notes from an unwitting poster child for free speech
September 24, 2014
I find myself continuously amused that I have become, in a small way, a poster child for free speech because I’m being sued for defamation. And a lot of people, for good reason mind you, are framing this case as being, in part, about free speech.
This is ironic for me because I’ve said, on several occassions now, that I don’t believe in entirely unrestricted free speech. As in, I firmly and fully believe that there are and should be restrictions on free speech. Normally, when I talk about this issue, I focus on hate speech restrictions on free speech as my go-to example for why unregulated free speech is actually a bad thing and can work to reduce freedom of expression for marginalized/oppressed people.
The laws that cover defamation represent a different kind of restriction on free speech. And, tbh, before this case not one I spent a great deal of time thinking about. However, because I am 100% about sticking to my convictions, this is actually a restriction I understand.
However, as evidenced by mine and Lisa’s decision to fight the case, I do not believe it applies in our situation. The defense against libel (defamation) is truth. I believed what I said to be true when I said it and, now that I’ve been reading statements from witnesses, I’m even more sure.
So, I guess this does end up being about freedom of expression at the end of things…
But this isn’t the framing I would pick for the case (even as I understand that this framing is the one most likely to gain broad support, given that we are a profession committed to free access and dissemination of information).
This case, from my blog post until today, has always been about victims and survivors of sexual harassment (or other kinds of sexual misconduct). My original post invoked the concepts of transformative justice because, yeah, as a woman of colour I do not have faith in the ‘system’ to adequately deal with these kinds of situation. The system is demonstrable hostile to all women who attempt to address wrongs via the ‘proper’ channels. It isn’t designed to support us, nor is it – and this is the most important thing – designed to get us to a place of healing.
Community accountability and transformative justice is not just about the direct individuals involved. It is also about the community as a whole. A way to collectively address harms, give support and healing to victims/survivors, and a way to grow/learn and become better. It also isn’t about simply ‘punishing’ the offending person and, idk, forever casting them out and making them a pariah. Most recently these principles have been discussed/applied within communities of colour as a way to deal with these situations without calling the police or sending people to prison. I don’t care about punishment. I care about harassment stopping and the silence around it ending.
And, yes, I very much would like to see more discussion and whatever about this vs. ‘free speech’. Because while I have a very immediate need to defend myself in this lawsuit, I also really would love that this case, as a whole, is taken as an opportunity for the library community to have some really open and frank discussions about what we want to learn and how we want to change so that something like this never happens again. So that harassment stops and that any and all people who experience feel comfortable and supported in speaking up about it.