Sunday, August 13, 2017
New Legal Protections Are Needed To Get True Free Speech
Is it time for free speech laws to be changed, paving the way for new government protections for those who want to speak their minds without losing their jobs, getting locked out of social media sites, or banned from bookstores?
Free speech, in its ideal sense, doesn’t really exist. People want to believe they have a right to express their views, but they actually don’t. The free speech laws only apply to the government. If you want to say the president is a bum, Trump can’t jail you, but your employer could choose to fire you. If you want to hand out leaflets airing religious views that are controversial, you can do so without the government locking you up but if you chose to use Facebook to share these views, the corporate social media site can bar such comments and even kick you off of its service.
Free speech comes with a price and limitations in the real world. So my question is this: Do we strengthen free speech to extend beyond protections against government retribution, and expand it so that corporations and others cannot directly limit your speech or punish you as a result of such speech? Just what would that look like?
The world would be very different if people could truly speak their minds freely, without fear of the expression of such views coming back to penalize them. But we really can’t speak our minds without running into some very real problems, similar to what happens when you speak the truth in situations where people aren’t really ready to handle it.
Does your wife really want to hear her butt looks huge in an outfit that she likes? Does your boss really want to hear you think he’s a moron? Does a customer at a store really want to hear that a worker thinks she’s dumb?
We often don’t utter what’s on our minds because it can hurt someone’s feelings or cause them to miss out on something, but we also refrain from saying how we think or feel for fear of ridicule, financial penalty, physical confrontation, or the loss of an opportunity that would benefit us. So, a lot of speech is self-censored and filtered, but should it have to be that way?
When free speech gets limited by others, we question their authority and their ability to properly arbitrate the sharing of words, information, ideas, and thoughts. Look at Facebook. They have the unenviable and daunting task of creating and implementing confusing and limiting standards regarding hate-speech. FB improperly and unevenly applies arbitrary standards to police online postings.
The result? FB says it deletes nearly 300,000 posts each month that it deems as hate speech. Who determines what is hate speech and why are we quick to censor it?
FB is regulating more speech than any government ever has and it's doing so with an ever-expanding strong arm and a growing list of guidelines. Not that long ago FB had a one-page policy regarding censoring content. Now it’s up to 15,000 words as the internal censorship manual expands to try to meet its nearly two billion users.
Some people are wrongly or unintentionally put into "Facebook Jail," where they are locked out for 24 hours or longer. There’s no one to appeal to and talk to about FB’s decisions and actions. Maybe such activity needs government oversight or protection.
Free speech will challenge and even cost us something at times, but without stronger government regulations to support and foster real free speech, we remain a society that is only as free and open as the few who heroically challenge the norms, the powerful, and the people who can net us the most.
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