Limiting Free Speech to Protect the Rights of Others

The regulations already referred to in the Economic Dimension include prevention of cheating ( and consumer protection (  These form part of the law, and they are examples of legal restrictions to the freedom of speech: to protect people’s economic rights, and to protect them from physical harm, respectively.

Other people’s rights can also be affected by intimidation: it can be used to prevent them from voting, for example, or from entering some buildings or streets.  There is a strong case for a legal ban on such intimidation, even though it is technically a constraint on the aggressor’s freedom of speech.

Online abuse, by Internet ‘trolls’, has become a serious problem.  Women in particular receive a lot of abuse, which is intended to intimidate them and deter them from free speech.  A Prospect article by Cathy Newman, In 2019 we can defeat the online trolls, noted that “[t]he Labour MP Jess Phillips revealed earlier this year that she had 600 rape threats in a single night”.  Such threats should be illegal, since rape itself is illegal.  There are practical difficulties in identifying some of those responsible, but the attempt should be made – and the Prospect article also made the comment that “we need social media companies to clean up their act. The tech wizards running these behemoths surely have the capacity and algorithms to root out the abusers.”



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/5453.htm.