Is It Time to Restrict Freedom Of Expression

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Was this ever real? Was there ever a point in history when people could express themselves any way they wanted without fear of repercussion? Real or not, the illusion of free expression has carried with it a burden to all who operate under its perception. We presume we are able to follow this decree by the letter and laws are created under this presumption, industries are allowed to flourish under this presumption, and we often refer back to this rite in instances we feel individuals are being suffocated for having an opinion.

In principle, freedom of expression applies to all and we are all afforded the luxury of expressing ourselves any how we want so long as it doesn’t break any other laws. We can publicly criticize our leaders, state our religious or non religious beliefs, or rate the food and service at a restaurant we dined at the night before.

But what if in criticizing our leaders we incite a mutiny? What if in defending our religious or non religious beliefs we cause hatred and ignorance towards the other faiths? What if posting a poor review starts a thread that leads to that restaurant going out of business?

You may say these outcomes at the least are a necessary ends to maintaining our freedom. After all, change is based on ordinary citizens fed up with the current conditions and using their voices to organize others of similar beliefs to make the necessary changes. Sounds peachy!

But what if the intention for change isn’t positive. What if the revolutioners role is to oppress, detain, behead, incite fear, or just be regular old assholes? How would we now view their right to free expression? Should we give it to them even though they have made their intentions clear? Should we let the media, mainstream media to which most everyone has access, should we let them continue to be a platform for these negative, dangerous, damaging messages to be heard by impressionable minds who may decide to take up these causes?

We have to ask ourselves – what is freedom of expression worth? When we look at societies in which these rights are not given, societies which inhibit a citizen’s right to learn, right to access information, right to freely practice their faith, we shake our heads in shame and judgement at the arrogance of any body in power dictating what their people are allowed to consume. But I must ask – are we much better off having complete freedom to create and consume information that is purposefully misleading due to some unknown (or known) agenda? Put another way, is it OK for conservatives and liberals to be that far apart on how to run a country and distribute content for the everyday people to choose sides knowing that content is misleading and without obligation to follow through with any of it?

And this is my point. When I ask “Is it time to restrict our freedoms,” I’m really asking “Is it time to increase our accountability?” The idea of freedom of expression goes only as far as the guiding principles allows, as far as those who consume its message allows, and I say it’s time to redefine those principles.

If I post a comment to a platform specifically aimed at someone with the intent of causing harm which then leads to that person being harmed (be it suicide or at the hands of others), then I need to be held accountable.

If I am a media outlet constantly showing images and giving descriptions of how a lone wolf can incite fear and carry out violent and murderous acts of hate against another group and that leads the viewer – young, impressionable, unsure, unstable – to then follow those descriptions, then as a media outlet I must be held accountable.

The alternative to this accountability is the proliferation of hate and the rise of those sitting on the fence of deciphering their character being subjected to this hate and then jumping off the fence only to land on the wrong side. Without accountability, freedom is like a lit match in the middle of the forest and the more it spreads, the harder it is to put out. And if that is true, then we are the winds fanning the flames allowing it to burn every branch it touches.

So what are we to do? Should we sit back and impose our right to freely express ourselves without regard for how those messages are interpreted? Or should we regulate our right to free expression and hold these messengers accountable for the presumed outcomes? Whatever the answer will dictate the social and cultural tone of the next millennium. Are we really prepared…

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