This article helps you understand the impact of the Internet and social media on free speech in today’s world.
Understanding the Meaning of Free Speech
Free speech has many meanings, but at its heart, it refers to the legal right to openly express or seek out ideas and viewpoints without fear of censorship or legal repercussions.
Individuals have the freedom to express themselves however they see fit, which is a component of freedom of expression. Like any other provisions, this also comes with responsibility and can be restricted on certain grounds.
Governments must condemn incitement to hatred and hate crimes. Moreover, limitations may be justifiable if they safeguard a particular public interest or the rights and reputations of others.
What Is Censorship?
Free speech and censorship are frequently considered two sides of the same coin, with censorship frequently defined as “the limitation of free expression.” Yet, it is only a system in which a ruling body restricts the opinions that people can express and forbids the public from seeing or having access to books, films, artwork, documents, or other forms of communication because they contain or endorse viewpoints.
Free Speech in the Internet Era
Thanks to the Internet, people now have access to a worldwide platform and a quick means of communication. Early on, the Internet was welcomed as a new platform for unrestricted communication between individuals, free from the constraints of the “gatekeepers” who previously controlled the media’s content. Yet, there is already a lot of discussion over the freedom of speech on the Internet, including whether it is already restricted, if it should be, and who should make the decisions about what is and isn’t allowed.
The Internet has served as a space to share and gain knowledge, communicate, and keep in touch with our friends and family who are away from us, buy and sell goods, perform any tasks at ease etc. In short, it has just made our lives convenient and effortless. The Internet gives voice to those who would not otherwise have a platform.
On the other side, those with extreme beliefs of any kind can likewise use the Internet as a powerful global platform. There are websites that encourage self-harm, eating disorders, and even death, while others encourage racism and misogyny. Online anonymity is also quite simple to achieve.
Duality in the Nature of Free Speech on Social Media
Free speech is allowed on social media for everyone, allowing both positive and bad viewpoints to be heard. For the general public, free expression is a double-edged sword.
While expressing themselves online, both recognised and anonymous users have the same rights to free speech. Both users are free to express unfavourable opinions online without it being viewed as a violation of their right to free speech.
Readers are favourably impacted by positive opinions and adversely by negative opinions. A reader’s perspective on a subject may alter after reading an opinion online since opinions can bring up information that the reader may not have known before forming their viewpoint.
Everyone should be able to change their minds when confronted with new knowledge, especially if it is accurate, without being mocked for it. The idea of free speech was to enable people to share their thoughts online without worrying about suffering unfair consequences. Free speech has succeeded in its aim but has also given those who wish to spread false information a chance to do so without facing repercussions.
Understanding the Fine Line Between Free Speech and Hate Speech
Hate speech could be spoken because of this freedom of speech. An idea or ideology must criticise an existing ideology or threaten to humiliate or hurt a particular group of people to be classified as “hate speech.” Hate speech includes things like slander, libel, personal insults, etc.
The United Nations encourages more positive speech as a means of combating hate speech and promotes respect for freedom of expression as the standard. The UN Rabat Plan of Action offers States important guidance on the distinction between freedom of expression and “incitement,” which is illegal under criminal law, along with the relevant principles of international human rights law.
Must Read: What Is Hate Speech and Its Laws in India?
Speech Laws by Country
Here are the laws of India and Europe related to hate speech:
Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression, but Article 19(2) allows for “reasonable restrictions” to be placed on that freedom in the interest of “the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, and public order.”
If someone disrespects a citizen “on the grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residency, language, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity, or community, or any other ground whatsoever,” that person may be prosecuted under the law.
To help combat the issue, the “No Hate Speech” movement, which the Council of Europe sponsors, aggressively increases public awareness about hate speech.
Although the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has stated that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights does not forbid criminal laws against revisionism, such as the denial or minimization of genocides or crimes against humanity, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe went further and recommended in 1997 that member governments “take appropriate steps to combat hate speech” under its Recommendation R (97) 20.
The ECtHR does not provide a commonly agreed-upon definition of “hate speech,” but rather simply guidelines by which prosecutors might determine whether the “hate speech” is entitled to the protection of free speech.
The law commission of the UK undertook a study and offered certain valuable suggestions to strike a balance between free speech and hate speech towards targeted individuals of certain groups. These suggestions can be implemented globally. The commission has made the following recommendations regarding the offences of inciting hatred:
- Protecting private conversations instead of the dwelling exemption would ensure they are excluded wherever they occur.
- Clear protection for “gender critical” viewpoints, criticism of foreign leaders, discussion of cultural customs, and immigration, asylum, and citizenship laws.
- A new safeguard for the “neutral reporting” of inciting hate speech by outsiders.
The Internet has greatly impacted free speech, which has given people a forum to express their thoughts, opinions, and viewpoints. As a result, several movements, groups, and organisations have grown. But the Internet has also facilitated the expansion of censorship, with governments and even businesses imposing limitations on particular kinds of content.
In the end, the Internet has both expanded and restricted free expression, and it is our collective responsibility to make sure we are utilising it to its best extent.
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