One meme I’ve noticed permeating its way through the more conservative parts of society recently (especially in regards to defending homophobia and inequal rights for GLBTQI people) is that freedom of speech means that backlash against what you’ve said is wrong and somehow circumvents your right to free speech.
It’s fundamentally trivial to debunk this: If you have freedom to say whatever you want, then anyone who disagrees with you must also have the freedom to talk about why they disagree, and what specifically you have done or said that they object to. Freedom of speech means that nobody is allowed to interfere with your peaceful political expression. From that principle it’s fairly clear that trying to prevent backlash against someone who expressed their opinion would actually be restriction of speech, not freedom of speech.
I’m beginning to think of this as a sort of “right of reply”. Every point of view ought to have a “right of reply” to some degree, however extreme that view is. Accepting and even encouraging this dialogue is a very important part of a modern democracy. Asserting that someone else’s right of reply denies you free speech is ridiculous. Now, you can assert that they’re doing so in a way that’s not transparent, (ie. they’re hiding behind a front to avoid responsibility for their actions and words) or that they’re using money to help them in a way that damages our democratic society. (ie. flood advertising for an election or a referendum) But you’ll notice that neither of these actually restrict the flow of political ideas- they restrict actions which change the nature of the political “game”.
Saying you’re “just exercising your right to free speech” does not remove your responsibility for what you’ve said. Free speech is a barrier the people erect against the government, not an excuse to say whatever you like without consequence. If people have a right to say their bigoted piece, then other people have a right to say why they think it is bigoted. That’s not harassment or a personal attack. It’s right and responsibility- the two consequences of personal liberation.