Freedom of speech, or freedom of expression, is one of many human rights defined in the Human Rights Act proposed by Equality and Human Rights. This right has always been one of the most discussed human rights; it is present in the Human Rights Acts, Constitutions, and Amendments of many countries but is also absent in the laws of many other countries.
Moreover, governments and individuals argue over the meaning, value, and limit of this right. Some people claim that the development of social trends, including the so-called “woke” culture, prevents people from executing their right to freedom of expression. According to their arguments, in the modern world, any word is so likely to become offensive that we are gradually losing our right to speak up about our own opinion.
The controversies surrounding freedom of speech lead me to the question: How accessible is freedom of speech? Does it grant us the right to say whatever we want, or is there a specific boundary? More importantly, have we understood the value and limits of this right correctly?
What’s Freedom of Speech?
According to Article 10 of the Human Rights Act implemented in the United Kingdom, freedom of speech is the right to hold one’s opinions and to express them freely without any interference, especially from the government. This right allows one’s views to be expressed in multiple ways, orally or in writing, and on all platforms. Moreover, it also protects people’s right to receive information from others.
In the United States, freedom of speech is regulated in the First Amendment to the Constitution with a similar idea. Adopted on December 15, 1791, as part of the Bill of Rights, it aims to protect people’s liberties, including the right to worship, assembly, and speech. In addition to all forms of verbal and non-verbal communication, the Amendment also implies its protection over some forms of symbolic speech or action that expresses an idea.
Both the UK’s Human Rights Act and the US First Amendment emphasize the protection of this right from the government’s interference, impeding any form of punishment or torture from the state from being imposed on any person executing their request for free speech. The government’s interference is also the center of discussion surrounding this right, with many countries being publicly criticized for adopting dictatorship, controlling the media, and regulating what people can and cannot say.
However, that doesn’t mean only the government’s intervention is not allowed. In society, freedom of speech is also widely understood as people having the right to speak up about their opinions without fearing others’ reactions. As the Internet and social media platforms constantly develop, more and more people have the confidence to express their thoughts online and share them with massive audiences.
But that’s also where the controversy begins. Due to the increasing amount of inappropriate content, all Internet-based platforms now have their restriction system. While such decisions primarily receive positive reactions, opinions blame social media for restricting their right to free speech. Moreover, many people also criticize social media for being the platform for the wave of political correctness, telling them what’s acceptable and unacceptable to say and therefore interfering with their right to free expression.
Do controversies raise a critical question: How accessible is our freedom of speech? Does it mean we have the right to say whatever we want and take no consequences? Based on the written rules, it doesn’t seem to be the case.
How accessible is Freedom of Speech?
Neither the Human Rights Act nor the First Amendment points out the specific limit of freedom in the right to free speech. While the Human Rights Act gives a vague disclaimer that we “also have a duty to behave responsibly and to respect other people’s rights,” the US First Amendment listed only a few criminal cases where freedom of speech is no longer applicable, including actual threats, defamation, plagiarism, and obscene material.
Nonetheless, they warn us that our rights to freedom of speech do have restrictions. Communications that imply threats to the community, either in physical or moral aspects, are to be controlled and might even belisted as illegal activities. For example, you cannot use freedom of speech as an excuse if you threaten to rob your neighbor’s house or make up fake rumors to sell your country to the enemy; the governmental institutions and their representatives are then allowed to punish you according to the laws.
What if what you say is not illegal, but it’s potentially hurtful to the listener or a community? If you badmouth behind one’s back or leave rude comments on somebody’s picture, would freedom of speech be eligible as an excuse? Though this is not stated in the legislation, and therefore it’s unlikely that you will receive any severepunishment for such behaviors, freedom of speech cannot be used as an excuse.
Even when it’s not stated in the law, local rules and regulations are created to guarantee a hostile-free environment safe enough to live and work. It would suggest and decide on a range of words and phrases that could offend or hurt other people and, therefore, could lead to you, or your account, in case you execute your right to free speech online, being suspended. Furthermore, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we werenicer to each other, starting from our words?
We all have freedom of speech, but remember that all rights come with responsibilities. No matter what we say or want to say, we are responsible for its consequences, especially when we, human beings, are all social beings and co-dependent on one another. Freedom of speech is indeed an invaluable right, but that’s a right that we should earn through the appropriate use of communication.
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