Limitations of freedom of speech?

Dear all,

I was interested in your opinion on what you think the appropriate action should be if a user posted a message saying that a politician made them so angry that if they were in the same room as that politician, they would have punched him in the face. As the user isn’t inciting violence, and is stating this as their personal opinion on what they would have done, would you allow this post to remain on your forum, or would you remove it, and if you would remove it, how would you justify doing so? Would it be because the user is talking about engaging in a criminal act, or because such a message is against the ethos of your forum, or …

Would you delete a post where a user talked about attacking a politician?
  • Yes (I am a moderator)
  • No (I am a moderator)
  • Yes (I am not a moderator)
  • No (I am not a moderator)

0 voters

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Hi there :wave:

I would interpret it like this too. Again, this depends on how members feel about it I’ve posted this before and I think it ties in well with Discourse where the community moderates itself. if they don’t like something they can utilise the flagging function.

@Heather_Dudley created an interesting topic about politics that surrounded freedom of speech in #community. My opinion on this is quoted below from that topic.

However, it depends on what type of community you run.


I’m a moderator to multiple diverse communities and we try to stay away from politics as much as possible. It is usually a bad idea to let a heated political discussion go on. People for sure have conflicting views in politics and unless we’re specifically letting members discuss politics, I almost always remove such content to prevent the toxicity from rising to a level beyond control.

I’m not against free speech but most of the forums I moderate are very very niche communities and usually it is a best practice to not let the community deviate too much from the original motive of the forum.


On a communtiy I moderate alongside @ondrej, we’ve tended to allow a PM that’s got a few moderators voluntarily being in the group, to allow those who want to chat about politics, chat.

I personally wouldn’t allow a political angered comment publicly on the community for everyone across the globe to view. Everyone has their parties and can be a part of the conversation at their own consent, sicne I wouldn’t want to stop anyone from having their own conversations unless it is vulgar or an activity that wouldn’t be safe nor sensible for either member.


I would remove it for normalizing violence. The “personal opinion” is a rhetorical trick.


Thanks for the replies and votes, it is interesting getting different opinions.

@ondrej @chrispanag @Heather_Dudley @Thomas_G - you have all voted No (i.e. you would leave it, although @RGJ voted No too but it seems he meant to vote Yes he would delete it), what would you do if another user complained about the post, saying they think the post is normalising political violence, and as the MP Jo Cox was killed by a far-right racist, and another far-right racist intended to kill the London Mayor Sadiq Khan and then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn before killing a man outside Finsbury Park Mosque, they think it should be removed. Do you now delete it or not?

Kind regards

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Sidenote that moderating something because it doesn’t fit within your community guidelines is in no way a limitation of someone’s freedom of speech. This is my go-to comic that I use for replies when people complain about this:



Users should moderate the community too as I said before. If users don’t like it it doesn’t belong on the community. @bartv’s comic has a good point behind it.


Yes, that is correct. Sorry for the confusion!


To reinforce this, you could point out that there have been several murders and attempted murders of British MPs over the years. Some are listed here: MPs who have been attacked while in office | House of Commons | The Guardian The criminals include Irish republicans, a mentally-ill man, and an Islamist woman who was radicalised online.

It’s not civilised debate but whether you allow it on your forum depends on the tone of your forum.


Yes, thanks for bringing up those examples @Jonathan5 - violence against politicians is a very real risk. Your faith in democratic processes really has to reach rock-bottom if you have to resort to violence or state that you would.

The obvious problem with violence is that it tends to incite more and is near impossible to row back from.

I think it’s best in all communities to have, instead, a debate based on facts.

I know many would not agree with my politics, but when arguing an issue, it’s far better to argue real examples and facts rather than throw mud and make ad hominem attacks just because someone has a different party affiliation, even if not directed at individuals on the actual site.

Some politicians argue and vote in bad faith for various reasons. You can call them out for that and argue why, but you don’t have to threaten violence in order to do that.

Ultimately the best sanction is to get them voted out. That’s your legal right. If your opinion is in the minority, you are going to have to respect the majority’s decision for the time being and keep on trying to persuade people to change their minds for next time. Lashing out won’t help your cause!

All of this assumes you live in a society with decent, fair elections and the unflappable rule of law. I’m very sorry if you don’t and of course it’s completely different situation if you do not.


The statement of intent to harm a named individual maybe a criminal offence (not a lawyer).
I’d remove it. Would not think twice. RIP Jo :rose:


Plus a ban.
Then I’d check if it was a criminal offence.
Then I’d call the cops with the criminal’s details.

No problem. Citizen’s duty to prevent harm.

a politician made them so angry that if they were in the same room as that politician, they would have punched him in the face

I hope I never live in a society where saying this is a criminal offence.


No one is named in your example and it’s in the past tense …

A named individual with the threat in the future … is way different.

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Regardless of the sanction against that individual, we should take advantage of moderation features to encourage responsible and civilised discussion. That individual might have just lost their cool, so I’d be careful about over-reacting too.

Discourse communities tend to have much more active moderation. We should be aiming for a far superior outcome than Twitter!

I honestly don’t know how people who regularly use Twitter to discuss contentious issues don’t end up having significant issues with their mental health such is the toxicity of debate on there. Unfortunately people bring bad habits from platforms like Twitter and Facebook to Discourse sites. The poor quality of debate is just one of them.


Geoff, I was quoting from the original post here but see that you had something else in mind.

You might be interested in the Fixed Threat Assessment Centre:

The rationale for a joint police/mental health unit was the finding that the main danger of death or serious injury to politicians in Western Europe came from attacks by people suffering from a mental health illness, who had given warnings of what they might do in the form of inappropriate, harassing or threatening communications or approaches towards the politicians in question.


Freedom of speech can only go so far. It doesn’t excuse you from consequences caused by your own actions.


Hi yes I’d moved on a little from the OP’s example. Real world examples stirring emotions.

I’d march (too old to fight) for freedom of speech rights but protecting people from direct threats in the real world ‘trumps’ any such rights and ideals.


Context is very important for removing a post. Depends on how he says that, what’s the overall tone of the discussion, its participants and the general behaviour of said member. When I responded “No”, I took into account the phrase itself, not the overall context/content of the discussion (which I don’t know).

If the discussion allowed that, I would post a message trying to “educate” the members of the discussion, writing something like “we expect members to use less incendiary words when they express themselves”.

When a message is deleted, sometimes it is a lost opportunity of educating your members about what is and what is not acceptable in your forum.

But… this can vary from situation-to-situation.

Also, being from Greece, I’m outside the political polarisation that has happened in the US. So, if I were more familiar with the day-to-day situation, my stance might be different.