Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence

Harper's letter
Photo: 
Earlier this month, writers and academics penned “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” criticizing cancel culture and calling for open debate. While The Journal Editorial Board agrees we need to encourage more civil debate, that doesn’t make the letter’s more notorious signer any less problematic.
 
In today’s politically charged climate, it’s true civil debate can be hard to come by. Many are more likely to converse with like-minded people rather than argue with those they disagree with. As individuals, it’s important we consider diverse viewpoints, as well as educate people with ignorant ones. 
 
Freedom of speech, on the other hand, is alive and well. Contrary to the letter’s claims, cancel culture doesn’t infringe on freedom of speech rights. No one is stopping you from speaking your mind, especially on the internet. But freedom of speech is a two-way street, and people are equally free to criticize you. 
 
While we can’t—and shouldn’t—pretend to know the intent of the signers of The Harper’s letter, it’s ironic that J.K. Rowling appears among them, considering she is no stranger to cancel culture. Most recently, she received backlash for a series of transphobic tweets. Instead of listening to her followers’ criticism, she continued to defend her stance.
 
A part of open debate is listening to the opposite side and acknowledging when you’re wrong—something Rowling has failed to do.
 
No one should live in fear of speaking their opinion. But freedom of speech doesn’t imply freedom from consequence; if your opinion is problematic or misinformed, you must expect backlash. This is especially true of people with prominent social platforms like Rowling’s. Speaking problematically about an entire community of people like she did is an abuse of that platform and the power that comes with it. Her followers have the right to be offended and hold her accountable, too.
 
Rowling hasn’t been silenced, nor is anyone taking away her freedom of speech rights. She’s simply faced criticism for her intolerant views. 
 
While it’s important we don’t “cancel” people without giving them the tools and opportunity to change, we need to accept that many of cancel culture’s so-called victims deserved what was coming to them.
 
Rowling was “cancelled” for a reason. If she wants to tout open debate, then she must be willing to not only engage in it but grow from it.
 
Journal Editorial Board

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.