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The ‘Year of the Heckler’: FIRE President Greg Lukianoff’s Review

As Torch readers know, the past year has seen many demands for censorship at colleges and universities across the country—and too many of those demands have been successful. Especially prominent this year were examples of the “heckler’s veto,” in which those who wish to censor particular viewpoints or speakers create such a commotion that the would-be speaker is forced to step down or even stop in the midst of a speech. FIRE President Greg Lukianoff reviewed some of these incidents in The Huffington Post yesterday, warning readers about the effects of this worrying trend—particularly as it appears outside the realm of higher education.

Greg sees the phenomenon that FIRE has observed on campus reflected in global current events. He writes in his article:

It's somehow fitting that 2014 should end with one of the most spectacular exercises of the heckler's veto in recent history.

As you may have heard, Sony Pictures has scrapped the release of its new film The Interview after a well-publicized hack of their private emails by a group calling itself "Guardians of Peace" and chilling threats to visit 9/11-style violence on American citizens if the movie was shown. Although he has not openly acknowledged his role in the attack, U.S. officials claim they "have found linkage to the North Korean government" and, doubtlessly, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is all too happy that the movie has been suppressed.

… New Regency Productions, fearful after the attack on Sony, has now also canceled the production of a Steve Carell-led thriller that was set to take place in North Korea.

From last year’s shouting-down of former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly at Brown University to the recent interruption of Peter Thiel’s talk at the University of California, Berkeley, students learned a dangerous lesson, Greg writes: “that threats of disruption were an effective way to impose their will over who should be allowed to speak on their campus.” He elaborates:

The problem with granting heckler's vetoes over speech is that it incentivizes threats of disruption or violence from the least tolerant members of our society. As the Supreme Court astutely observed, it is perverse to protect speech in general but then refuse to protect that speech which is "unpopular with bottle throwers." In doing so, you pretty much guarantee that there will be a lot more bottles to be thrown. After all, they know it works!

And this is precisely why it is so worrying that The Interview is being held from release:

A hacker group that appears to be backed by a ruthless, yet insecure foreign dictator has successfully stopped the showing of an American work of art (yep, even Seth Rogen films count as art) through illegal hacking and threats of violence. In granting the wishes of our cartoonishly villainous foe, we have all but guaranteed more such threats in the future.

Read the rest of Greg’s article in The Huffington Post.

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