The dictionary definition of freedom of speech is ‘The power or right to express one’s opinions without censorship, restraint, or legal penalty’ (Oxford, 2017). HoweverAR1 , what people seem to forget is that Freedom of Speech does not mean that you are exempt from the consequences of expressing your opinions. With the advancement of technology and the advent of social media, the freedom to express oneself has never been easier.While the online aspect of freedom of speech is relatively new, the right for the freedom of speech has been fought for throughout the centuries and in different parts of the world. The earliest recorded argument in favour of freedom of speech comes from the famous philosopher, Socrates, who in 399 BC was put on trial and later killed for criticizing the Greek gods and corrupting youth (Newth, 2010). Then in 1215 AD the Magna Carta was drafted in England and this document served to ‘establish the principal that no one is above the law’ and even acted as a framework for the future writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights (Fire, 2016). AR2 Every society relies on speech, whether it is restricted or not. “The right to speak your mind freely on important issues in society, access information and hold the powers that be to account plays a vital role in the healthy development process of any society” (Index On Censorship, 2013).
In 1948, with a long history behind the fight for human rights, the United Nations (UN) created the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ (UDHR) where it stated that ‘human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech.’ It set out, for the first time, the fundamental human rights to be protected by all nations and was ‘translated into over 500 languages’ (United Nations, 1948).AR3 When personal computers became popular in the 1980s, it made it easier for people around the world to broadcast their opinions, no matter how controversial or offensive. However, it also gave (and still gives) disadvantaged people/minorities a platform to fight for their rights and reach a wider audience than they otherwise would’ve been able to accomplish. YouTube, a video-sharing platform founded in 2005 has grown exponentially over the years and now reportedly has ‘1.
5 billion logged-in users visiting the site every month’ (Matney, 2017). This doesn’t take into account the users that are not logged-in to a google account when browsing the site, so these numbers may be significantly higher. Sharing content is therefore a hundred times easier these days and information can very quickly go viral- i.
e. it can ‘circulate rapidly and widely on the internet’ (Oxford, 2017). AR4 Philip DeFranco, a famous YouTuber and the producer/writer of The Philip DeFranco Show (2006), is well known for covering various headlines and current events in videos that can range from 10 to 30 minutes and in July 2017, he posted a video about a controversial law that was passed saying “Sometimes I have to defend people that disgust me, but that’s because they should be protected the same way I am.” (DeFranco, 2017). In it he speaks about a German bill that stated that huge social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube could face up to €50 million fines if they failed to remove obvious hate speech (Abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially based on race, religion, or sexual orientation (Oxford, 2017)) or other criminal content within twenty-four hours and ‘not-so-obvious’ hate based content within a week. He makes a key point about how context is very important in these kinds of decisions. Additionally, in his opinion, it is important that people that think differently are given the right to free speech so that others can learn why those people think the way they do. The formation of viewpoints can be influenced by traditions, culture and, upbringing.
For example, it is interesting to note that many Americans appear to agree with DeFranco’s sentiment. Rasmussen Reports (2017), says that in a conducted poll, seventy-three percent (73%) of them (Americans) concur with the famous line by the 18th century French author Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it” (Rasmussen Reports, 2017).However, the same cannot be said for people of East and sometimes South Asian backgrounds. These cultures tend to favour “togetherness” as opposed to the West’s preference to individuality.
(Kim, 2010)So far, any research conducted has brought up results based on American views but what is the stance on freedom of speech in other countries around the world?According to the Government of Canada, ‘freedom of expression is guaranteed’ with a few exceptions and ‘federal or a provincial legislature can limit fundamental rights, but only if that government can show that the limit is reasonable, is prescribed by law, and can be justified in a free and democratic society’ (Government of Canada, 2017).Meanwhile in China, a group called “The Free Speech Elite” where members are comprised of “senior government and Communist Party leaders, those with the patronage of such leaders and, to a lesser extent, academics and journalism professionals” exists. These people are afforded more leniency than regular citizens, who cannot speak out against the government without facing dire consequences (Congressional-Executive Commission on China, 2017). AR5 In 2015, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) compiled a list of the 10 ‘Most Censored’ countries.
