The importance of freedom of speech

April 13, 2018

Mark Meechan, a YouTuber from Scotland, was recently found guilty of violating the British Communications Act, according to a BBC article. Meechan’s prank video, in which his girlfriend’s pug performs a Nazi salute, was found to be “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character.” From this description alone, it seems like Meechan has committed a truly despicable act. But why, then, are many worried by his guilty verdict?

The video itself provides answers to this question. Meechan introduces the prank by saying, “My girlfriend is always raving about how cute and adorable her wee dog is and so I thought I would turn him into the least cute thing that I could think of: a Nazi.” He continues, in the video, shouting phrases like “gas the Jews” and “sieg heil” to elicit a reaction out of the dog, who was trained to respond. Even though this joke is far from tasteful, the video was clearly a joke. Meechan’s freedom of expression was clearly violated and the verdict is damaging to rules the Communications Act is trying to uphold.

“If you don’t believe in a person’s right to say things that you might find ‘grossly offensive,’ then you don’t believe in Freedom of Speech,” tweeted comedian Ricky Gervais in response to the verdict. Freedom of expression is founded on the idea that both the tame and the grossly offensive should be tolerated. The verdict Meechan received clearly demonstrates that Meechan was guilty for creating a video for anti-Semitic purposes, which is plainly untrue. The video that he made was purely to prank his girlfriend and is, if anything, anti-Nazi. Meechan describes Nazis as “the least cute thing that [he] can think of.” He even says at the end of the video, “I’m not racist by the way. I just really, really wanted to piss her off.” Meechan was convicted of a hate crime despite not creating the video for the hateful reasons that were detailed in his verdict. Meechan will be sentenced on April 23 and the verdict could carry with it jail time.

Though people could easily find Meechan’s video offensive, it does not mean Meechan committed a hate crime. Real cases of criminal anti-Semitism and white supremacy are all over the media. Those actions and the ideologies therein are nothing but sickening, and action should be taken to make sure that those who subscribe to racist ideologies are not given a platform to spread hate. There is a distinct difference between expressing something in an obviously tongue-in-cheek fashion and expressing something genuinely. Meechan’s video was clearly not meant to support Nazism. In fact, he was doing the opposite; he was poking fun at it. He wanted to make his girlfriend’s cute pug undesirable, and he did so by turning it into a Nazi.

The fact that Meechan could serve jail time for this video ultimately demeans the principles for which the Communications Act stands. If a video that was intended to be a joke despite dealing with racist themes in an insensitive way was deemed to be a hate crime under this law, it undermines the fact that this law was supposed to punish the expression of true anti-Semitism. The law should set its sights on those who truly desire to spread hate, not people like Meechan who merely have a tasteless sense of humor.

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