“Nothing is divine, but what is agreeable to reason.”- Immanuel Kant, a central figure of 18th century Enlightenment
Thanks to democracy, the idea of free speech came about as civil liberties and social welfare became the ground philosophy of western civilization. As democracy spread to the rest of the world, the idea of speech spread with it. Over time, the idea became synonymous with human rights and people started thinking of it as a natural right. Now this idea has extended to social media.
So before people start championing and encouraging offensive opinion in the name of free speech. It is important to realize that free speech is a very recent idea and in fact, not a natural right.
I consider freedom of speech as a powerful weapon, that can be misused to fulfill personal agendas.
”Social media is the new public sphere.”
The benefits, as well as the risks of social media, mean that our words, and our worlds, are more deeply scrutinized. Now, we are easier to access and more open to interpretation. When interacting with an individual online we are devoid of visual cues, our tone is difficult to understand, our intent sometimes impossible to decipher. We resort to emojis and declarations like “Just kidding” or “Don’t be mad” to describe what might otherwise be obvious.
In essence, we have become both scared, and scarred.
With all of the benefits of communicating and sharing our lives via visual mediums, instant messages, real time video, and status updates, another perhaps less obvious threat has presented itself: that of self-censorship.
We have come to fear how our words, opinions, and beliefs may negatively affect our lives if they are misinterpreted or considered ‘unpopular’ by the masses. Whether a joke is misconstrued or a political position deemed controversial, we have seen the negative effects this sharing can have on an individual’s life and we’ve become frightened to share.
We’ve begun to eliminate the most powerful thing about sharing platforms. We have stopped using them for meaningful social debate because we don’t want to risk our livelihoods on what we believe in. Many of us have become either weak or bipolar; strong and boisterous when our passions are ignited about the meaningless, or weak – perhaps even silent – when it comes to our deeper, more meaningful convictions. If our opinion is that which is against the popular opinion, we choose to keep it to our self to avoid the wrath of keyboard warriors, not to mention the harassment that comes with it. That not only distorts representation of public opinion on the internet but also encourages mob mentality on the internet as people with unpopular opinion are snubbed.
A very recent and unfortunate example of both freedom of expression being a weapon and mob mentality is the murder of Mashal Khan in Mardan. Trying to introduce freedom of expression in a country that is built on conformity, convention and intolerance does not seem like a good idea. In the words of Mashal’s father:
Hence, I believe- that we have long way to go before we can truly champion for freedom of expression. We need to at first teach people how to tolerate each other, then respect each other and not to mention, educate about the merits of freedom of speech and how it impacts other people before we start to exercise it.