Free speech is the idea that the public good is served by allowing everyone to state their beliefs and opinions without punishment, including very unpopular and perhaps repulsive ideas. Censorship is the restriction of speech (most commonly by a government or powerful body).
Belief in free speech comes in various strengths, from strongest to weakest:
- any individual discussion and forum should allow completely open and wide-ranging expression and no one should be silenced or punished in any way for the expression of any opinion in any forum
- no one should be silenced or punished by any formal group for speech or writing
- no one should be silenced or punished by the government for speech or writing
- no one should be silenced or punished by the government for speech or writing unless the language is likely to cause immediate harm (such as the stampede that might be caused by shouting "fire" in a crowded place)
A belief in some degree of free speech is very widespread and freedom from government censorship is respected to some extent by the law of many countries. There are people who genuinely hold the considered belief that all forms of free speech listed are desirable, but there are others who rely on recognised benefits of "free speech" to argue that their opinions should be tolerated in any forum without believing the same about any opposing opinions. The partially contradictory opinion that an individual forum or publisher, especially if not government controlled, has the right to refuse to publish any kind of content they choose, and that this is useful in promoting productive and civil discussion.
Free speech in geek forums
Many feminist spaces (and others) control speech within their forums, see for example moderation of blogs and similar and the idea of free speech is often used to criticise this. It is not uncommon for geeks to make reference to an unquestioned and without scope "right to free speech", usually a shorthand reference to the United States Bill of Rights but sometimes to a more general human right.
The most common disingenuous use of the right of free speech or goodness of free speech in geek arguments is to conflate it with a right to freedom from criticism, that is, to imply that critical opponents are trying to silence someone by the mere fact of being critical, or that merely asking for voluntary silencing is equivalent to censorship. The right to free speech or claims of censorship are also commonly used to describe and criticise any group that silences or punishes anyone for speech and writing, even if that group is not backed by government authority, or any formal authority at all.
- Codes of Conduct and Censorship in Technical Communities - "Everyone is entitled to their thoughts and opinions. And we are entitled as a community to exclude a few in order to welcome the many that have been marginalized time and time again."
- When will gamers understand that criticism isn't censorship? (The Guardian)