We have NEVER had freedom of speech

There has been a lot of shouting about freedom of speech recently. ‘They’re taking away our freedom of speech!’ they yell. ‘I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it!’

To address the second point, no you won’t, you’ll rant on Twitter, that is nothing like defending to the death. And for the first, we have never, ever in the UK had freedom of speech like we have now. Not even close. And we aren’t dealing with these new levels of freedom too well. That is the problem.

Before the Internet, that time everyone seems to have forgotten, there was almost no freedom of speech for 99.9% of us. I mean I could be free when I spoke to my friends, so long as I wasn’t saying something that made them avoid me. I could also go to a busy street and shout my opinions at passers by, but if people listened enough to draw a crowd, then I’d probably get moved on or arrested for disturbing the peace. I, and everyone I knew, weren’t able to release our thoughts to the world at large, we weren’t heard.

For those that were heard, the 0.01% of journalists and famous people, there were still restrictions. Television, film, the media, it was all pretty staid and restrained – nothing incendiary, no sex or swearing. Largely because the people running these institutions were from a tiny sector of society – public school, Oxbridge, rich white men – and in general they wanted to keep society running just as it was. There were a few ‘rebels’ who criticised the establishment, but I think these people were more about giving the impression of change and problems being sorted. They reassured us that someone was asking the right questions and fighting back on our behalf, while not actually saying anything too disruptive.

Then the Internet came along and pretty soon anybody who had access could potentially be heard. Most of us aren’t listened to, of course, but if your opinions are entertaining enough and extreme enough you might just get a following and soon millions of people all round the world can hear what you say.

THIS HAS BECOME THE NEW FREEDOM OF SPEECH

and it has never happened before. Where as previously, someone with extremist or conspiratorial thinking would be a loner, with the Internet they can find thousands across the world who agree with them. And then those who would never have had paranoid or raging thoughts before, get caught up in the excitement too. Troublemakers, fascists and bigots (as well as revolutionaries, heroes and make up experts) can speak to the world and be heard in a way that has never been possible in all of history. That is why freedom of speech is being argued with, because a lot of people are becoming radicalised into various types of hate, and it has led to trouble.

Now I have no sodding clue what the solution to this is. I don’t like censorship, I’d much rather opinions were out in the open and dissected. I’m also not a big fan of the establishment controlling what words we see, I don’t like that system. However, I’m also quite alarmed at how vitriolic and divided populations have become – I think most of the trouble is online, but spills out every now and then, and the reaction to coronavirus and the US election has shown how dangerous that can be.

This is as far as I’ve got thinking about it, so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Is there a way that freedom of speech can lead to healthy discussion? Or are we heading for a war? Or will all the drama peter out as everyone gets bored of shouting?

37 thoughts on “We have NEVER had freedom of speech

  1. The Internet has been a blessing and a curse. Access to lots of info — and lots of it wrong. It’s also given a platform to nutjobs whose audience was previously confined to those unfortunate enough to be sitting next to them in the pub or who worked with them.

    The problem we have in the U.S. is that most people misunderstand freedom of speech and who think they can say anything with no repercussions because it’s “free speech.” Here, free speech only protects you from the government — but many are under the misapprehension that freedom of speech = freedom from consequences. So they are suitably outraged when life smacks them down for whatever ridiculous or offensive thing they said, and they start screaming that their right to say anything has been infringed upon.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think that before the Internet, people like that didn’t get challenged, they were too exhausting to bother with so people left them to it. In theory it should be better that dodgy opinions are challenged, but I’m not sure anyone is listening anymore. Some people even make it part of their arguing ‘technique’ to not listen, only to shout the loudest. I don’t know how to deal with that.
      Any ideas where we go from here?

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  2. good point you are making there. I guess if we managed to install a few rules of how-to (respect, manners) and what-simply-can’t-be-done-or-said (hate, racism and the like) on the internet, too, things might just be on the right track. We managed to install such rules by and large in our states, should be possible in cyberspace, too..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That makes perfect sense and is a great idea, but there’s a LOT of resistance to new rules right now. I’m not sure how bad things would have to get before people accept an Internet Constitution.

