Free Speech, Abused

The first time I read The Georgetown Academy, I really didn’t want to respond. We all know the Internet’s golden rule: Never feed the troll. But by the time I read its attempted “defense” of free speech, like Stephen Colbert and a package of Oreos, I just couldn’t help myself. Here was a member of the Georgetown community delighting in its freedom to engage in personal attacks and invective under the guise of free speech. It’s true that TGA is protected by the First Amendment and it should be, if only because it presents the opportunity and shows the necessity for continued debate about hate speech. But the defense it gives for its hateful speech is deeply problematic and demands a response.

To give some background, TGA is a far-right blog that identifies itself as journalism. It writes anonymously, arguing that if it were to feature a public masthead, it would be “tarred and feathered,” with people shouting the writers down and making it impossible for them to speak. Its first widely read piece was “Wild Gay Sex at Georgetown,” in which, among other things, it insinuated that all gay men enjoy drag. It also referenced “feminist hysteria,” depicted one student as a crazed, cartoon monster foaming at the mouth and invited readers to view its next article, a “takedown of H*yas for Abortion.” Naturally, some students were upset and offended, with one person asking, “Is this supposed to be journalism? You should credit the author(s) so we (and future employers) can put faces to your ‘journalism.’ And here’s where things really went off the rails.

For reasons passing understanding, TGA thought that pointing out that few employers tolerate extreme views is tantamount to personal threats. But it did, and in response, it employed racialized, sexualized and overall disgusting GIFs. Responding to a detractor with incredibly offensive, racist GIFs is not how you engage in reasoned debate. It is far more akin to throwing a temper tantrum on a playground. As much as it thinks holding unpopular views means being silenced, TGA functionally silences anyone who might engage with it with such behavior. Honestly, who would want to engage with someone so mean-spirited? As a result, TGA’s anonymity is so pernicious precisely because it chooses invective over argument. When you insult individuals for no other reason than to hurt them, there can no longer be any honor in an empty byline.

TGA went even further, actually telling detractors to “get the f–k out” in another GIF. One of its most recent articles is shockingly titled “Get Out of My Class and Leave America.” TGA, in quoting a University of North Carolina at Wilmington professor, actually wants people who disagree with it to not only leave the academy, but leave the country. For a publication that alleges Georgetown students “can’t handle differing views,” it really can’t handle criticism itself.

For TGA, the irony is twofold. First, because it prefers to spend its time on inflammatory, homophobic, racist — and every other “-ist” out there — snark, it actually discourages anyone from having a rational discussion with it. Second, it actually tells those who disagree with the publication to never speak to it and leave Georgetown forever. That is antithetical to the spirit of free speech.

TGA’s bigotry and hypocrisy, though, is easy to respond to. Its argument about conservatism at Georgetown is more difficult. There is real merit to the argument that, on an overtly liberal campus, it can be tough to voice a legitimately conservative opinion. No one wants to be met with complete silence in a classroom after contributing, and no one wants to be singled out in the editorial columns of The Hoya or the Georgetown Voice. But a climate uncomfortable for conservatives is not necessarily a climate that outright censors conservative opinions. We enjoy a special kind of free speech on this campus, one in which if you believe you are right, you have the opportunity to mount an argument to that effect. The university cannot censor you and the opposition cannot harass you without serious repercussions.

Free speech exists to educate and inspire, not silence and intimidate. It requires bravery in the face of sometimes insurmountable odds. Being scared of the opposition is not a reason to engage in invective and name-calling, and it is certainly not a reason to advocate for the opposition’s silencing and expulsion. In an enlightened society, TGA, we don’t administer hemlock to those we believe corrupt the young — we prove them wrong.


Sam Kleinman is a senior in the College. He is the GUSA Secretary for Free Speech and sits on the Speech and Expression Committee. 

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One Comment

  1. “But a climate uncomfortable for conservatives is not necessarily a climate that outright censors conservative opinions.”

    Not necessarily, but usually.

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