Uncensored: Is Free Speech Online Worth It?

By Lucy Wyndham

The digital world has produced the most diverse and participatory medium humans have ever experienced: the Internet.  The Internet provides a platform where individuals can express what they feel or think. In fact, there are 4.39 billion internet users in January 2019, according to a Global Digital 2019 report.  With just one click, a person could share his or her thoughts instantly, wherever or whenever he or she wants to. While there are some individuals that triumphs in the victories of the Internet being a free-speech zone, there are also other individuals who find that the kind of speech being promoted online is offensive or disturbing.  As a result, online platforms especially social media networking sites have developed their own guidelines to censor individuals even online.

Free Speech Online

Some people believe that the Internet should be uncensored and that it should be a platform protected by the First Amendment.  The Free-Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees “freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely.”  People argue that online content should also be considered as free speech. It is no different from the content published in books or newspapers.

Both individuals and companies have used the platform as a way to fully express themselves.  For individuals, they would comment or post about what’s happening in the country. For businesses, the Internet provides an avenue for them to be promoted to a global audience.

The Two Sides of Cyberdemocracy

There are many people who championed the fact the Internet is where individuals have become active citizens as they participate on online debates concerning problems in society such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and immigrant issues.  It seems that the Internet has been a cure for citizens who were once apathetic to such issues. It has made the debate on such issues more robust and open to even ordinary citizens, which is how an ideal society works.

However, a lot of critics have observed that powerful conversations that could emerge from online avenues have been reduced to people fighting even over irrelevant issues.  They suggested the online setting is not comparable to a town hall setting where individuals get to participate. The topics fostered in online forums are, in more ways than one, frightening.  Other experts observed that the Internet encourages people who have the same views to cluster together and often reinforce each other’s view. The result? These like-minded people often gang up on individuals who don’t share their perspective.  While the Internet brings people together, it also polarizes groups with different ideologies.

What is the price we pay?

The issue of free speech online should not be about the dichotomy of being able to express one’s opinions freely and the issue of censorship. We can’t restrict the bad and just retain the good as it defeats the purpose of being able to share information.  We should not silence individuals as it violates their rights, as stated by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

The issue should be about how ordinary citizens should be empowered to participate in the discussion. Even owners of small business seized the opportunity to promote their companies in the digital platform. The Internet has made it possible to disseminate messages and reach almost everyone in the world.

Online freedom of expression should be protected at all costs as it gives power back to the ordinary citizens.  However, there should be a change in perspective and attitude on how people express their opinions. People should be reminded that with great power comes great responsibility. They should realize that they should be accountable to the things they say in the virtual world and even so in the actual world.