Opinion | If we lose freedom of speech, we lose everything

Both the internet and social media have blown up over the past two decades. They've changed our lives by making it possible to do things we'd never dreamt of. The internet has provided a platform for multiple ideologies, beliefs and communities. At the same time, it has clamped down on Free Speech.

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Every individual is entitled to three things:

1. Life
2. Liberty 
3. Pursuit of Happiness.

All of us reading this have a life and along with it, the ability to pursue happiness, regardless of the situation. Liberty is slightly more extensive. Under liberty we have:

1. Liberty to express ourselves (Free Speech)
2. Liberty to protect ourselves and loved ones from danger. 
3. Liberty to trade, use and own property or services. 
4. Liberty to make individual choices and and exercise control over our life.
 

Free Speech is arguably the most important liberty that both society and human beings can possess. 

THE NECESSITY OF FREE SPEECH

Free Speech can be defined as “The liberty of an individual to express themselves freely as per their individual choices”. It’s an intrinsic need since every human being wants to be heard and express themselves. If we couldn’t say what we want to, then our lives would be ruined.

 Free Speech paves the way for free thought. It helps people to communicate and understand each other’s ideas better. Diversity of thought and speech lets us correct our mistakes, get along with people better and recognise our differences in a respectful way. We’re exposed to various ideologies and form closer connections with like-minded people. Most importantly, it allows us to maintain a just society which can check the despotic power wielded by the higher-ups and prevent them from controlling our freedoms. 

Free speech needn’t just refer to the freedom of verbal expression. Religious, artistic and poetic licences, literature, news, journalism; they all require free speech to thrive and benefit the society. Without free speech, almost no other freedom can be excercised. Hence, it’s safe to assume that societies lacking in freedom of speech are heading towards disaster. 

HOW FREE IS FREE SPEECH TODAY?

Certain societies were known to have suppressed speech. Famous books like 1984 and Handmaid’s Tale talk about authoritarian societies which repress their citizen’s voices and what happens to them. All of this should be fair warning to us. 

Unfortunately, the presence of free speech in modern society is decreasing. Many countries don’t allow people to speak their mind. Some countries permit partial freedoms of speech. Other countries, which were supposed to be bastions of free thought are showing a dangerous amount of censorship. We need to watch out. 

Considering the past, we’re living in comparatively better times which has led to a rise in entitlements. We are superficially offended by everything, yet turn a blind eye to real atrocities. People say things when it suits them, but won’t extend the same liberty to others. They consider it a moral obligation to police each other’s speech and even feel noble for doing it! Personal opinions have become grounds for silencing others. Popular phrases, slangs, jokes, comments… nothing is safe. You’re chastised for hurting others through verbal abuse if you just disagree with them. Also, let’s not forget about the Big Tech Moguls who get to play god by shadow-banning and censoring content they don’t personally like. 

HOW FREE SHOULD FREE SPEECH BE?

The fight for free speech always begs the question “How free should free speech actually be?”. People should definitely have the liberty to say what they wish. This includes disagreements, dissent, criticism and even unpopular opinions. Everyone is entitled to their perspective and shouldn’t be prevented from stating it. 

However, liberty without limits always descends into anarchy. If we let everyone say every single thing they want, the consequences would be far worse. It’s necessary to include certain caveats within free speech as well. Such as: 

1: False accusations of a crime not committed.
2. Slander or defamation of an individual. 
3. Threats of physical or mental harm. 
4. Sedition or Treason
5. Incitement to violence, vandalism or destruction. 

POINTS OF EXTENSION

It should be duly noted that to a certain extent even hate speech can be considered free speech, as long as it adheres to the above mentioned guidelines. It’s also important to remember that you can’t control other people’s reactions. Be prepared for negativity and disagreements. Misunderstandings and offenses will occur so, only dish it if you can take it in return. 

With great freedom comes greater accountability. I may disagree with you, but I’ll always defend your right to say it. It’s necessary to fight for free speech before all of our mouths are taped shut.

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