We’re All Too Easily Offended

I think we have gone too far in pandering to people who claim to be offended by things. I have heard of several cases now where people have been jailed for things they have put on social media. Things someone was offended by and wanted banned, and where the authorities were too willing to oblige. This is wrong.

One case was some fool who posted a comment that he was glad when two police officers were murdered. Offensive? Certainly, not to mention insensitive, stupid and distasteful. Did the man deserve jail? No. What he deserved was to be criticised and ridiculed for his remarks, but that’s all. People nowadays seem too ready to be offended and the authorites are too ready to ban, censor and imprison. Freedom of speech is a right fought for over centuries and is too important to be thrown away in a cloud of unjustified righteous indignation. Freedom of speech must include the right to offend as well as the right to respond to things you don’t agree with or find offensive. And that right should not include censoring or banning.

The only limit that should be placed on freedom of speech is where someone is inciting death or violence. Criminal sanctions already exist for this. Yet they seem to be applied unfairly. For example, protesters carrying placards calling for the beheading of those who insult Islam face no sanction, yet far milder comments on social media can lead to jail. There is something seriously wrong here. So much for equality before the law.

It’s about time the government took a lead in defending freedom of speech. And they can start by severely curtailing the offence of Offensive Conduct (s5, Public Order Act 1986), the provision used against social media posters. If they don’t, this unpleasant trend will only continue and accelerate. The result will be a media so scared of causing offence it will be unspeakably bland.

It’s time we grew thicker skins and learned to be more tolerant. Otherwise the only winners will be the extremists.

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