The difficult question of free speech

Shauna Power

Woman speaking into a megaphone

In the age of social media, the idea of free speech is as prominent as ever. However with the ability to leave numerous comments on posts and share content, the concept of free speech is being deployed as a weapon for discrimination and hate speech.

The right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without interference or constraint by the law. We live in an environment where this freedom becomes dangerous when expressed through technology and social media outlets.

It’s easy to blame the popularity of social media for the abuse of the right to free speech but at some point we need to look at ourselves.

We hear every week about someone getting terminated from a job or in trouble for posting something inappropriate on social media. Partially I believe everyone should be given the chance to change, the chance to take back what was said out of inexperience or stupidity. But on the other hand, if we start making allowances for people, where do we draw the line?

Only recently social media and the ideology of free speech are being used as a vessel for racism and discrimination, amid the current coronavirus crisis.

Asians worldwide are having to put up with comments from people who are uneducated about the illness and using the fact that coronavirus originated in Wuhan as a reason to discriminate.

Racial discrimination and xenophobia needs to be weakened, not strengthened. Racism, homophobia, xenophobia are all varieties of violence and should not be downplayed as varieties of freedom of speech or expression.

When we question the appropriate use of language in certain environments, people tend to bring up the right to freedom of speech. Have we no responsibility for what comes out of our mouth anymore? Common courtesy and respect should transcend into freedom of speech.

These people are not pointing the way to a more civil society. Racism and discrimination are the epitome of an uncivil society, regardless of how we like to think we are more educated on these topics than previous generations.

In other words, just because you are allowed to say certain things doesn’t mean you should.

Free speech advocates have correctly fought for the importance of the human right of freedom of expression for the advancement of democracy and human progress for hundreds of years. But free speech has always been and should be subject to limitations.

Whether delivered verbally or through social media, our language has become so loose that people often can no longer tell the difference between what is appropriate and what is not.

Without a doubt any proposal of regulation would be criticised heavily but I find it odd that we can have an effective system for criminal acts such as theft but we can’t regulate hate speech or xenophobia.

Balancing the right to freedom of speech against other human rights will always be complicated and require careful judgements. Effective regulation is what we need to avoid further hatred and violence becoming a more prominent feature in our society.

Shauna Power

Image Credit: PxHere