Thoughts And Ideas
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Thoughts And Ideas

Freedom of Speech: A 21st Century Revisioning.

The quote, “Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error” was uttered by Thomas Jefferson as a rationale for why freedom of speech is important. It was correctly believed at the time that if the mouth’s of men were silenced, faulty idea’s and lines of thought couldn’t be corrected for. This was because without the ability to freely express one’s thoughts, the chances that you’d have your erroneous thoughts challenged and corrected by others would be minuscule at best.

Benjamin Franklin (who was a contemporary of Jefferson) took this idea a step further and suggested that wisdom itself would cease to be if freedom of thought (which is inextricably tied to freedom of speech) wasn’t allowed to exist. This isn’t a bad assumption to make considering that struggle, pain, critical thinking, and growth are necessary for wisdom to become a defining feature of ones faculties. If people lacked the freedom to say or think foolish (and yes even hateful or dangerous) things, they’d lack exposure and experience within the marketplace of ideas necessary to weed out naivete and undeveloped discernment.

It is for these reasons (and many more) that freedom of speech is the most important right that we have. When the government bans certain types of speech, it is simultaneously banning certain idea’s and certain lines of thought that are associated with that speech. What naturally happens afterwards is that a blackmarket of idea’s and thoughts arise in response to speech bans, which in effect magnifies their degree of influence in society. This is in large part because of the forbidden fruit effect, a psychological quirk of human nature where people have an increased desire for things which are off limits or forbidden. So while the intent behind banning certain types of speech tends to come from a good place, the consequences of such bans are disastrous for the health of the socio-cultural fabric that we all live under.

Historically speaking, the U.S court system (while although certainly not perfect) has done a reasonably good job in protecting our freedom of speech rights from being violated by the government and acts of congress (particularly in the second half of the 20th century). With the advent of the social media revolution in the 2000s and 2010s however, this historical approach toward the protection of our free speech rights became horribly inadequate. As more of our speech started to take place on social media platforms, a greater proportion of our speech was entrusted in the hands of corporate-interest who had no financial or legal obligation to protect its free expression. Whats even worse is that these corporate-interest have been caught preventing certain public intellectuals from speaking who most likely weren’t even in violation of their restrictive policies to begin with. This makes sense when you look at this situation from the companies point of view. If the company dislikes a particular individual or wants to remove any negative criticisms that pose a threat to their existence, there is nothing stopping them from doing so.

How can we as a society claim to have freedom of speech when so much of our speech on a day to day basis can be censored or restricted in the blink of an eye? Is it wise for us to allow a small number of companies to arbitrarily dictate what we say and by extension what we are allowed to think? The answer to the latter is a resounding no! It is up to the individual to determine for themselves what they think and what they are able to say. If we choose to go down the path of corporate censorship, we are choosing a future that rewards the powerful at the expense of our ideal of public liberty.

So what do we do? How can we reassert our rights and update them in a way that takes into consideration the technological environment of the 21st century? What we need is either an executive order from the President or a law from Congress which mandates that social media companies operating within the U.S cannot enforce speech codes that prevent it’s users from exercising speech which is protected by the constitution. If these companies violate a certain users speech rights, then the user should be able to report a civil rights violation to the FBI so that these injustices can be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

What would most likely happen in response to this law is that these platforms would exercise a strict amount of restraint and discipline when it came to removal of speech on their platform. If a user saw something that offended them, they could simply ignore it, choose to hide the post from their view, or in more extreme cases block the user from which it originated from. If a particular user felt that a certain post was illegal they could either personally contact the authorities themselves, or report the post and have the social media company get in contact with law enforcement. Is this system perfect? No. Will certain post fall through the cracks and cause us great discomfort as a result? Absolutely. But it is certainly better than a system that acts as an impediment for growth, artificially controls the overton window of society, and prioritizes corporate power over the fundamental rights of the individual.

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Jack Borden

Jack Borden

Philosopher, poet, economist, and most importantly a critical thinker. My aim is to explore the human experience and to make sense of the world that we live in.