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    1. Yes, exactly. I think all the shouting has caused many of those who had honourable intentions to abandon them in frustration, and the rest to step back and stay quiet.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What you’re stirring is the thoughts all about human rights and needs being met. Being able to talk out your opinions. Being allowed to not have to listen. I’m now thinking about those who need to communicate needs and being able to and having the right to be listened to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Unfortunately the people who need to be heard most tend to be the ones least listened to. I’d guess the only way to change that would be by controlling who can speak (whether on social media or media in general) and that means being disturbingly dictatorial.
      I think probably the only reason it would be nice to be successful in writing (because I’ve realised I’d hate almost all the rest of it) would be to amplify the voices that need to be heard. I doubt it would work though.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Always wanting to add a little bit of something off-piste, so now why don’t I mix it up a bit and add these to your thought process: A very busy nurse with little time for each person and someone turning up with eyegaze getting angrier and angrier, because it’s not being aimed correctly. Communication problems / perceptions / preconceived ideas / time restrains would seriously be the disturbingly dictatorial ingredient!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You are an off-piste rebel!
        Workers who should NEVER be overworked: nurses, pilots, train drivers anyone in the building or mechanics trade. In fact anyone who does a job that if done wrongly might cause serious harm to others. This should be a basic building block of our society.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. You can rely on me to mix it up. Thing is, I agree with the basic building blocks thing, but that in reality things don’t always go to plan and for some people they will always put their needs ahead of others.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. The right to speak out and take responsibility for the potential fallout has a flip siwe. As the recipient of ‘speech’ we need to exercise critical thinking. The ability to read critically is a skill that needs to be developed. We need to regularly ask ourselves whether what we’re hearing fits our view of things. Don’t just accept things you read or hear at face value.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, definitely. I’d like it if that sort of questioning was taught in schools. Maybe a Modern Media class? Or a How to Use Social Media and Stay Sane class. The younger generation seem to be more savvy than mine, so hopefully they’re getting the skills naturally.

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      1. Sadly, I don’t see social media developing empathy or critical thinking. Too much of social media is ego centred. People putting themselves out there in a staged way, showing only a narrow slice of themselves. Not much of a context to sympathizing with someone. Easier to find one develop a sense of jealousy about how wonderful and exciting other people’s lives look.
        To develop critical thinking through social media, you need to be reading sources with different view points. To use Facebook as an example of numbing a sense of critical thinking. FB’s algorithms are designed to feed you info that fits tour browsing interests so it reinforces mainly one’s own view points. Wouldn’t it get interesting if FB would send an opposing view link with a comment like, “Now consider this…”
        That would be the way a teacher who is encouraging critical thinking would challenge their students.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That would be great. I’d love a Show me Something I Don’t Agree With button. Maybe an Anti-Algorithm button. You might have the answer there.

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  5. You echo what I have always thought, Petra, and though I’m only of the postwar generation it’s exactly as you say: I lived through the time of the Lady Chatterley trial, the Profumo affair, the Oz trial, the Aldermaston marches, the miners’ strike and so on, and for every bit of free speech that was gained the establishment which you alluded to reformed and entrenched themselves. Now that the same establishment has weaponised fake news we’re all basically either shouting into a void or the cliché of the echo chamber.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I also lived through those times, and I think that Inkbiotic has a very valid point: all of our knowledge of these events – subversive or establishment – were sanctioned by the ‘establishment’. We now have all views – good, bad and outright obscene – thrust down our virtual throats and, often, it is not great. I personally can live with all manner of views that are contrary to my own – I have no illusion that my views are in any way more correct than anybody else – but what I cannot cope with are hurt and abuse. Why? Just why…

      Liked by 2 people

  6. There were always extremists and there were also the indifferent. Earlier the fights started in a street and ended in court house. Now fights start on internet, fought in streets, ended in courthouse. There are more casualties and more charities to help the victim. Same difference!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Very complex problem! People have this need to connect with each other using their opinions and beliefs to bolster their sense of self and at the same time create a sense of belonging to a crowd of like minded peeps. They form groups which build defences and weapons, they want to convert others, so they disseminate info, shout about it…they can become so entrenched that there can be little reasonable discussion. You are either in their camp, or the enemy camp. We have to have freedom of speech, but these current covid times are showing how mad it can all get, and yes, the internet has been the vehicle, I think it is going to worse before it gets better.

    I’m reading The Satanic Verses just now, hard going, but I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Freedom of speech in use here – and incendiary effects!

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    1. I loved the Satanic Verses when I read it long ago. I remember it was beautiful but hard work. Not sure I’d have the patience now. Even after reading I didn’t get the fatwa.
      2021 looks like being more dramatic than 2020 so far, no reasonable discussion yet!

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  8. People think freedom of speech means freedom from consequences, and it’s like…no, it’s never meant that. Even here in the “good ole USA” where we have the First Amendment, it just means the government can’t impugn your rights; it doesn’t mean your company can’t fire you for being a Nazi or a private company can’t kick you off for inciting a violent mob. I tell people to yell “fire” in a crowded theater (do NOT do that) if they think they can just say whatever they want when they want. Also for the love of everything, I really wish there was more to the discourse in my country than “Well it’s a law!” It’s like nobody understands what an Appeal to Authority fallacy is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly.
      Someone’s speech can cause the death of others and then they are held responsible. Charles Manson never killed anyone, but because he incited his followers to kill, he spent life in prison.
      Kind of reminds me of the Trump situation now. Trump knew he had an obsessive following, he knew they were looking for a call to violence, he knew that even the smallest nudge would push them.
      It’s a clear example of freedom of speech being potentially dangerous.
      I hope you’re keeping safe over there!

      Liked by 1 person

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