‘Freedom of speech’ is a phrase that has been thrown around and watered down to the point where very few people in society seem to have a firm grasp on what it actually means. To some it means ‘I can say what I want but you cannot’, while to others it seems to give some kind of artistic licence to be expressively abusive. Though society is filled with checksums, so thankfully we are all getting a little better at exercising this right and responsibility. Unfortunately, as we started to get the hang of it, along came social media and turned the concept of free speech on its head. So, let’s take a moment to see how the two are intertwined, and how they are, to a large extent, vaguely and inconsistently governed.
This is why so many of us see behaviour on social media that would otherwise be offensive in the real world; it is why workplaces and schools are dominated by online harassment; its why revenge porn, information leaks and personal scandals are popping up all over the internet. So, what is the real state of things, and where do you stand in regard to this?
Freedom of speech, at its simplest definition, could be described as the right to express your own opinions without fear of censorship, restraint, harassment or legal penalty. At first glance, there is nothing complicated about this definition, but if you were to dissect it, you could write volumes on the topic.
The key issue is the notion of responsibility, since for every right that we enjoy, there must come responsibilities that protect and govern them. That means that I have the right to express my opinions, so long as they do not hinder the rights of others. Which means that there are repercussions for speech that incites or expresses prejudices, intends malice or threat, or incites violence.
Of course, there is the matter of personal privacy to attend to, which means that speech can only be truly free in the privacy of your own home where your opinions cannot be contested, as opposed to public spaces where they may be considered inappropriate to the point where you can be prosecuted for them.
Enter social media to mix up our clear understanding of when it is okay to speak your mind. ‘My profile is a personal reflection of who I am’ you might say, ‘so why should I censor what I say?’
What you need to understand is that any social media platform should be viewed as a public space. If you wouldn’t shout obscenities from the steps of the town square, then there is no reason to do it on your profile. Social media has given you a voice that can be heard by the world, so make sure you choose your words carefully.
There are even many cases where people’s ‘opinions’ have gotten them in trouble with the law. Who could forget the case of Penny Sparrows who recently poured her racial outburst on social media in search of solidarity, only to receive severe social and legal backlash. So always be careful of what you say online.
If you would like assistance with legal matters from a firm with the experience and collective skillset to ensure that you are correctly represented, contact a consultant from Brian Blignaut Attorneys today and ask us for information or advice.
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