What is free speech? Well according to Wikipedia it is ‘the right to express opinions without censorship or restraint’.
As a general definition that sounds fair and very workable, but the reality is that for free speech to work in this context there needs to be unconditional acceptance to one key notion.
‘If you are to be free in your speech then you must respect all other speech and opinions regardless of how much you disagree with them.’
The unacceptable level of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, religiophobia and all the other hate related dislikes suggests that people are not ready to accept free speech, not ready to accept different opinions and not ready to accept anyone else who has a differing view on race, religion, sexual preference and anything that we care to voice an opinion about.
Social media over the past 5 years has provided a fantastic worldwide forum for free speech however it has also provided a worldwide forum for free speech that projects hate and dislike for other opinions.
In the majority of cases the abuse of free speech and non-acceptance of another person’s opinion is exemplified in the form of verbal diatribe. However there is increasing examples around the world of people and groups who don’t accept the notion of free speech, and resort to extremism, often in the form of violence.
Every day there is an example on social media of someone or some group promoting their right to free speech whilst criticizing others who have different opinions.
- I believe that gay marriage should be allowed. I also respect a person who doesn’t agree with me and thinks that marriage should be between man and woman.
- I am not a religious person. But I respect all religions providing they don’t hate others who have a different belief.
- I believe in the death penalty for anyone who murders a child. But I will never disrespect anyone who thinks the death penalty should be abolished providing they don’t criticize me for me view.
- I don’t believe in climate change but I welcome others who do believe in it providing they don’t disrespect my views.
The list of my free speech goes on and on. It’s my right to have free speech. Its my right to express my views but it is definitely not my right to disrespect anyone else who has a different view to me.
So my question is “Are we ready as a society for free speech?”
I would say that we aren’t ready. I would say that we need to become more accepting of anyone who has a different view to our own; we need to allow everyone to express their opinion without fear of reprisal, and we need to be more tolerant of a person who has a different belief to our own.
Until that day comes – we are not ready as a society for free speech!