Freedom of Speech in the 21st Century
The right to freedom of speech is one of the important rules in The Declaration of Human Rights. According to Gold (2011), “Freedom of speech is said to be the most cherished of our constitutional rights. It is the essence of our democracy”. The key function of freedom of speech in a democratic society is to achieve individual liberty by allowing ordinary citizens to participate freely in the spread of ideas and opinions to shift their culture and to help establish themselves as achievers in society. Freedom of speech is considered a fundamental human right, according to UNESCO (n.d) “Freedom of expression and information are pillars of a healthy democratic society and for social and economic growth, allowing for the free flow of ideas necessary for innovation and bolstering accountability and transparency.” Free speech has always been important because it has been used to fight for change; if we want a more modern democracy change is essential. Today social media plays an essential role in free speech, because it is through social media that people express themselves. Unfortunately, social media undermines these fundamental freedoms by censoring what people post the way they see fits. Social media platforms are private companies, but that does not make them eligible to define their own free speech policies.
A democratic culture is where individuals participate equally in society; to participate they use freedom of speech that reinsures their self-fulfillment as active citizens. Today in the 21st century, the most commonly used medium of communication is the mass media. According to Balkin (2004), “The digital revolution makes possible widespread cultural participation and interaction that previously could not have existed on the same scale” (p.2), thus, showing that this evolution has a positive side to communication and freedom of expression. On the other hand, mass media today establishes limits to what goes on their online platforms and what does not, mass media are held by relatively few people, and their ownership gives this small group enormous power to shape public discourse and public debate. Thus, creating new opportunities for limiting and controlling cultural participation and interaction, for instance the case of Nick Ut’s photo of the naked Vietnamese children running from an attack during the war was posted on Facebook. Facebook removed the photo because it violated its regulations, yet when people demanded it back and wanted to view the photo, Facebook put the image back.
According to Rosen (2016) “although the decisions now are being made with some sensitivity to First Amendment Values, all the commercial pressures that are driving the companies to increase their user base will threaten these values, and that we need more transparency and more accountability to ensure that the companies are upholding free speech values, rather than threatening them”. Other examples, such as expressions of racial and religious hatred are posted depending on the media platforms perception towards the issue. According to Rosen (2016), when president Obama and the president of Egypt told both YouTube and Facebook to remove the “Innocence of Muslims” video that is causing many problems, they both refused, because they perceive it as only criticizing Mohamad but not the religion. It is true that the platforms are not formally bound by the First Amendment, but they have to at least embrace a constitutional standard to prevent violence. Both presidents know the danger this video is causing, yet the media platforms ignored all opinions. Thus, betraying free speech principals due to commercialization and going against their laws.
The lack of regulation can cause problems, such as internet mobs. When a person posts something online, one can freely reply it is called counter-speech. Although, it depends on how the reply is sent and perceived, because it can lead to other reply’s thus creating an internet mob. According to Rosen (2016), “more speech on the internet may lead to less exposure to competing points of view, less reason and deliberation and more group polarization”. Freedom of speech is not made to cause problems, but with no limitations and platforms allow hate speech to flow problems are bound to happen. Media platforms tried to solve the issue of mass media content, according to Rosen (2016),” in an effort to deal with this volume of content, the companies moved away from their initial decider models, where individual content reviewers would decide whether flagged content violated their user policies, toward a more algorithmic review” therefore, making computers do the editorial work. Unfortunately this solution has many draw backs, such as algorithms prioritize implicit bias towards majority views and preferences, hence not providing credible, truthful and unbiased sources. For instance racist news that is spread on the web becomes a “glitch” in the system because computers unlike humans can’t differ right from wrong. Thus algorithmic media raise fundamentally new challenges for ethical decision making in the Digital Age.
To conclude, many different places around the world have different views of free speech on mass media. The US prefers liberty, unlike Europe who prefers dignity. Unfortunately both communities are still are affected by the problems free speech is getting on media platforms. A media platform could clearly state in its regulations that no hate speech that cause harm or attacks the dignity of a person is to be shown on the platform and they should stick to all the rules they launch and not be influenced by commercialized or social pressure. Free speech is not harming people with words, it is giving your opinion and people should learn to speak their mind politely and ethically or handle the consequences of being banned. Equal rights can be established when people truly know the meaning and the privilege of freedom of speech and when media platforms respect their laws and don’t bypass them just for extra views.
Balkin, J. (2004). Digital speech and democratic culture: A theory of freedom of expression for the information society. (p.2)
Gold, L. (2011). Freedom of expression is the ‘essence of our democracy,’ according to Faust Rossi. Cornell University. Retrieved from : http://news.cornell.edu/stories/2011/03/free-speech-central-democracy-rossi-says
Patterson, T& Newton, P (2015). The girl in the picture: Kim Phuc’s journey from war to forgiveness. CNN. Retrieved from: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/06/22/world/kim-phuc-where-is-she-now/index.html
Rosen, J. (2016). The deciders: Future of free speech in the digital world. Harvard Kennedy School. Rtrieved from: https://elearn.lau.edu.lb/webapps/blackboard/execute/content/file?cmd=view&content_id=_199005_1&course_id=_24340_1
UNESCO, (n.d). Freedom of expression: A fundamental human right underpinning all civil liberties. Retrieved from: https://en.unesco.org/70years/freedom_of_expression