When Bad Speech Does Good

Loyola University Chicago Law Journal, Vol. 43, p. 395, 2012

18 Pages Posted: 12 Mar 2012 Last revised: 17 Mar 2016

See all articles by Mary Anne Franks

Mary Anne Franks

University of Miami School of Law

Date Written: January 18, 2012


Free speech defenders generally treat bad speech – hateful, offensive, obscene speech – as a necessary evil, not something that should be celebrated in itself but an inevitable byproduct of a system that protects expressive flourishing. This essay instead praises the content of bad speech, arguing that the very badness of some bad speech can serve to dilute and delegitimize other forms of much more dangerous speech. To see how this is possible, it is important to differentiate between "confused" bad speech and "focused" bad speech. Confused bad speech makes declarations, targets wide-ranging or poorly defined groups, and seeks primarily to aggravate or provoke its audience. Focused bad speech issues imperatives, targets specific individuals or groups, and seeks primarily to aggregate supporters. Focused bad speech is dangerous because it can be transformed into violent action, as genocidal speech does, but it relies on a strong signal-to-noise ratio to do so. Confused bad speech can often provide beneficial "noise" to drown on focused bad speech's "signal." The more confused and noisy the variety of speech is, the harder it is for any one form of speech to emerge as a dominant discourse. Speech overload produces effects similar to "choice overload," which produces disorientation, fatigue, and general passivity. While these effects may be regrettable in many contexts, they can be beneficial in the context of violent calls to action.

Keywords: hate speech, marketplace of ideas, free speech, genocide, Rwanda

Suggested Citation

Franks, Mary Anne, When Bad Speech Does Good (January 18, 2012). Loyola University Chicago Law Journal, Vol. 43, p. 395, 2012, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1987855

Mary Anne Franks (Contact Author)

University of Miami School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 248087
Coral Gables, FL 33146
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.miami.edu/faculty/mary-anne-franks

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