Children of my baby boomer generation were brought up to believe that whilst sticks and stones might break our bones words would never hurt us. When at school I was name-called constantly for various perceived defects of character or appearance. I didn’t believe the aphorism then, and I don’t believe it now.
There was nothing “preposterous” about the claim that the the murder of Jo Cox was in part a consequence of the febrile political climate of the time. The language and lies and, especially, the images used by the “Leave” campaign created a context within which the semi rational preached “Sovereignty” but the malicious xenophobia – or worse. A deranged person felt empowered by that climate to murder an MP. There was clear cause and effect.
Language matters. There are words in common parlance fifty years ago which if I used them in the “Comment” section of The Times would lead to the whole comment being removed. But the Prime Minister can attack those of us who argue for greater fairness in society as “Do-Gooders” with impunity. Words do hurt , sometimes fatally.
Freedom of Speech needs rules and laws to govern it – as most social media realises when they moderate public postings. It’s called “moderation” a handy word actually. You can be strong in your messages but moderate in your language. Persuade me of your views with reason and logic without insulting me or name-calling.