/ Humanity

Free Speech is Essential to a Free Internet

Here’s a few statistics from Pew Research showing just how much the Internet features in our lives.

• 80% of online adults use Facebook.
• 60% use YouTube.
• 32% use Instagram.
• 31% use Pinterest.
• 29% use LinkedIn.
• 24% use Twitter.

In today’s day and age, it’s where we get our news, it’s how we keep up to date with our friends, it’s how we conduct our businesses, it’s how we network, it’s how we learn, it’s how we educate ourselves, it’s how we discuss things with those who disagree with us, it’s how we discuss things with those who do agree with us, it’s a second world we have to navigate through as aimlessly as we navigate in the real world.

The Internet today is a digital version of the Roman Forums, one of the first influencers of modern Western culture. They epitomized the centrality of freedom of expression and debate.

Thucydides articulated this in Book II of the History of the Peloponnesian War, and I don’t think this has ever been more relevant.

‘Our government is called a democracy because power resides not in a few people but in the majority of our citizens. Every person has equal rights before the law, prestige and respect are paid to those who win them by their merits, regardless of their political, economic or social status and no-one is deprived of making his contribution to the city’s welfare.

‘We are equally fair-minded in tolerating differences in people’s private concerns; we do not get irritated with our neighbors when they do what they like or show those signs of disapproval which do no great harm but are certainly unpleasant.’

Why then would we allow these great Roman Forums of debate and expression to be suppressed? The Internet is where people can freely interact with one another and conduct conversations that would have been otherwise impossible in Roman times. Why would we endorse the censorship of those whose opinions we hold distasteful, when we understand that the idea of distasteful opinions is subjective?

Perhaps we don’t want the Government to intervene and hold these businesses accountable as public forums, but shouldn’t we the people who benefit from freedom of speech force and pressure them into upholding the very same values which have won civil rights all over the world?

It’s a sick irony that we as citizens are enforcing a mutilated and twisted version of freedom of speech upon Internet platforms. As George Orwell said in 1984, ‘Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear’. After Alex Jones’ recent debacle involving an Internet-wide ban from several platforms, I think this statement stands truer than ever.

Do I believe Alex Jones’ statements that Sandy Hook was a hoax are true? Of course not, just as I don’t believe the government created orange juice to turn children gay to curb population growth, just like I don’t believe the ‘Elite’ are composed of inter-dimensional child molesters.

The issue here is not whether Jones’ statements were true or not, but whether they were lawful. I challenge you to find one Alex Jones quote regarding Sandy Hook that was a direct incitation to violence, and also whether it was done out of malice. If there was no incitation to violence, he did nothing legally wrong, if it was not done out of malice, then there is no case for libel.

Therefore, if his speech was lawful, why would he be banned? The most commonly espoused reason I’ve seen is for ‘hate speech’.

I’ll use Facebook’s hate speech definition to clarify what that means, hate speech is ‘a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics – race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, case, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability. We also provide some protections for immigration status. We define attack as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation’. YouTube has similar definitions.

Anyone see the issue here?

The issue is that the language is incredibly vague. If you are going to place restrictions on what people can and cannot say, you have to be incredibly specific otherwise you’re going to cast the net too far.

For instance, under these rules I cannot say ‘I hate middle-eastern Muslim refugees and they shouldn’t be allowed in to America’. That seems fair, right? This is clearly a racist and dehumanizing statement doing nothing but promoting hate against people who are different to you.

Now let’s change the language, let’s imagine I say ‘I think Islam is ideologically opposed to Western values, and we should be careful who gets to immigrate to the US’. This is a typically Conservative line of thinking. Should be okay, right? It doesn’t seem too extreme, and even if you disagree with it you can understand where they’re coming from, and at least they’re being respectful.

Wrong. Under the hate speech rules, that could be considered hate speech as ‘violent or dehumanizing speech’ has no clear definition. Speech which may offend someone could be considered violent or dehumanizing. Violence and speech are very clearly separated for these reasons, speech can only ‘incite’ violence, and it cannot be considered violence.

Speech can provoke emotional reactions, so we seem to define ‘violent speech’ as that speech which provokes negative emotional reactions. This is the exact reason we have free speech. If you open your mouth, if you form a thought and articulate it, if you type words on a screen, you risk offending someone.

You accept that some people will abuse the power of free speech, for the greater good that you allow people to freely articulate and communicate with one another without fear of reprisal. When you start reprising people for simply trying to think and speak, you risk alienating them far more than if you just allowed them to talk.
If social media is how we conduct our lives now, how we get jobs, how we speak and communicate with one another, how we start and run businesses, how we learn and educate and debate and expand our minds, how can we possibly start enforcing restrictions on how we operate on them?

I’ve read the argument that they are private platforms and can operate in any way they wish, but that isn’t the point. They cater to their customer bases, and their customer bases are clamoring for limitations on their own human rights. Why are we so distrustful of major corporation conglomerates such as Big Oil, Big Pharma, and Big Tobacco, but readily hand over the fundamental foundation of democracy to an industry which has existed for barely 20 years?

Isn’t it strange, that Apple, Facebook, YouTube, and Spotify all banned Alex Jones within 24 hours of one another? Is this how we deal with people we strongly disagree with now? By endorsing potential collusion between major corporations to silence an individual who most of us laughed at?

I’ll finish with a final 1984 quote, ‘the choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness, and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better’.

Free Speech is Essential to a Free Internet
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