Firstly, yes – my title is that quote from Braveheart.

As a teacher, I often have a student in some class that will, at some point, claim that I’m “censoring” their “freedom of speech” if they say or write something sexist, racist, homophobic or otherwise offensive.

Seriously, listen up people. The stick figure man speaks the truth – even if you don’t like it.

It’s also something that a lot of people use to censor minorities when speaking out – similar to what was discussed in the post I shared from Everyday Feminism10 Anti-Feminist Trolls You’ll Meet on the InternetWhat I’m talking about is when people say, “You block me because you can’t handle dissent! That’s censorship!” No …. it’s not. Seriously. Studied law for four years. I think I got this one.

For some reason, a lot of people confuse the idea of “freedom of speech” and “censorship”. Freedom of speech gives you the right to voice your opinion publicly – particularly in regards to speaking out against the government.

However, while you have the freedom to voice your opinion publicly, you are not free from the consequences of doing so, which is something a surprisingly large amount of people do not understand.

Seriously, I’m genuinely shocked at how few people understand this. 

For example, depending on what you’re saying – especially if it’s public – you can be imprisoned, have a criminal record, or be sued for libel or defamation (note: there is a difference between the two).

If, say, you are actively promoting hate speech and causing hate riots, in some countries you can and will be imprisoned.

Contrary to popular belief, this is not a violation of your right to freedom of speech. Like I said before, freedom of speech is more so to protect you from the government – so you can protest against the government – without fear of punishment. Fuelling hate and hate related crimes is illegal in many countries. You may have the right to be a racist, sexist, homophobic bigot, but you do not have the right to shame, abuse, bully or harass others.

If you make false accusations about a person, group or company (either written, spoken or both) you can be potentially sued for libel and/or defamation. Obviously, the plaintiff needs to have evidence to contact a lawyer and their evidence must prove that the plaintiff’s life has been adversely affected by the defendant. This can either count as having a negative mental effect on a person, or a financial loss in business.

The point?

Like I tell my students, if you are harassing, abusing, insulting or belittling someone, you are not free from consequences. Those consequences may range from basic or simple – such as blocking someone from Facebook or me, as a teacher, giving a student a detention because they have said something offensive and unacceptable.

And, like I tell my students who often argue “censorship” and “freedom of speech” – freedom of speech isn’t designed to protect you from any punishment ever. It was designed to protect you from the government (because, you know, once upon a time such a thing was labelled treason and you were executed for your opinion). It does not give you the right to speak to people however you want, free of consequences.

It’s something I’ve personally encountered more so recently outside the workforce – the idea that I “censor” comments and/or people because I can’t handle criticism and dissent. It’s something a lot of anti-feminists use as an argument (again, see 10 Anti-Feminist Trolls You’ll Meet on the Internet – a really great article).

I’ve been a teacher for five years. If I couldn’t handle criticism, dissent, insults and abuse, I wouldn’t have made it to the five-year mark. Teaching, while a wonderful job, can also be a brutal profession.

Depending on where I’ve worked (and I’m including three years of prac in this, too) I’ve been bullied, insulted, or harassed by: peers, bosses, students and their parents. I’ve also seen and heard what many people in the community – both in Australia and other countries – think about teachers. (Often, it’s the ridiculous notion that teaching is a 9-3 job with great holidays … just no.)

While I think there’s a big difference between criticism and constructive criticism, for the most part, teaching makes you create a “thick hide”. If you can’t do that, you can’t be a teacher, because it really isn’t an easy job.

However, I’ve also learnt something else: no one has the right to bully, harass, abuse, insult, humiliate or shame you and then claim they can do so because “freedom of speech”.

That is not freedom of speech. It’s being a bully.

What they did actually WAS censorship. So … stop trying to shame feminists and take away their voices. And that includes other minorities. They’re allowed to have their views, and arguments, too. You can’t say, “But I have freedom of speech!” but try and take away someone else’s.

If I choose to delete people, block people, or spam comments (or report people on social media) that’s well within my rights. That doesn’t mean I can’t handle “dissent”. (And no, this is not directed at one person, even if that’s what some of you may think. It’s something that I think is important, and the timing just fits. Seriously – I had another idiot tell me he was allowed to insult me all he wanted because “freedom of speech” and I thought, you know what? I’m posting this today.)

It means I won’t tolerate abuse, bullying or harassment. Blocking or deleting you or your comments (note: this is a general you) is not censorship. I have the right to decide that being insulted is not okay.

Censorship, more importantly, is when someone isn’t allowed to assert anyopinion – like in China or North Korea, for example – that the government doesn’t approve. A government or media outlet (which is usually pressured by a government) needs to “censor” something for it to be referred to as “censorship”. Kind of like the “night of book burning” by the Germans. They deliberately wanted to censor certain books, so others would not be influenced by outside ideas – or any ideas that Hitler, and his Nazi party, did not want others to be influenced by.

THIS was censorship. 

“Censoring” my comments does not violate your rights. You know why?

Because you can go pretty much anywhere else on the internet to voice your opinion.

Some people will listen. And that’s great. You have the right to express your opinion on a different platform. See? Not censorship.

It’s super nice that some people out there think I’m an “authority figure” or the “government”, but I’m not.

Some people will not agree with you. You need to accept that; we all do. Even if you’re a good, decent person sending the “right” message, there will still be some idiot that disagrees with you (and no, I’m not talking about myself here – I don’t presume to think that every post I write, every message I send, is the “right” message. I hope it is – it’s what I aim for – but that doesn’t necessarily make it so). How you act and respond, however, also determines the type of person you are.

And, depending on how bad your behaviour is, you may have to face consequences for said behaviour. That’s life.

But, hopefully, we now all understand the difference between “freedom of speech”, “censorship”, and just being a plain douche (regardless whether it’s via the internet or in real life).

If you’re struggling with this idea, watch this short video on censorship from Marinashutup below (note, it kind of starts after she talks about spiders):

Originally published on The Melodramatic Confessions of Carla Louise.

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Published by Carla Louise