Freedom of Speech?
Why is it so perplexing and how problematic can it be?
Imagine waking up, scrolling through your social media only to find out that you’re no longer able to speak your mind out freely because someone decided to abuse theirs. How would that make you feel knowing that you can no longer discuss religion, politics, or something else that intrigues you?
Luckily, we have been blessed to live in a time where freedom of expression is a right for everyone. According to article 19 of the universal declaration of human rights, everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
However, this seemingly “ultimate” freedom has a dual nature which could result in some difficult to manage repercussions that you’ll learn about by reading this article:
Free Vs Hate Speech
Image from Unsplash by Clem Onojeghuo
Basically, free speech is any expressible opinion therefore, hate speech also falls under it. According to the United Nations, there’s no exact definition to hate speech which results in creating this dilemma.
Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson elaborates that there’s always a possibility that you’ll end up offending someone as all of us interpret things differently. What you consider normal, might be offensive to others which makes freedom of speech something difficult to put constraints on (if we were to regulate it).
When we hear the word “freedom” equality and fairness come to mind. Surely, it’s wonderful to have the personal freedom to say whatever you want, but why abuse this freedom to hurt the feelings of others in the first place?
Luckily, hateful abusive remarks are punishable by law in most countries but what about the internet, specifically social media?
Free Speech and the Internet
From Unsplash by dole777
First of all, social media are private corporations which means they don’t have to follow your country’s regulations on free speech.
They decide what you can articulate and they have the power to censor speech according to certain criteria. For example, Facebook doesn’t allow you to express hate or disgust according to their community standards. Even though you mean no harm as you’re just expressing yourself, it might result in your account getting banned for a specific amount of time.
Like we said earlier, you cannot define hate speech but why did these corporations do so anyway?
We’ve all encountered an internet troll or someone who we could never agree with which eventually results in verbal insults. On a more serious note, the existence of cyberbullies, incels, and other hate groups make it essential to censor speech.
Over the years we’ve witnessed many cases of suicide as a result of this hateful attitude however, ignorance as well, can play a major role as it took the life of Davia Emelia, a Sarawakian girl in the prime of her youth who posted a poll on Instagram asking others whether she should live or die, an obvious call for help.
The majority of votes led her to take her own life!
Freedom of speech doesn’t equate to freedom of consequences and therefore, responsibility should be emphasized alongside all freedoms.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
Image from Canva
Let’s not get all grimy and pessimistic, there’s plenty of benefits to reap from free speech.
It enables us to voice out our opinion. Freedom of speech creates the willingness among people to listen to each other, which means that there’s a possibility for positive change.
17-year-old Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam recently gained lots of attention on social media. She managed to raise awareness of the immoral behavior displayed by her teacher who made a rape joke in class. Her courageous act resulted in growing awareness of the reality that she and other young girls have to experience.
On the other side of the spectrum, if we restrict people from voicing out their thoughts, it could have a negative reaction, especially in the presence of ignorance. It might result in sharing false information and creating bad situations.
When the demands of people aren’t met, they will seek other alternatives that could be violent. An example of that is the recent riots in Old Trafford, the stadium of Manchester United. The fans were upset about how the management was running the club. At first, the fans voiced their opinion peacefully but it ended up in turmoil as the planned match between Manchester United and Liverpool ended up being delayed due to the supporters’ violent actions.
The Law on Speech in Malaysia
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Malaysia emphasizes on the freedom of speech in the 10th article of the constitution as every citizen has the right to express themselves freely. However, that doesn’t mean we abuse this freedom to harm others.
The Sedition Act of 1948 criminalizes hateful speech which can cause division among Malaysians or could result in dissatisfaction against the government whether it’s published, written or spoken.
It’s the responsibility of every individual to guard not just what comes out of their mouth but what goes inside their head.
"Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. - Lao Tzu
If you have any thoughts you’d like to share on freedom of speech or your encounters, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org