The Coffee House Wall Write ruthlessly what you believe to be the truth, or else shut up!


The Limits of Free Speech

The subtitle of the Coffee House Wall says...

"Write ruthlessly what you believe to be the truth, or else shut up!"

The intention was, and is, to provide a platform where it was possible to speak the truth as far as we understand it, without fear of censorship and without the subverting influence of trolls which make it almost impossible to be heard at other places.

I am certainly committed to free speech, but it seems to me that there are limits to the duty of facilitating such speech. In the first place speech must be more than noise. If someone wants to scream and scream online then they serve only to prevent the free speech of others. If someone wants only to advertise a business opportunity and has no interest in conversation then they are also not engaging in speech as discourse. And surely if someone has an intention to undermine the exercise of free speech by others through the use of all the tools of the internet troll then they are also not interested in free speech at all, but in subverting and disrupting it.

There is also the fact that it is the work of a few minutes to create a free blog and to speak. There is no restriction, other than in law, on any person sharing their thoughts, even if no-one reads them. Therefore there is no moral responsibility for me, or for us, to allow a person whose views appear not to be sincere, and who seems to have only the intention of undermining our free speech, to do so here, without any restriction.

It is not the shifting content of his posts which are objectionable to some of us, but the fact that all of his content is a deceit and he has no interest in sharing himself, as is required in honest discourse.

But I have blocked only one or two people from my Facebook accounts, however objectionable I find them. And I hesitate to take action even in this case, and certainly not based on my own opinion. I do not intend to take any action at all at the moment. But this little poll will certainly help me to understand the views of others, both those who post and those who read. Perhaps his posts are generally amusing to most readers. I am happy to be guided either way.

Should trolls be allowed to post in the interest of free speech?

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Comments (21) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Peter – please see my comment on this issue on the main Wall.

  2. Peter,

    I don’t comment on this site. I read it to read and learn. I was drawn to it when my favourite commentators from the former site were forced to migrate. I’d discovered that some people existed who challenged my former knee-jerk leftist/liberal ideas had serious ideas. There are people who don’t want to read/listen and learn and come here to disrupt. I’ll admit to rarely reading the posts of Telemachus, but to enjoying Malfluer’s responses. I liked the sin bin you put him into before the election. Last Saturday, a friend invited me out to celebrate his 76th birthday. We were enjoying a drink together and another friend came. We were having a good time. Then another fellow popped in, and I realised that it was my duty to take him home as he was disruptive and making the other two uncomfortable. I’m trying to say that this is a polite forum and that people who don’t abide by the rules of civilised conversation are unwelcome. It is not a question of free speech, but one of respect and politeness.

    Please keep up the good work and thank you for the good news about Verity.

  3. Peter, are there limits to free speech?

  4. Surely there can be no limit on freedom? However, this is your site Peter, so it must be your choice what is supported.

    Is it technically difficult to maintain ‘The Cellar”; can trolls be identified, publicly warned and then automatically redirected thereafter? Surely that meets the criterion of free speech, whilst ensuring we don’t give succour to teletubby and his ilk. We then have the option to dip in and engage if we wish.

  5. ‘the fact that all his content is a deceit’: if that is the case you should ban him. You don’t need to bare you soul in online debate, but you do need to know that your interlocutor is sincere. That isn’t removing free speech but defending it. Freedom of any kind can’t exist in a context of manipulation. For example, when postal voting is manipulated there is no free election. If a candidate is found to have lied s/he is expected to stand down.

  6. Either we have freedom of expression or we do not, there can be no exceptions. We may dislike the opinions of others, but have no right to in any way impair their airing of them, nor do others have the right to censor me, or anyone else come to that.

  7. stephen: I agree absolutely if we are simply talking about opinions. A differing opinion doesn’t make a troll. But playing elaborate games to snare sincere posters does. Free speech doesn’t include the freedom to lie or manipulate. In the outside world it’s called fraud.

