Milo Yiannopoulos is not the champion of free speech that he claims to be

Milo Yiannopoulos claims to be a champion of free speech. Ironically, he entirely misunderstands the purpose and meaning of free speech. His argument that the general public has violated his right to free speech is wrong, both historically and practically.

Free speech does not grant the right to say whatever you want whenever you want. You cannot yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater when there is no fire, or yell “bomb” in an airport when there is no bomb. This is an opinion held by the Supreme Court of the United States and anyone with a shred of common sense. Such actions do nothing but elicit panic and public distress.

Much of the rhetoric put out by Yiannopoulos is no different. It has little to no basis in fact, misinforming the public. For example, he once likened rape culture to Harry Potter, saying that they are “both fantasy.” Lies like this can potentially weaken the public initiatives taken in the past several years to fight rape culture. As a result, his lie may contribute to continued sexual violence. His extensive lies fan the flames of radical and inflammatory factions within our country, creating panic when there should be none.

The truly ironic element of Yiannopoulos’ argument is that free speech is about the relationship between the government and the people. The government has in no way infringed upon his right to free speech. The TV stations that have prevented him from going on their shows are private companies, not government entities. The universities that will not allow him to speak are academic institutions, once again not the government. No one is preventing Milo from speaking entirely but merely refusing to allow him to use a specific university or network as a platform. Universities and TV networks have every right to do this.

Furthermore, just as Yiannopoulos believes that he can say whatever he wants, people have the right to say whatever they want back to him. It is preposterous for him to promote such blatant lies and deceit and not expect to be called out for it. The right to free speech protects an individual from government censorship. It does not protect an individual from backlash and consequences for inflammatory remarks.

Ryan Steinberg is a freshman majoring in political science.


Featured image courtesy Flickr user Hindi Pro.

March 1, 2017


Ryan Steinberg

4 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Milo Yiannopoulos is not the champion of free speech that he claims to be”

  1. Cory says:

    You do realize that UC Berkeley is funded by the federal government, right? It’s a public institution, they must uphold the first amendment. You made a terrible argument.

  2. Josh says:

    I don’t think that you have ever truly listened to Milo or what he is saying. You are entitled to your opinion and beliefs but I think that you are completely misrepresenting what his message is. He is not talking about the government it trying to control free speech, he is talking about how when people don’t agree with you they just want to shut you down and stop you from saying anything at all. This usually evolves in to name call and false accusations when you refuse to remain silent. When he is speaking about “rape culture”, again I believe you are missing the mark. He is not saying rape does not happen or does not exist, he is talking about false accusations and feminist or other groups that think it is rape if you look at them the wrong way. You do not have to agree with him, but if you want to factually report on it you should probably actually listen to some of his speeches and understand what he is really saying. Others listen to him and hear something completely different, they do not here hate or lies that instill panic, they hear common sense.

  3. john says:

    Hi, I think you’re misunderstanding the narrow exception to the first amendment that the SCOTUS has carved out. A philosophical disagreement about the degree to which a “rape culture” exists, assuming he is wrong, may indeed cause some kind of violence eventually, but that is not the test–the speech must be “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or cause such action.” Hence, arguing that someone’s speech is factually or philosophically wrong, and that, if lots of people are convinced by it, violence may eventually occur, is not a useful argument for the purposes of an exception to the first amendment. In fact, it is for the protection of this type of speech that the first amendment was designed. Free speech exceptions are extremely narrow, and the reason for this is clearly stated in the large body of liberal enlightenment political philosophy upon which the first amendment is based (e.g. “On Liberty” by Mill).

    With regards to the second argument regarding private institutions, it is correct to say that the first amendment does not protect private institutions from controlling what speech occurs on their property. However, that does not mean it is consistent with the political philosophy of free speech; certainly, the law doesn’t proscribe all behavior that is inconsistent with the concept of free speech. The consistent approach is that which recognizes the purpose of free speech–we expect people to hear the argument so that opponents of that argument are sufficiently informed to make a counter-argument, which would otherwise be worthless. It is certainly the right of the individual not to listen, but, with exercise of that right comes an inability to comment on it in an reliable way, as such comment is not informed of its subject matter.

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