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Why We Need to Continuously Fight for Freedom of Expression in the Digital Age

Tina is a bilingual writer of unconventional fiction, a media graduate with a special focus on human sexuality and a content writer.

You own your words

You own your words

We all pay a price to live in a society. Nothing is free. Not even freedom of speech. It’s not enough to talk about freedom of speech; we have to express ourselves. Only then will we know how much it cost. Only then will we know if we must give way to either totalitarian ideologies or nervously adapt to what we believe is the most politically correct stance for the day. In theory, almost everyone praises freedom of speech, but it should preferably not cost too much in practice.

Human knowledge is social

If we grow up in a dogmatic or strange environment, it will affect how we interpret events in life. We can’t all view life the same way. We all must be allowed to express what we see, what we experience and what we want to change. Words cost less than action. We can’t be creative if we don’t have freedom of expression. Creativity is lifeblood, but we can’t spill blood for the sake of freedom, but we do.

The recent terrorist attacks in France also concern us

Freedom of speech is threatened by fanatics here, just as there. Ireland has had an Islamic presence since the 1950s and got its first mosque and Islamic centre in 1976. Unlike other European countries like France, Sweden and Britain, Ireland has not had any Islamic terrorist acts on its soil. Still, the problem of radicalisation is present here, but Imams disagree on how big the problem is. Radical or extreme views could impact people living in difficult circumstances, such as Direct Provision centres. Asylum seekers need psychological support, many have witnessed conflict and killing or lost their families after leaving their home countries, but poverty or exclusion doesn’t automatically mean radicalisation.

Instead of ridiculing Islam’s prophet, we could engage in a more robust debate on Islam’s stance on LGBTQ issues, the barbaric practice of FGM, the oppression of women and the medieval modesty rules imposed on women.

The extremist milieus must be put under maximum pressure, both politically and financially. Why the outrage over cartoon depictions of the prophet, but the silence over China’s abuse of Uighurs? And why is Europe silent? Why is there so little support for Macron when he proclaims the necessity for immigrants to adapt to French law? Shouldn’t there be one law for all? Language when reporting on these terrorist attacks matters; they are not knife attacks with stab wounds; they are beheadings with heads rolling. Anyone can become a target. Muslims around Europe, but especially in France and Sweden who has the largest Muslim immigrant groups, must be allowed to live in peace free from suspicion of terrorism; that’s why we need to stand with France and crackdown on Islamism.

When we self-censor because we’re afraid of causing outrage, we lose

The outraged have the power to silence us. Offence can spark violence, but who has more freedom, the person offending or the person who, by being offended, causes violence? We also have to try to claw back what we have lost. Sweden and France have segregated populations, with a growing problem of antisemitism and homophobia, the split is causing harm. Culture plays an essential part in our daily lives and the behaviours of all members of society. To find a solution to how religious institutions treat women, we must change how they are treated within the culture.

We are entitled to our own opinions but not our own facts, but who decides what is true and what is fake news?

We can’t use a left-wing orthodoxy for fact-checking; we have to show both sides and more to what’s going on in the world and what people choose to talk about; we must employ people who are neither left nor right and who can see that both sides need to air for fair play. Both sides lie; that’s a fact. We live in a dualistic world; one person can be both a freedom fighter and a terrorist depending on viewpoint. Scientists can be bought. Journalists are often activists. Both sides deny facts and distort reality to suit their agenda.

Freedom of speech does not mean spouting without replies

When we utilise our right to freedom of speech, we agree that the results of that freedom are our responsibility. We can think before we speak, but we shouldn’t keep quiet to not offend someone. If we truly believe something to be true, no matter how unsavoury or unbelievable to opponents, we must have a right to speak it. “Just because we don’t like something doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with it” is good life advice but is it always correct advice? Ignorant people have the same right to freedom of speech. Instead of calling them uneducated bigots, we must engage in robust debate without name-calling if we genuinely want to open and change minds; anything else is just virtue signalling. It’s easy to hate when one hates the person one should currently hate.

It doesn’t matter if we are left or right; we all need to be challenged from time to time

We will all have a different point of view to the majority at some stage in life, and it’s not all down to a lack of education, it can also be our culture and class, and if we restricted speech, we too would become ignorant. We are all conspiracy theorists at some stage in our life. We can’t believe what just happened, and we search for the truth. Our brains are wired to make patterns, and we can all see patterns where there is none. We seek meaning. We create to understand the meaning of life. Sometimes we see meaning where there is none.

