Free Speech, Now Chained..
“Your freedom ends when the freedom of others begins…” A common Arabic proverb that lays down a basic fundamental rule for the free speech discourse which has been a spot of controversial debate for a very long time. However, freedom of speech is a core value in democratic and advanced societies. When democracy and freedom of speech are combined together, the results feed in the benefit of promoting and enhancing the process towards democratic development.
“It is the modern democracy that opened a new volume in the history of mankind by challenging privilege and injustice and championing the rights of humanity (Atherton, 1946)”.
The question here is: Is it democracy that justifies freedom of speech? Or it is freedom of speech that serves democracy?
Freedom of speech is a guarantee to citizens to effectively participate in the working of democracy whether to publicly support or protest, in an open society. A democratic society is not viable and stable if individuals, including the leading rivals of the administration in power, lack the rights to free speech.
One of the distinguishing factors of social media is user-generated content that allow people to engage and communicate freely; however, it is imperative to have clear rules, that indicate where lines between social media and freedom of speech must be drawn. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to examine the increasingly apparent benefits and challenges of social media for democratic societies.
Usually, traditional media outlets attempt a balancing act in high profile controversial issues to remain within the ethical obligations of accuracy and objectivity against the necessity for timely and competitive reporting. Over the years, nevertheless, pressure in news rooms has significantly increased due to voracious 24-hour news cycles, competition by new media entities, introduction of advanced technological methods, speed of coverage and, and challenging economic realities. As a result, political corruption influences media bias through direct or indirect funding, and thus becomes an imposed pressuring force that leads media outlets to remain unfettered by the fundamental journalistic ethics.
Here we come to notice the obvious shift in the role of traditional media as a medium of ethical and objective news reporting that fulfills its duty of exposing the truth, to a political tool of political propaganda that has been stripped away of its objective voice and fundamental right to free speech. Moreover, the rise of social media platforms with user generated content have given people power to speak up and express their views. Standing at the frontier between the physical and cyber spaces With more and more exposure and accessibility to users, social media regulations and community policies are no longer enough regulators to control or monitor what exceeds the limits of free speech to become violent, hateful, or fomenting, taking into consideration that many are unaware of this thin line that separates free speech from hate speech. People’s inclination and adherence to this notion is better expressed by a British judge during a court hearing in 1999:
“Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence..”
Although lack of regulation may harm the essence of the right freedom of speech, enforcing regulations also limits people’s practice of that right. “If we lose our freedom of expression on the Internet, we lose our democracy” (Trag, 2017).Freedom of speech in democratic societies ensures that people receive the truth, and contribute to self-fulfillment as well as social and political development (Ward, 2011).
While there are many laws that confirm people’s right to freedom of speech, and ensure the protection of journalists and media outlets, they are not being effectively implemented in the face of many unofficial restrictions on free speech.
The figure below provides actual numbers of crimes committed against journalists between 2006 and 2013.
As for this chart below, it shows were journalists are allowed to report the news freely and where are they the most strictly controlled, in 2016.
The fact that most countries suffer from either noticeable problems or a difficult situation, emphasizes that free and independent journalists face many obstacles that threaten our human right to information and freedom of expression.
Of course, this is a debate that holds many arguments with or against the regulations of free speech policies; yet, one primary rule rests above all:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Article 19 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I personally believe that people should be free right to express their opinion without interference from any external factors, which is why it is necessary to readjust social media policies to ensure people’s right to free speech and also their protection against any possible harms or threats.
Balkin, J. M. (2004). Digital Speech and Democratic Culture.
Halkort, M. (2017). Freedom of Speech. Beirut.
Ward, Stephen J. A. (2011). ‘Approaches to Media Ethics’ in Ethics and the Media, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 67
Sun, L. (2014) The role of diversity on freedom of speech in democratic societies. International Journal of Sustainable Human Development, 2(2), 44–51.
Charts from: https://www.statista.com