These nations are known for intimidating, harassing and even imprisoning journalists for speaking out about topics that are not government approved. (Committee to Protect Journalists, 2015)Two years later, the Paris based Reporters Without Borders (RSF a.k.a. Reporters Sans Frontières) published the ‘World Press Freedom Index’ which put Norway, Sweden and Finland as the top three countries that advocate freedom of speech.
The United Kingdom, the United States of America and the U.A.E came in at the 40th, 43rd and 119th places, respectively (Reporters Without Borders, 2017).AR6 The index also ranked North Korea in the last position, stating that Kim Jong-Un’s ‘totalitarian regime continues to keep its citizens in a state of ignorance and fear’ and also exercises ‘meticulous control over the information available to the foreign media’ (Reporters Without Borders, 2017).
Out of the 180 countries ranked, the U.A.E. lies more than halfway between the two extremes of Norway -where freedom of speech is “faultless”- and North Korea.
The RSF states that the United Arab Emirates has ‘sophisticated online surveillance’ and that its ‘constitution guarantees free speech, but the authorities can censor local or foreign publications’ if they appear to criticize the nation in any way (Reporters Without Borders, 2017).According to the International Federation of Journalists’ (IFJ) declaration of professional conduct, journalists must respect the truth, use fair methods to obtain documents, photographs and news and, avoid malicious misrepresentation- amongst other principals. While this code of ethics helps outline the standard to which journalists must be held, it is not truly followed. This leads to manipulated, misleading and sometimes misquoted “facts” being published in the media (International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), n.d.) .
An example of such a situation comes from Cable News Network, otherwise known as CNN, a platform that claims to be among the “world’s leaders in online news” (CNN, 2017). An article on the President of the United States, Donald Trump, had parts of his speech omitted to keep intact the image of a ‘buffoon’ president. The feature highlighted one particular quote, out of context: “Try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over,” Trump said. “Is that possible to ask? That’s not rude.
Is that rude? I don’t think so.” On the other hand, another news website- The Washington Post- made the effort to present a clearer picture of the American leader’s remarks, providing full context to the story. AR7 The journalist, Aaron Blake, who penned this article even called out the previously mentioned feature by CNN.
This is one example of how the media should report the news, with a balance of both sides -unless of course the topic in focus is something like human trafficking (Blake, 2017). AR8 The double-edged AR9 sword of news being easily accessible online is that content can be edited quickly and effortlessly. If one reads that article by CNN now, it appears to have been updated stating that the original version of the article was inaccurate. So while it is decent that an effort to correct the report was made, the damage would already have been done to initial viewers’ perceptions on the president. After all, does any casual reader ever revisit an article? (Shane, 2017)Unfortunately, there appear to be quite a few similar contradictions to the IFJ’s Code of Conduct. In 2014 reporters blatantly discriminated against teenage, black victim Michael Brown who was unarmed when he was shot by a Ferguson police officer. Meanwhile white criminals such as Stephen Paddock, are humanized throughout articles featuring them.
Such bias was made further evident when mugshots were used to identify black criminals while high school yearbook pictures were used for their white counterparts. This sparked a twitter hashtag “#IfTheyGunnedMeDown” where users of the social media platform (Twitter) posted side-by-side photos to portray the impact of media representation (Wing, 2017), (Ruiz-Grossman, 2017). The growth of the internet has given people greater access to events happening all around the world- both positive and negative. While some users claim that negative incidents are occurring more frequently, the likely scenario is that they are given a higher degree of exposure than possible before through the ever-growing platform of social media. So, should there be limits to freedom of speech online? Outlining a few exceptions takes away the “free” part of free speech and so shouldn’t really be classified as such.
On the one hand, it would be beneficial to have conflicting views on topics, no matter how wrong they may seem to others, rather than blindly consuming “facts” that could be misleading. On the other, there are many people on the net that thrive on offending others and sowing discord and these fights can sometimes make their way into the physical world (Reckdahl, 2016). But if people are policed on what they see and say on the net, how long before this level of controls escalates and begins to seep over into the “real” world? AR1Add the year of publication AR2Add year of publication AR3Year AR4Year to be mentioned AR5Add year AR6Shorten the length taken by the examples and try to showcase the drastic difference between the west and the east(or even just the differences) AR7The whole purpose of quoting these is now diluted. AR8 AR9Before starting this mention how technological advancements are increasing the importance of restricting the freedom of speech of giving the freedom to speech ( more than