On August 6th 1991, the World Wide Web was introduced to the world. This day will be remembered as the day that revolutionised modern technology. The world wide web smashed down international barriers and was able to unite the world. In under half a century, we have moved from the cassette tape, to powerful cloud computing, a tremendous development which led to the system we use today. While the internet has presented us with endless amount of opportunities, it has also presented us with challenges in defining cyber rights. The phrase that states that people are getting dumber as the phones are getting smarter is not new to any of us. In fact, I believe that we are so used to this saying that we became passive towards it. Passive. Like we became passive to all other brutal things that are happening in the world. This got me to question our emotional intelligence. Are people getting emotionally dumber as well?
During the past few years we found ourselves surrounded by the rise of what is known as ‘Memes’ This word was extracted from the 1976 Richard Dakin’s book ‘The Selfish Game’. He uses this term to explain how cultural information spreads. Today a ‘Meme’ is a humours concept in which people use captioned images, intended to be funny. The problem arises when these captions start becoming inhumane, insensitive towards the history of minorities and the present current issues. The influence of memes in today’s social media is one that we can’t ignore. The growth in popularity of dark humour lead psychologist to discuss the mental effects of these trends and some referred to Sigmund Freud’s theories. Indeed, the father of psychoanalysis, argued that gallows humour is a mechanism used to prevent the damage of one’s ego.
“The ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality, to let itself be compelled to suffer. It insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world; it shows, in fact, that such traumas are no more than occasions for it to gain pleasure.”
Sigmund Freud, ‘Humour’ 1927
But is this a valid reason to use hateful articulation? Protecting one’s ego by possibly damaging another person’s emotions. Most defenders of freedom of speech think that the ones in favour of ‘responsible’ free speech are violating people from the basic idea of it and fail to understand the right of free expression . Furthermore, Immanuel Kant himself described freedom of speech as the least destructive form of freedom. The Kantian philosophy is one that on the whole evolves around the idea of ‘Duty’ and moreover he argues that people in authority should not keep themselves back from expressing their opinions as it is their duty to use their own ideas for the good of the people. Additionally, Kant’s ethics also mentions the concept what is known as a ‘Maxim’. Therefore, one could argue that if th media exposes offensive significance, that could potentially endanger others, it would then be a collective moral duty to suppress or censor that material. This taken into account, the Deontological argument can limit us from voicing our views as one’s moral obligations should be taken as priority over anything else, which therefore reflects that suppression of articulation is necessary for protection. Such concept is reflected in various articles of the various laws globally, a particular example could be taken from the European Convention of Human Rights 1998. Article 10 states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression but is restricted to ensure the protection.
” The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”
-The ‘European Convention on Human Rights’: Article 10, Freedom of Expression
An argument that is considered to be an alternative to Kantian ethics is the Consequentialist theory, also known as Utilitarianism. In the Utilitarian philosophy the outcome of an action is what is considered to be the most important when criticising ethics, in this case the ethics behind censorship. Consequentialist refer to the principle of the Greater Happiness for the Greater Good. Therefore, one can conclude that the adaptation of this philosophy within this topic would simply be that one needs to re-consider publishing his ideas on an account of whether what he/she has to say affects the majority of the people positively or negatively, a belief that goes on the line of the Deontological maxim mentioned above. Therefore, Utilitarianism are in favour of censorship where necessary.
Ironically, in the book ‘Utilitarianism, Liberty and the Respective Government’, John Stuart Mill defends free speech with no boundaries and offers arguments against censorship.
“…the opinion which it is attempted to suppress by authority may possibly be true. Those who desire to suppress it, of course deny its truth; but they are not infallible. They have no authority to decide the question for all mankind, and exclude every other person from the means of judging. To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.”
-Utilitarianism, Liberty and the Respective Government
Mill supports his argument by stating that censorship is undesirable as the consequences of suppression of ideas and thoughts are far worse than the harm a few words can do. Censorship in his eyes is bad because it makes it more difficult for the truth to be discovered and it holds negative consequences.
Many liberals seem to justify free speech with the casual argument that expression is a fundamental human right, something that was inspired from John Locke’s principle of ‘Natural Law’. This argument puts forward the idea of equality between individuals. Freedom of expression is also important to build and sustain a healthy relationship between the government and society. Apart from elections, methods that involve other political activities, like for example protests and pressure groups are the main tool with which the people communicate their thought on affairs and hence, in a democratic country, the people’s wish is what utterly matters.
Personally, I believe that the idea of censorship is outdated. Everyone should have the right to say whatever they want. Furthermore, I believe that education is the key to preserve morality and with this in mind people will be able to decide what they write while respecting other opinions and other people’s emotions. Finally, I feel that there is also a need that people welcome criticism and different opinions, as locally it is clear that people still react to other opinions with partial mentality.
“Some people’s idea of free speech is that they are free to say whatever they want, but if anyone answers back it is outrage”