Before getting angry with me, allow me to clarify that I firmly believe in the concept of freedom of speech. I enjoy hearing other people’s views because they help me see things from different perspectives and allow me to challenge my own. And most of the time, I’m up for that! I love opening my mind up to new ideas and learning new things, even if I may not always agree with them. Freedom of speech is obviously also a crucial tool when it comes to political activism and has been key in fighting against corrupt regimes.
There are just some times though when I think that the principle of freedom of speech can be used in a way that is detrimental to society. Albeit a powerful tool, it is a double-edged sword. It has the potential to do huge amounts of good… but on the flip side, can cause plenty of harm.
My main issue with it is that many people use Freedom of Speech as an excuse for hatred and intolerance. These may just be opinions to begin with but when voiced, they have the potential to influence others. And so hatred can spread and provoke more severe forms of hatred such as violence. Particularly when the opinions are coming from authority/ influential figures and being put forward as ‘facts’ to those who know no better. And though I love how social media has the power to bring people together, it can also provide a platform for people to spread hatred that has the potential to reach – and worse, influence – hundreds of thousands of people across the world.
I am not specifying the victims of the hatred, for there are vast numbers of people targeted by this, maybe for their ethnicity, their gender, their beliefs… the list goes on. Surely no one can argue that discrimination or fear-mongering is ever okay?
But isn’t there a law against that?
Technically, yes. The Freedom of Expression Act does not permit speech that could be considered offensive. But as it often is with laws, this is incredibly difficult to pick up on as it is entirely relative to each person. What one person considers correct may be considered by another to be harmful. And as I mentioned earlier, hatred often triggers morke hatred. And I don’t just means insults and name-calling either, I mean physical assault and violence. Because in many cases, these kind of crimes are an indirect result of hatred, spread by influential individuals.
Having said all this though, it doesn’t remain free speech if it’s regulated. As satisfying as it would be to hold people to account for their actions, I do not think it would work. It may be difficult to identify who/ what exactly hate crimes are influenced by. In most cases there is not just one sole individual to blame, but rather a collective group of people with the same, hateful opinions. Which still doesn’t make it acceptable but when do we cross the line between regulated free speech and censorship? I also think that if we impose restrictions on free speech, it defies the whole purpose of it!
Ultimately, I accept that freedom of speech should be a fundamental right for every human being. It is simply unfortunate that it is used by some groups of people to get away with spreading their toxic views. I definitely think that we as a society should call out these people, even if the law doesn’t always.
What are your opinions on speech that has the potential to incite hatred? Should it ever be tolerated? I would love to hear your views on this topic.