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Full RFD for Free Speech Debate

whiteflame
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4/1/2016 1:14:20 PM
Posted: 8 months ago
This is my extended RFD for the debate between Bsh1 and Airmax1227 given here: http://www.debate.org...

Fundamentally, a debate like this is a debate of comparisons. Both sides accept that the U.S. is more permissive of free speech in general. Both recognize that there are reasonable and unreasonable restrictions on free speech, and much of what is both reasonable and unreasonable is agreed between the debaters as well. What separates the two debaters is the desire (or lack thereof) to uphold certain sets of rights that aren't so straightforward as basic safety (i.e. yelling "fire" in a crowded theater), and so what I'm looking for throughout the debate are more nuanced arguments from each side.

From Pro, I'm looking for some clear idea of what linear reductions to freedom of speech do to society. As both sides clearly recognize that there are restrictions in the American system, I'm not looking for absolutes " there already exist reasons why the freedom of speech is not absolute, so I need to see one of two things: why reducing freedom of speech still further constitutes something uniquely or excessively dangerous, and/or why current restrictions are themselves unique and therefore why taking steps to reduce freedom of speech further starts a troubling trend that steps outside of clear boundaries.

From Con, I'm looking for something or somethings to clash with the freedom of speech. It's clearly recognized that there's a negative effect on the freedom of speech, and both sides acknowledge that this is an effort to improve or create other rights. So, while Con produce substantive reasons why the effect of reducing freedom of speech is minimal to the point of being unimportant, the main thing I need to see is a comparative value: what rights are in contention with the freedom of speech, and why are they more important?

Now, how well did they accomplish these tasks?

Pro starts off the debate with a solid analysis of why the freedom of speech matters, though it comes off as absolutist, especially when he says "that there is nothing worth silencing speech for." He acknowledges that there are cases where freedom of speech should be reduced, however slightly, so this statement probably has more to do with the perception that hate speech or other forms of speech that could be considered dangerous rather than speech that has immediate dangerous implications (again, "fire" in a crowded theater). However, what really hampers this round is a lack of analysis of the system Con is defending. Pro explains that he will get to assessment of the European system, but this round really should have been focused on direct engagement in the topic and not on a generalized "free speech is great" format, as that message is somewhat muddied throughout the rest of the debate.

Con's opening round is more focused on the topic, examining free speech within the lens of both US and EU law, though much of this remains rather nebulous. I'm not sure the metaphor of the oyster and shucking knives does much for Con, neither does much of the generalized analysis of primacy of free speech in the US versus EU systems. It does pick up steam later (and I'll get to that), but establishing that primacy just reinforces claims made by Pro without establishing what some of the other rights are that should compete with free speech. Similarly, Con's analysis of legal methodology falls into the same trap, giving me a general overview of a potential problem without giving me actual substantive issues to show where scrutiny goes wrong beyond appeals to authority. The levels of freedom argument does establish that any actual loss of freedom of speech is apparently counterbalanced (at least perceptually) by the upholding of other rights, and the dearth of response to this from Pro makes me question whether there's any real effect of the loss of some freedom of speech occuring in the EU. The values point starts to get to what I'm looking for (namely, what rights should be competing with freedom of speech), but it remains rather nebulous, as much of what's stated here is not clearly contending with free speech. Privacy is a clearer link than due process, but the impact of its loss is still only nebulously applied here, and I still lack for real world examples.

Pro starts out the next round by breaking down the differences between their views, which I think is well-explained, though he probably spends too much time here. When we actually get into the substance of his arguments, I'm often left wondering how these points apply to the debate more broadly. As Con later argues, the specific legal problems Pro cites are never linked to the general ECvHR. While these lawsuits occurred in EU nations and while they reflect the possibility for hate speech laws to be allowed in the European system, it's not clear that the ECvHR actually allowed it and, based on Con's later points, it's pretty clear that it didn't allow these to happen. Pro later brings up the harm of allowing these lawsuits to proceed at all and the resulting effects on willingness to speak out, and while that's a valid argument, it seems pretty clear that that's a result of the laws of individual countries against the general standards of the EU. The link to the culpability of EU laws was just never established. It doesn't help that Pro doesn't defend any of these examples when Con responds, presenting reasons to believe that the ECvHR has been used specifically to put an end to lawsuits like these. Perhaps it does still allow them to be pursued in general and only shuts them down later (too late for the chilling effect to be stopped), and I'm giving Pro some ground in that arena, but it's difficult to give him much when I don't see clear reason to believe that the EU is validating or neglecting to deal with these lawsuits.

