider it to be wrong. So, let’s say it’s during COVID and a doctor wants to post about the ineffectiveness of cloth masks, and at the time this was posted, that goes against the typical narrative. Should they be considered reported for misinformation and censored or should we instead counter, which means if somebody else thinks that, oh, I don’t like what they said, let me just provide some links or evidence to other stuff. And so it’s a little bit different, instead of saying, that person is wrong, that post got flagged for misinformation. It’s just, here’s some more context. So, actually, you mentioned Twitter, and this is something that has happened recently on Twitter, and I’m not sure if it happened when Elon Musk took over or if this was something that was happening before. But it used to be that if someone posted something on Twitter that was against the accepted narrative for belief, then it would either be outright hidden or placed in people’s, you have to click to see other applies in order to see it. Or they put tags on the post that the post is misleading and here’s the correct information. That’s how it used to be, but now it’s a little bit different. So, now if something is posted and it goes against the standard information given there’s a tag that says context readers thought people might want to know, and then underneath are links to other sources. And I think this was, yeah, I thought this was a much better way because it’s more of a counter speech, it’s countering and allowing the audience or the readers to decide for themselves instead of saying, this is wrong information, this is the correct information. I know it sounds like that’s a small thing, but I think that in our larger fight for free speech to start with something small to push for counter speech, I think is a very valuable step. So, if you’re in schools or if you’re in an association or a group or any place in which it feels as though there’s speech or language or beliefs that are not allowed, perhaps instead of pushing free speech, we should be able to say whatever we want. We push for something that’s a little more gentle and balanced, which is simply counter-speech, which means everyone should be able to say what they want. However, if you don’t like what they have to say, you should be allowed to counter it. So, anyway, I just thought it was an interesting term, a new idea, and I thought perhaps that it might be a valuable new way of fighting for free speech and counter-speech. I like that because as we talked about, there is a marketplace of ideas, which means there’s all sorts of different ideas that we can consider. So, I think it’s considered them all. Alright guys, what we were wrapping up there, please don’t forget to and subscribe and share the podcast. Until next time, we’ll talk to you soon.

Ronni: All right, see you soon.