Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
“I have the right to say whatever I want.” The right to voice an opinion is a central component of a democracy. Freedom of expression is an essential element of personal development. It provides people with the right to dissent, and the right to have their voices heard. Individuals can make personal choices about their beliefs through the introduction of unique thoughts and opinions. Freedom of expression has long been recognized as a basic human right in both national and international laws. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 states that Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Although this is true, similarly with everything else in the world, nothing is truly unlimited. Freedom of speech should have a limit as a society with truly unlimited free speech would be anarchy. Envision a world where doctors were able to publicize confidential clientele information. Where employers could question potential employees about sexuality and religion. Where advertisers could make any claim regardless of they were true or not for the sole purpose of selling a product. Such a world would be chaotic. The current limitations of free speech exist in societies for good reasoning. The concept of free speech is one that a majority of people will stand behind, but not many support the fact that it should be wholly unrestricted. It is not feasible. In any productive society, lines must be drawn; be that about peace, politeness, or equality.
Freedom of speech has been regulated by anti-hate laws to minimize hate propaganda. Hate propaganda includes anything visible that represents the advocation or promotion of genocide or any incitement that will likely lead to a disruption of peace. The purpose of the laws is to restrict the public expression and publication of messages that aspire to encourage animosity and bias towards particular groups of people. Certain speech may be offensive or disrespectful to a particular group, especially speech that is favored by more dominant cultures or people in power such as the government. Voicing thoughts and opinions are managed by certain laws to find a balance between free speech and the protection of vulnerable minority groups. Although this offensive speech may sometimes be sincerely spoken to attain the truth, this is not always the case. In either scenario, offending the targeted group is viewed upon as a greater injustice than simply limiting free speech. Speech that has the intention of degrading, insulting, or defaming people is viewed upon as indefensible. Since this speech can harm individuals, it is seen as a valid reason to ban it. This is distant from offensive speech because offensive speech is not always intended to be in a hateful manner. A strong example of this sort of speech is when claims are made that black people are somehow morally or mentally inferior to the other races. This sort of hate speech has absolutely no rationality. People communicate and debate with significantly more level-headedness when there is no hate speech. The optimistic sentiment that hateful emotive claims about other groups can be overcome through rational thought is at best, naïve.
Additionally, professing hatred can both directly or indirectly incite violence. A metonymic adage often used is “the pen is mightier than the sword”. It describes how ideas, expressed in writing, have the power to be significantly more consequential than pure violence. Words can inspire and influence billions of people and can live on indefinitely but also possess the ability to harm and destroy. To illustrate, death and bomb threats, cyberbullying, and unrelenting online abuse that directs some towards suicide are difficult to defend in the name of free speech. Everyone is entitled to do and say as they please, so long as they are not violating the freedom of others when doing so. Not too unreasonable, right? How can one vouch for unbridled freedom of speech when it is apparent that it breaches the rights of others? The internet is a classic case study where total freedom of expression has gone awry. The astounding platform of communication and innovation we have been provided with, an opportunity for stirring constructive discussion and debate, has been thoroughly misused and abused. Claims that absolute free speech is the answer to change, debate, and discussion need to look no further than the comment section beneath any internet post. Designed to be a continuation of the conversation a post has sparked, it has since become a section often filled with acrimony and contempt. As a means of combating this, many media outlets such as Vice or The Guardian, have elected to remove their comment sections entirely.
Lastly, it is within the power of those in charge to place limitations on the destructive actions of its people. People must drive under certain speed limits, they are not permitted to smoke in restaurants, and they do things that are meant to avoid harming others. Those that do not comply, face various consequences. How different, in terms of punishments, are the actions people conduct to the words they say? Some speech is forbidden for sensitivity purposes. This includes speech that is neither hateful nor offensive but may trigger unpleasant or painful thoughts and memories, such as reminding someone of a memory that they are attempting to repress or touch on an issue that has not yet been resolved emotionally. While basic politeness and manners may take this into account, restricting freedom of speech, for this reason, extends much further. For example, mentioning the emotional trauma that comes with divorce to a person who has recently been divorced. Moreover, another speech that is forbidden is for practical reasons. This includes doing things such as shouting “FIRE!” in a densely populated building even though there is no fire or demanding that all are silent when a professor is speaking to the class at a school. The proposition in these cases is that free speech is already hindered in practice, due to the practical requirements of the circumstance. Altering this to permit absolute free speech would damage the practice that currently runs without issues. The last area where free speech is limited is that of those in power. An argument often made is that those who are powerful use this power to promote their own voices and opinions while in the process, drowning out opposing voices. One might make use of the public school system as an example. Teachers and professors dictate the thoughts of the pupils they “educate”. To counter this, one might believe that equal time must be given to opposing sides on issues.
While it is true that freedom of expression is a crucial component of any democracy, understanding and implementing limits are of equal importance. Restrictions on free speech are necessary for society to avoid falling into chaos. Limited freedom of expression is, by all means, not the total eradication of freedom of speech. Living in a world with these limits already in place, opposing opinions are still being heard out and shared and viewpoints of others challenged. It shows how restricting free speech does not necessarily equate to restricting debate and the right to share opinions. To reasonably curtail freedom of speech, justifying the restrictions is a must. Holding an opposing view or taking offense to an opinion is not a legitimate reason. If someone’s opinion coaxes others to inflict harm, then applying limits are blatantly needed. Those who have discriminatory outlooks on the likes of sex, race, or sexuality are very unlikely to sway when faced with criticism. When people are permitted to freely discuss such ideas, they grow in power and gain legitimacy, thus causing much more harm than good.