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( Seven minute read)

Freedom of speech is the right to say whatever you like, about whatever you like, whenever you like.

This has never existed nor will it.

Every word written or spoken, has a consequence whether you like it or not.

It is through speaking and listening, and reading that human beings become who they are.

Whatever you think about free speech, social media networks are promisingly now to be the custodians of free-spoken, censorship-resistant and crowd-curated content, free of corporate and political interference.

But do they live up to this promise?

As there is no central point of failure, all of these plugged-in entities must agree on the contents of the ledger. There’s no central point of censorship. in fact, many decentralised networks in recent years have been developed in response to moderation practices.

But what content is being monetised and who benefits?

With no single arbiter in charge of moderating content or banning problematic users it’s almost impossible for any single node in the network to meddle with the ledger without the updates being rejected.

It isn’t a new phenomenon for speech to be controlled by corporations — the average person has a far greater likelihood of getting a message out to people today than they did before the Internet — but now the same handful of companies control speech everywhere.  This includes platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube, but we’ve also seen drastic actions taken by web hosting companies like Amazon (as with Parler), or payment service companies like Mastercard and Visa.

There are always malicious people, such as violent extremists, terrorists and child pornographers, who should not be allowed to post at will. So in practice, every decentralised network requires some sort of moderation. But in the 21st century, when fewer and fewer companies have oligopolies over avenues of user-submitted speech, these restrictions have shifted from a free-speech issue to one of corporate control. As such, each server sets its own rules.

They have the power to disable, silence or suspend user access and even to apply server-wide moderation.

Braking these rules result in an immediate user ban and removal of the content. If a user wants to appeal a decision, the verdict comes from a randomly-selected jury of users. But since all content is recorded on the blockchain, it continues to be accessible to those with the technical know-how to retrieve it raising a host of moral and legal obligations which are unavoidable.

It’s not difficult to see how ratcheting up platform liability could cause even more vital speech to be removed by corporations whose sole interest is not in “connecting the world” but in profiting from it.

One of the reasons that this issue is so difficult to solve is that our interests in freedom of speech usually do not extend to speech by the other side.

Is it indeed the case that we as a society cannot tolerate intolerance, lest that very intolerance destroy us?

Or should we only restrict speech when it violates others’ liberties.?

As for platforms, they know what they need to do, because civil society has told them for years. They must be more transparent and ensure that users have the right to remedy when wrong decisions are made. Most important, they should ensure that the decisions they make about speech are in line with global human rights standards, rather than making the rules up as they go.

Down the centuries people have died for the sake of free speech. Problematic language, including hate speech, disinformation, and propaganda have been around throughout human history.

But, in recent decades, they have been amplified, and, most would agree, fundamentally transformed by the advent of the internet and the rise of social media.

Triggered by the evolution of our newest technology of communication, call into question the whole edifice of freedom of speech and press. Most powerful communications technology magnifies these harms exponentially, beyond anything we have encountered before. Some argue that, if it is left unchecked, the very existence of democracy is at risk.

The right to express opinions without government restraint—is a democratic ideal that dates back to ancient Greece.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Traditionally, freedom of speech has been justified as necessary for democratic government and as an essential individual right.

Your voice matters.

You have the right to say what you think, share information and demand a better world. You also have the right to agree or disagree with those in power, and to express these opinions in peaceful protests. It is central to living in an open and fair society; one in which people can access justice and enjoy their human rights.

The problem.

Governments have a duty to prohibit, hateful, inciteful speech, but many abuse their authority to silence peaceful dissent by passing laws criminalizing freedom of expression. This is often done in the name of counterterrorism, national security or religion.

On the other hand government can’t censor or restrict expression, just because some segment of the population finds the content offensive.

Shared beliefs, diminish, economic, social and political decisions cannot be made by a society without increased freedom of expression.

Defining what types of speech should and shouldn’t be protected by law has fallen largely to the courts.

While freedom of speech pertains mostly to the spoken or written word, it also protects some forms of symbolic speech. Symbolic speech is an action that expresses an idea.  For example artistic freedom.

You don’t feel free to speak if you are going to be shouted down or subject to torrents of abuse.

There used to be a simple restriction of free speech, it was not permitted to incite hatred or violence.

What is free speech?

I think that no society has or could have complete freedom of speech.

I define free speech specifically as being able to say whatever you like without punishment from the state.

Freedom of speech means that the government may not punish you for speaking your mind.

Free speech is a two way thing and declining to engage in an action, rather than being compelled not to, means choice = freedom.

Free speech does differ between societies is a fundamental point, especially in light of recent events.

There is no conception that captures all of our intuitions about things we are and aren’t free to say; leaving us all free to say absolutely everything we want. In the end all societies can only choose to protect some speech, while necessarily banning others—whether through the law or social pressure—to achieve that goal.

For example we allow people to be rude or mean on Twitter, we allow friends to tell their friends they respect them less when they’ve said things they don’t like.

It’s fine to say that the words ‘free speech’ just mean some or other conception, e.g. the libertarian conception.

If so, I don’t think the concept ‘free speech’ is useful as a way of thinking about experienced freedom in speech.

Patterns of speech we (i.e. our laws and courts) decide what counts, as threats, incitement, harassment, abuse, hate speech, and so on, are not permitted. In practice this means stuff like racist speech is forbidden, homophobic and sexist speech is becoming forbidden, as well as all the obviously unpleasant harassment and abuse mentioned above.

On our modern values, these older prohibitions seem silly whereas current prohibitions stop genuinely dangerous speech.

Democracy and free speech are both overrated, both needlessly promote a cycle of collective competition of popularity and productivity and demote personal independence and responsibility, paralyzing academic and political exchange in multiculturalism societies.

There is no coherent, cohesive thing we can point to and call ‘free speech’.

Freedom of expression in the age of the internet––communication without borders––is a frequent subject of debate both on a political and legal level. However, the theoretical underpinnings have generally been confined to legal and philosophical analysis which are not entirely satisfying, because they cannot explain freedom of speech beyond the individual.

People have a right to information that affects their lives. Freedom is also the freedom to take the consequences.

It ultimately comes down to simply living our lives to our choosing.

“If you can pollute the physical environment, you can pollute the cultural and mental environment”.

All human comments appreciated. All like clicks and abuse chucked in the bin.

Contact: bobdillon33@gmail.com