  8. As Frank says::
    Am I bovvered?
    See my post on main site.

  9. Damaris @ 10:21 and 10:53


  10. Damaris T at 10:53
    If a poster is responding with genuinely held views, then it should be allowed, even it the content is offensive to some. If as you say, the poster is simply writing to lead people on or to deliberately attempt to stir up a stink, then if he does not respond to a warning, stating exactly why he is being warned (*), then he should be banned, not permanently, but for a few weeks, with a re-imposition of the ban again if the behaviour continues.

    * I was arbitrarily banned from the “other site” without warning, and without any reason given. The ban is permanent and the only way I can post there is using a clandestine browser. This to me is over the top. I can only assume that my legitimate criticisms of a supposedly friendly near-eastern Mediterranean country went against the edicts of the Barclay Brothers. (In fact I have heard via an indirect journalistic route that this appears to have been the case). I am doubly surprised at this as far more direct criticisms of the same country are made without the poster(s) being banned.
    I’m sorry to say that my sympathy to various conspiracy hypotheses (I won’t yet call them theories) is growing all the time.

  11. tellytubby is slagging off this site on this

    not sure that constitutes responsible behavoiur.

  12. Sorry that you think that
    But if you read my posts they are supportive in the context of the free speech debate

  13. we all favour free speech. we dont favour destructive trolling.

    as in real life right carry responsibility

  14. *rights

  15. I would agree with the last two options:

    2. Perhaps, if they are willing to avoid obvious trolling behaviour
    3. No, not if they have been warned and continue to troll

    It is a question of the degree of their aggravation. Would you continue playing a board game if one player kept knocking the pieces of the board? You could restart the game from some arbitrary position, but you would never have the satisfaction of completing a game.

    While free speech is important in a Society, it does not mean that like minded people shouldn’t be able to discuss important matters of the day, free from aggravation, as long as it is law abiding.

    Unfortunately, for some, law abiding means not questioning our EU membership, our immigration non-policy and our worship of anything ‘Left’, so it is difficult to define what should be, and should not be, allowed in general terms.

    I find that posts by T have a curious ‘on another planet’ feel about them, which I detect within the first six words of a post. As some have already said, it is not that I disagree with them, it is they have an alien dis-connect. I used to ignore most, but now I ignore them all. It is like ignoring Global Warming warnings, it is tedious, but I get better at it as time goes on.

  16. What makes a troll? At what point does posting ‘on another planet’ comments become disruptive & derailing? There’s a very fine line between constant eccentric & idiosyncratic self-expression, & derailing. Here, I’d say that one can choose to read or not read, to respond or ignore.

    But the question has also been raised about motive & deception. Are Telemachus’s posts part of a wider picture? Should he also be seen in the context of his posts on the Spectator? The Wall isn’t just an insulated little bubble – as far as I can see its very existence is due to attacks on free speech at the other place. The wider context is that centre right speech is under attack through the use of aggressive & deceptive trolling. The thread that Alexandr links to above has been completely screwed by manipulative sock puppeting. Even the correct order of posts has been jumbled.

    I sense that most posters here wonder why they should care. Dare I say that you have turned inwards? Comments here do indeed allow you to ferret out the truth. But how many hear it? The real fight is going on elsewhere where far greater numbers read & comment. At the other place I lose my free speech because it has made me a target. Any decision on trolling at CHW should take into account the wider picture of the attack on free speech. Is T a single personality? Or is s/he part of this wider attack?

  17. T is a useful foil to the eloquence of Col M.

  18. I have never felt inclined to respond to Telemachus but in this case I’ll have to thank him for posting the link on Spectator and bringing this site to my attention, whatever his motivations for doing so.

  19. Pantagruel

    3 points

    I strongly support CHW as attested by your post and July 20 at 1231 nemesis post

    I do not support unfettered free speech if it allows the current crazy Speccie bold type usually financial posts unrelated to the thread that are making life unbearable

    My offer to use postal order or cash as contribution fees remains (? by post ? at The Admiral Gordon or the more congenial Swan on the Green-a close family member has a Meopham postcode and I am down often)

  20. Telemachus

    It isn’t the financial spam that makes life unbearable – the Speccie assiduously removes it if flagged. Political spam stays & cocks its nose.

  21. Sorry, mixing metaphors, I meant thumbs its nose.

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