150 authors, academics and activists have signed a letter to ‘protect free speech’, blaming cancel culture for an “intolerant climate”. Signed by some big names, including J.K. Rowling and Salman Rushdie, the letter recognises movements challenging inequality as a “needed” change but denounces how open debate on sensitive topics has been threatened. By Sadia Nowshin.
Some of the signatories have come under fire for content that caused offence, including J K Rowling who was criticised yet again for “condescending” and “transphobic” comments on Twitter.
She suggested that “young people struggling with their mental health are being shunted towards hormones and surgery”, comparing this to a “new kind of conversion therapy”. She also liked a tweet that compared hormones to antidepressants, calling them “pure laziness for those who would rather medicate than put in the time and effort to heal people’s minds”.
The letter said “it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought” and that the “free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted”.
It suggested that current internet culture presents an “intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty”.
The issue many have taken with the letter is the claim that “this stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time”.
It seems like they’re suggesting that people in positions of power should be able to say whatever they like, however unconventional or harmful to a community that may be, without the fear of being called out. More than that, they imply that their comments potentially opposing the cause are vital to its success.
The fight for equality rests on a writer’s right to Tweet their disagreement to millions of followers, apparently.
Matthew Yglesias, co-founder of news analysis website Vox, also signed. When the letter was published, employee Emily VanDerWerff wrote to the editors to say she now felt “less safe at Vox” as a trans woman after his support for the letter.
Within hours of the letter being published, Jennifer Finney Boylan, an author and activist for trans rights, apologised and tweeted that she “did not know who else had signed that letter” and “thought I was endorsing a well-meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming”.
Historian Kerri Greenidge has also asked for her name to be retracted.
Though the letter claims to be in protection of free speech, it sounds more like a request for those signing to be able to spew their comments out into the world without fear of a Twitter storm that disagrees or any consequences. Unfortunately for them, the Twitter storm has a right to free speech too.
What do you think of the letter?