Freedom of speech is defined as a “principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction” [X]. There is a lot of debate around freedom of speech, especially in the age of social media, cancel culture, and political correctness.
Many people may argue that freedom of speech has been robbed, but it could also be argued that our speech has never been freer.
In a time when all you have to do is open your phone and send your thoughts out to millions of people, is freedom of speech really being threatened? Or are we just having to constantly adjust what fits within the confines of “freedom of speech”?
“The idea of the "offense principle" is also used in the justification of speech limitations, describing the restriction on forms of expression deemed offensive to society, considering factors such as extent, duration, motives of the speaker, and ease with which it could be avoided.” [X]
Like many other things in our lives, there are limitations to freedom of speech. It cannot be treated as an absolute thing, nor can it be used as an excuse to simply say anything (offensive or not) that comes to mind. Views that are extremely harmful to others would be considered a limitation within the freedom of speech. For example, saying you hate all seafood VS tweeting that someone should kill themselves. One is free speech, one is not.
Of course, it isn’t all black and white. Offenses and opinions exist more in a grey area. What may be offensive to one person, might not be to the other, so how can you decide on which is which?
The ideal would be to approach every conversation you have in a non-judgemental way. And, in turn, if something does offend you or you find it mean-spirited, to feel safe enough to express that. The other person should respect your opinions as well and, in the end, it should be a learning experience for both parties.
The freedom to express oneself freely is important. It helps us grow as people since we all have our own views on things, but it should never be used as an excuse for poor behavior. It is essential in seeking the truth in things and “flourish as human beings”. But it should not be used as a defense mechanism for the things you say either, or to make you “untouchable”. If something you say has harmed someone, and they make it known, it seems ill-mannered to simply say “well it’s my freedom of speech” without hearing the other person out in an honest way.
The debates around freedom of speech are stunted as well. They seem to have become a bit of a popularity contest at times: which side will the masses take, since that will ensure which side has more leverage?
We are also living in an age of an onslaught of speech. Long forgotten are the days were your only opinion was whatever the News channel showed at 6pm. We have access to millions of different opinions every hour on the hour.
What has increased is not intolerance of speech; there is simply more speech. And because that new influx was from the extremes, there is also more objectionable speech – and in turn more objection to it. This is what free-speech-crisis myth believers are picking up – a pushback against the increase in intolerance or bigotry. [X]
So, we have to start recognizing the difference between “free speech” and “absolute” speech. As in, are we using “fighting” words, or are we using words that open the door to honest communication?
Does the right to free speech mean the right to say absolutely anything, regardless of the consequences? [X]
It’s difficult because there isn’t really a solid answer. Especially when social media is our new way of information gathering and communication, which can cultivate a mob mentality at the slightest disagreement. On the bright side, it also cultivates many different opinions. Instead of being closed off in our little social groups with people who think extremely similar things to us, we now have access to the entire world and their thoughts as well. This can open learning opportunities and chances for growth as human beings if we approach it in the right way.
In the end, there are open ways to approach every situation, and freedom of speech is one of them. If you're unsure on how to open that channel of communication, ZForms could help!