Saturday, June 3, 2017

Free Speech in U.S. vs. Europe

One of the most striking things about the Floyd Abrams books (see last post) is the difference between free speech in the U.S. and the rest of the world. We read almost daily about dissidents in third world countries being persecuted for their opposition to their governments.

But what is striking is that Europeans do not enjoy the free speech freedoms that we take for granted in the U.S.  In "The Soul of the First Amendment", Abrams says that all of the cases he discusses in which truth was a defense in a libel trial would have turned out differently in Europe.

Abrams cites many examples of the European hostility to free speech, but the one that is the most striking is a principle adopted in 2014 by the European Court of Justice, in which the "right to be forgotten" was enunciated. Under this ruling, Google and other search engines were required to remove content deemed to be old enough that it was "inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant".

Despite the fact that we are talking about true information here, Google nonetheless had deleted over 4000,000 articles as of 2015.  Examples include the following:  1) a story about a policeman whose assault on a man was filmed and who was jailed for 21 months; 2) an article about people under 30 suffering strokes; 3) an article about a 27-year-old man who was killed in a plane crash in Nepal.

The list goes on and on, but the point is that these are stories containing true information, and to order them removed from Google shows the antipathy Europeans have to free speech. Personally, I prefer the U.S. approach, which gives me the right to discuss matters of public interest in a  free and robust manner.

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