Pro does rightfully point out that there's a lack of specific rights being violated from Con's case and that he doesn't examine how anything should be placed higher than freedom of speech, but the rest of Pro's case seems to attack the general premise that certain forms of speech should not be allowed on the basis that it is hate speech. Up to this point, I don't think Con had made this argument. That's not to say he never makes that kind of point, and I'll get to that. Up to this point, however, this seems entirely based in the laws of individual countries, which again seem to miss the larger issue of the debate. It's possible that laws against certain forms of hate speech are a part of the ECvHR, but that should have been clarified with evidence.

Con's second round is mainly spent knocking down the specific examples from Pro, he does a good job examining why they should be ignored within the context of the debate, though this is solely mitigation. However, Con does himself a disservice by arguing that hate speech laws prevent violence, offering more opportunities for Pro to build up the argument that free speech is not only something that is abridged in the EU, but that there is a justification by which the EU could limit free speech more broadly, meaning that this doesn't just fall within a single country. I'll get to how that plays out in Pro's next round.

Con's examples this round end up being decently strong, especially due to a lack of direct response from Pro. The arguments for data privacy and the right to be forgotten are decently potent, examining the reasons why completely free speech is harmful to justice for individuals. In a broad sense, it doesn't appear to be directly competitive with the reasons Pro is giving me for favoring freedom of speech, but it doesn't really have to be. It's more concrete, and the effects of a system without RTBF are clearly and cleanly laid out. Admittedly, these effects aren't quantified, but they are clear, and it's an obvious difference between the 2 systems being discussed.
whiteflame
Posts: 1,378
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4/1/2016 1:15:02 PM
Posted: 8 months ago
In his final round, Pro spends a good deal of time talking about potential reasons why freedom of speech could be abridged, which does include the idea that threats of physical harm can affect our view of the right to free speech. I agree that this view is problematic, but the main problem is that I don't see it actually happening. Con states that it's something to be taken into consideration, but not that the EU makes policy based on that consideration. If Pro had shown that this informed policy and specifically led to reductions in freedom of speech, that would probably have won this for him. It would have established a slippery slope that would have supercharged the links to his freedom of speech=good arguments by establishing reasons why the losses to freedom of speech will just continue to balloon, and established a reasonably solid impact to it in the process. But without the clear link between motivation and action on the part of the EU, it's made out just to be a problem with Con's logic rather than the EU's. Meanwhile, the right not to be criticized point doesn't seem particularly well-linked to anything beyond the Wilders case, which Con effectively refutes in his final round. So while Pro explores the possibility of a deep-seated mindset in the EU that restricts freedom of speech to an unreasonable degree, it's simply never linked well enough to the actual case Con's defending. It still factors since Con did mention it, but it's not nearly as potent as it could have been.

Much of Con's final round is just extensions and repetition of the general strokes of the debate. The remainder is mainly efforts to knock down Pro's offense, both new and old, and I think that's broadly successful. The examples Pro gave are certainly shut down by this point.

Conclusion:

So, the debate breaks down to a handful of arguments: Pro's freedom of speech advantage and kow-towing disadvantage, and Con's generalized "rights" point and the RBTF as a specific example. I could still see reasons to vote for either side, since Pro's arguments bear the largest impact, but Con's bear the stronger links. In this case, though, I go with Con on the basis that his side is really the only one with something very tangible I can pull through the debate. It may not be the strongest point, but it is the only one I'm certain is a clear difference between the two systems, and one that's leading to substantive impacts. Thus, I take the RBTF over the uncertain effects of lost free speech. As I said from the outset, I needed to see a clear logical path from Pro that factored in the reality that free speech is already not an absolute in any context, but I don't think I ever really got that. Lacking those connections, I vote Con.
YYW
Posts: 36,243
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4/1/2016 7:39:30 PM
Posted: 8 months ago
Still wrong, for the wrong reasons.

Glad to see the full RFD posted though. Will be good if I decide to do a TRW.