It seems like these days, you can’t go and buy a cup of coffee and get some free spins without politics being thrown at you.
From whether or not the store owners are racist, to the not-environmentally-friendly-enough cups and straws, to the salary of the barista behind the counter, you will literally encounter hot-button issues everywhere in your day-to-day life. Most of the time, without even realizing it.
Sure, a lot of big issues are plastered 24/7 everywhere: The environment, the economy, healthcare, workers’ rights, education, welfare, the president’s sex life- okay, maybe not that last one. Don’t get me wrong, these are very important issues (Not including the sex-life thing), but I think there is a far more subtle political and cultural divide that’s growing between the cracks: the very first amendment, our Freedom of Speech.
Before I can get to the crux of the issue, let me define how I view Freedom of Speech. Your freedom of speech gives you the right to say and express your opinions without limitations imposed by the Government.
Is there a limit on speech? Only if your speech directly causes the violation of another person’s rights (AKA: Their physical wellbeing). Yelling “Fire” in a crowded theatre if there is no fire, for instance, which could lead to a panic and people getting hurt. A more extreme example would be ordering a hitman to kill someone.
However, there should be no limitations on what opinions can be expressed. I can like vanilla ice cream, you can like chocolate, and we just have to accept that about each other. More importantly, someone who is on the minority side of an issue has to be allowed to express their opinion, even if the majority find the opinion vile and disgusting.
There is a majority of straight people in the world, but the LGBT still have the right to argue for their rights, and straight people cannot take that right away from them under any circumstances.
More controversially, the inevitable result of this freedom is that some people will use it to argue for some truly horrific and disgusting ideologies, whether it’s White Supremacy, Black Supremacy, Islamic Extremism, or even pedophilia. And to protect the rights of minorities whose voices should not be suppressed, the right of people whose voices you would rather not hear must also be protected.
As Voltaire put it, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Freedom of Speech in the Modern World
Now, everything I have stated up until this point predicates on the Government. The Government cannot suppress speech. However, we live in a modern age, with the internet, and a whole new world has opened up for humanity as a result.
The greatest thing about the internet is that it has given everyone a voice. The worst thing about the internet is that it has given everyone a voice.
When it was only “professional” companies with platforms large enough to reach millions of people, such as cable news or radio, there were usually editors and curators that triple-checked what could and could not be said. There is no such thing with the internet… at least, there hadn’t been.
Now, Social Media companies have rules and guidelines on the sort of content that their sites allow. All the reasonable stuff is restricted pretty well- FaceBook obviously doesn’t want pornography and graphic violence splattered across their front page, and fair enough.
However, in the past four or five years, there’s been a not-so-subtle shift. Social Media companies have cracked down with harsher punishments for guideline violations.
The guidelines themselves have changed a lot. Undercover investigative journalists, such as the ones working for Project Veritas, have released hidden camera footage showing systemic biases to try and change elections, such as when Google’s head of Responsible Innovations, Jen Gennai, was caught saying, “We all got screwed over in 2016 [because of Trump’s election], again it wasn’t just us, it was, the people got screwed over, the news media got screwed over, like, everybody got screwed over so we’re rapidly been like, what happened there and how do we prevent it from happening again.”
So, we again are at a crossroads of having to ask where is it okay for Freedom of Speech to be limited.
While it’s reasonable to not want promoters of Nazism in your feed, the people who have been given the power to limit speech have also been caught abusing their power for more nefarious purposes, such as Jen Gennai implying that Google needs to alter it’s algorithms in order to swing elections more favorably.
More ominously, these upper-management types believe that Google may actually have the power to sway elections in the future.
And it’s not just one person at Google. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit- they’ve all begin cracking down on what people can and cannot say. Even if we ignore the fact that some people make their livelihoods off these platforms, it’s becoming more and more common for people to turn to these sights to look for opinions on real, serious issues.
Hiding away dissenting opinions is far worse than letting them dry out in the open.
Nazi supporters will still talk to each other, but if not on FaceBook, then on Stormfront or some other forum, where counterarguments to their ideologies won’t be represented at all.
It’s not even viable to argue that, as companies, FaceBook, Google, and whoever can have whatever rules and restrictions they want, because Governments are creating laws that can punish people for what they say on these sites regardless. China, of course, censors just about everything that the Government doesn’t like, but it’s happening here in the West too.
In Great Britain, three thousand people a year are arrested for what they post online! And it’s not just Nazi’s and Terrorists they’re going after- it’s people who make “offensive” jokes (Look up the case of Mark Meechan – Count Dankula – to understand). Once the Government has the power to censor jokes, where does it end?