What Is And Is Not Free Speech

A curious debate over free speech has occurred regarding the case of Michelle Carter, a girl from Massachusetts convicted of manslaughter for her involvement in the suicide of her boyfriend.

Reason Magazine argues that she had a right to tell the boy to kill himself because it is a form of free speech.

Meanwhile, Quintus Curtius offers the legal argument for why she should be convicted.

Like Quintus, I disagree with Reason for a number of reasons (heh).

If you read through the case, you will find this was not a mere quip or remark. This was not her merely saying “go kill yourself.” We have to look at the totality of what she did.

This girl conceived of the idea of suicide and proposed it to a minor whom she knew had psychological problems that would make him susceptible to suicide in a way a normal person would not.

She came up with the precise details of the plan for how he would kill himself and then continually pressured him into doing it when he became hesitant or was insufficiently persuaded to kill himself. She was in contact with him up until the very moment he killed himself and failed to notify the people responsible for his well-being.

In full context, she knowingly exploited the psychological condition of a child (not an adult) to get them to kill themselves, all while deliberately failing to notify his parents or authorities that he was going to do so.

She even pretended to have been ignorant of the whole thing after it happened. 

As Quintus explains:

It is essential to recall the behavior of the defendant in this case, and the background of the two actors, Carter and Roy.  The victim was essentially handicapped; he had a known psychological condition.  Carter exploited this condition; she showed a malicious disregard for his safety by literally ordering him, over and over again, to end his life.  This case has nothing whatever to do with “free speech,” and attempts to make this an issue are grotesque in the extreme.

Imagine if a special needs child died because another child that was not special needs lied to them and told them it was safe to cross the street or enter the crosswalk when they knew there was incoming traffic, and then the special needs child got hit by a car – and the guilty party denied that they had said anything, then claimed free speech when caught.

That is not free speech, and neither is what Carter did. The context of her behavior matters. If this had been a limited form of speech directed toward an adult, that would be a different matter.

To be sure, this is an extremely rare and unique case, and while many free speech advocates are afraid of where it could lead if she is ultimately sentenced, I would argue that there is a dangerous precedent if she is not convicted.

It would mean that it is acceptable to exploit the condition of a child to get them to harm themselves while absolving yourself of responsibility.

Lastly, let’s also consider what would happen to such a person in an actual stateless society where the idea of free speech only exists for your property.

I’ll leave that for you to imagine.

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