Freedom of speech is an essential foundation for a democratic society

JK Rowling has got a lot of hate for her defence of biological sex and what she sees as the eradication of women. She is one of the signatories of a letter defending free speech. She is seen as having white privilege despite her poor background. She’s been branded a terf, but instead of hating on her, we should allow debate because up until recently, we had only two sexes, male and female. Perhaps, we could learn from India who have a recognised third gender. If we lose the ability to offend, we lose the ability to think.

Freedom of speech has always come at a price, and it’s no different in the digital age

Instead of mainstream media as the gatekeeper of public information, it’s now big tech who decide what we can and cannot say online. Social media creates echo chambers where we primarily hear from like-minded voices, making it harder and harder to listen to views that disagree with our own worldview. We scream and shout to silence people instead of finding out how they came to hold such a view.
Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom of reach. There is a time and a place for robust debates, and social media is often not the right place. Social media is a place where consensus forms, and there is little room for divergent thinking or unconventional ideas. Trying to re-educate the opposition on social media is doomed to end in far worse than a slagging match.

Freedom of conscience comes before all other liberties, but unless we speak of our thoughts or express them in some other form, we won’t know what we believe and if the belief has become dated or not.

Even if we have the correct opinions now, they can become dated before we have a chance to check and find ourselves publicly shamed, cancelled or de-platformed. People of old Ireland believe the unborn have rights, and they have a right to think this, and in the past, a majority would have agreed, but their stance is not as protected as modern Ireland’s view of the right of a woman to decide over her own body. Truth changes with time.

Freedom of speech doesn’t mean exemption from criticism or rebuttal

Incitement to violence and threats are not free speech. When a person with an offensive opinion is silenced instead of challenged, their belief will grow stronger. Allowing people to explain themselves, again without name-calling, enables them to work through their life experiences and thoughts that led them to hold the conviction. By helping them expose weaknesses instead of shouting them out, we can make peace instead of remaining enemies. When we listen and dare to participate in difficult conversations, we help steer people away from posting hate and poison anonymously on the internet.

If we look at left and right, liberals and conservatives, both sides want restrictions on freedom of speech

The left is the radicals who silence non-conformists to an acceptable worldview. The rights are the oppressed who are not allowed to speak their minds freely on important issues. The left wants to silence climate change deniers, and the right seeks to silence the woke. We do shut down debate by naming. Naming is not an argument. Instead of calling someone a racist, ask what brought them to their conclusion. Unless we want to vent. A disagreement has been rebranded as dissent. If you stray from mainstream opinion, you are told you have a ‘phobia’ or are a ‘denier’. It’s an attempt to stop debate. This method is now being used against lockdown and covid management sceptics.

Absolute free speech doesn’t automatically mean a constant barrage of hate, but banning absolute free speech means we can’t debate it

Many people hold outdated views of other people, but hating on them and saying they can’t have these views won’t help; we must engage in conversations, debates, and heated discussions. In our digital age, we could all do with learning how to have robust debates with the aim of learning; we will only change minds if we discuss with an open attitude. When we debate, we get new angles on an issue. We often get stuck in our own ideas and forget that new ideas change the world for the better; what worked yesterday won’t work today. On the same note, what our ancestors did in the past are not our sins.

Suppose we can learn to apply robust debating techniques, even during controversial debates. We would all benefit as even the winning opinion will have gone through the wringer and transformed into something better by being challenged.

Cancel culture is a symbolic death penalty. Oligarchical collectivism is totalitarianism. We are nothing unless we are part of the collective. Individuals with the wrong opinion become outcasts. Restriction of speech is a restriction of growth. We need opposition to become better. There is always an argument for time and place, for reach, for attacking ideas and not the people holding the views. Social media is not a place for robust debating. Twitter is a place to air opinions. And perhaps that’s the problem with freedom of speech in the digital age. We need new platforms for deeper conversations. On social media, we can spew out our opinions far and wide, but we can’t debate because social media only invites a furthering of the abuse unless we reach a consensus.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Tina Brescanu