I have been thinking of freedom of speech as the right of a group of people to verbally state their ideas as forcefully and clearly as possible with the goal of finding the best way forward to the common wellbeing. Everyone is welcome to speak and even those bringing forward ugly things are encouraged to speak. It is those people’s speech which may be the most valuable because they bring up ideas that people more conforming to the common standards of decency avoid. These outliers’ speech is the most challenging and the most challenged but sometimes the most productive of balancing the various evils associated with any political action. Hopefully, we are guided to the common good by fleeing the bad outcomes foreseen by these negative people. Perhaps the most we can hope for is to minimize the suffering of the innocent.
These negative ideas need not be spoken out in an uncivil manner. It is possible to be polite to other people even when disagreeing with what they say and what they stand for. What must be carefully guarded is the right to express offensive ideas and not the right to express those ideas in a threatening way. That attitude helps to guide us to the common wellbeing of everyone in the group.
There is a problem of people bringing errors of fact into the discussion, but those errors will be automatically corrected and eliminated when the opposition has a fair opportunity to speak. This works when the discussion is fully open, but when poor information enters the conversation and is not corrected it distorts the flow of ideas away from the best outcome for the common wellbeing.
The seriousness of poor information leading to a poor result is greatly magnified when there is a hidden person trying to subvert the conversation toward another end. It becomes even worse when the hidden person is actively trying to create some bad result for the common wellbeing of the group holding the discussion. Thus it becomes essential that every person involved in a conversation that will have consequences to be decided upon by the whole group be known and visible. They must be known so they can be held accountable for the truth of their assertions.
Unaccountable people who bring into existence what is at present called fake news must be identified so their information can be removed from the conversation wherever it has seeped in.
Freedom of speech is our most precious right because it results in the best possible world for our common wellbeing.