Newer Media, Republican Moments and the Constitution
Chapter 3: Against civility? Arguments for protecting ‘bad taste’, disrespectful and anonymous online speakers
In the introductory chapter, I offered some initial criticisms of modern republicans’ demand for inclusive, respectful and empathetic discourse that they wish to see among political equals. This chapter reconnects to, and develops previously identified concerns about, reciprocal, mutually respectful and self-reflective discourse through an analysis of the regulation of uncivil, offensive, abusive and anonymous online speech primarily by reference to the criminal law in the UK but also drawing at times upon comparative (especially US) and domestic civil law materials for illustrative purposes. Its main argument is that, aside from pre-dating the era of speech on social media, the criminal law continues to be used to signal state endorsement of civility norms in public discourse. Domestic law’s vague demand that a speaker not insult or offend or distress another, let alone abuse or threaten them, has cleansed public discourse to the point where the ability of speakers holding minority viewpoints to challenge dominant elite and orthodox opinions has been substantially impaired. If it is enquired from where do these imprecise standards of polite and respectful interchange emanate, a moment’s thought will reveal that these must, as a matter of logic, reflect culturally dominant values. Who gets to participate in the formation of these values? Again, rationally, the answer must be located among the most powerful groups or elites within any given society – including politicians, mainstream media organisations and the business community including multinational corporations.
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