The freedom of speech in the 21st century
Freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution under the First Amendment. However, as Waxman (2019) says, a number of changes and exceptions have been documented over the years and that continues even today. With the development of digital technology and social media, the question is whether this freedom put into the 21st century context has brought more harm than good and how this affects people.
“The Internet is a fundamentally democratic medium that allows everyone who can get online the ability to express their opinions through, for example, blogging or podcasting” (Anonymous, 2016.). It offers a wider, global audience to creators of different content and allows interaction between people and cultures. However, apart from the still unclear restrictions when it comes to obscenity and copyright law (Anonymous, 2016.), there are other issues which are mostly “regulated” by the general public, and ironically, by allowing the freedom of speech, restrict the same of others. As McBain (2018) explains, there is a culture of “safetysm” among the younger generations, which prevents the discussion about sensitive topics without “trigger warnings” for those people who might find such content disturbing. This is not harmful per se, but as McBain (2018) states, this mainly online culture has surfaced in academia, and professors are “struggling with how to teach students who demand trigger warnings”. Furthermore, as airsignsag points out, there are similarities between the today’s society and the Tocqueville Effect, where in an attempt to be more tolerant and promote equality, the society gradually goes to extremes and ultimately reproaches people from expressing their opinion whatsoever. This is even easier to achieve online, where the power of anonymity plays an important role, leaving the “prosecutors” without any repercussions should the case go too far.
In that sense, people have become self-censors, thinking more than twice before posting something, which, to a certain degree, might not be a bad thing. Instead of sensationalism and its growing presence in the online world today, people should strive to be ethical and responsible in what they post on the Internet, and as Collins (2016) says, “be useful” in what they create, because only that way can they “make society both more productive and more humane”.
In that regard, people’s behaviour online is also the reflection of their identity, and among other, their national identity as well. As Boorstin (1959) said, Americans have been working hard on defining their national image, through history and literature. And is that not exactly what today’s online world presents? The largest archive of contemporary events and thought. The Internet today is the most common place where people can express their individuality as well as their collectivism, but it is also the safest and most easily accessible place where a person can be prejudiced and discriminate against a particular group of people.
As Dewey (1946) said:
“Freedom of belief and conscience, of expression of opinion, of assembly for discussion and conference, of the press as an organ of communication … are guaranteed because without them individuals are not free to develop and society is deprived of what they might contribute.”
But people should be careful in what way they exercise that right, whether their actions are unintentionally harmful to others and how they can make them more useful for the community.
I hereby confirm that this article is solely my own work and that if any text passages or diagrams from books, papers, the Web or other sources have been copied or in any other way used, all references – including those found in electronic media – have been acknowledged and fully cited.
Anonymous. (2016). Understanding Media and Culture. University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing Edition. Retrieved from: https://open.lib.umn.edu/mediaandculture/
Boorstin, D. J. (1959). We, the People, in Quest of Ourselves. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/98/09/06/specials/boorstin-quest.html
Collins, J. (2016). Ten Lessons I Learned from Peter Drucker. The Effective Executive. Retrieved from: https://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/Ten-Lessons-I-Learned-from-Peter-Drucker.html
“Creative coordination”; religion, morals. (2021). Intercultural Extraneity Forum Retrieved from: https://interculturalextraneity.com/forum/viewtopic.php?pid=478#p478
Dewey, J. (1946). Excerpted from “Democracy and Education,” Problems of Man. Philosophical Library: New York. http://interculturalextraneity.com/important/about
McBain, S. (2018). The cost of “Free Speech”. NewStatesman. Retrieved from: https://www.newstatesman.com/2018/11/coddling-american-mind-jonathan-haidt-greg-lukianoff-review
Waxman, O. B. (2019). The Freedom of the Press Is Enshrined in the First Amendment – But What That Means Has Changed. Time. Retrieved from: https://time.com/5580170/first-amendment-press-freedom-history/