Freedom of speech: Responsibility and accountability

Source: Business Mirror

THE Internet has changed not only the way we obtain our news, but also how people react to that information. Those who obtain their daily news from online newspapers and from social media know that a person can make comments on the news articles.

Online readers both read the news and the comments to see the reactions. Netizens have at least once made a comment on these articles and it has definitely made it easier to exchange views or see the general sentiment as we read along.

Those who read their articles have also encountered comments from users that are offensive, rude, degrading and humiliating. Largely anonymous, these users often post derogatory and deplorable comments on articles as a response either to the article or to other users. Since comment sections are largely uncensored, individual comments can contain expletives, below-the-belt insults and, at worst, threats.

As a response to this, one prominent local online news outfit has changed its policy on commenting. In an effort to make the news web site a “safe place” for users, the comment sections will be heavily moderated, and crude and disrespectful comments will be deleted.

This move has been largely criticized by online users. Invoking the concept of freedom of speech, they argue that such move is tantamount to censorship and suppresses the right of users to express their opinions freely. Users also fear that such heavy-handed measure allows news sites to censor dissenting opinion and label them as “offensive”.

Freedom of expression on the Internet is universally guaranteed by the right to freedom of speech and expression. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates 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.” But does freedom of speech entitle a person to indiscriminate and unfettered use? Civil libertarians have argued that the Internet should keep its free-for-all unfettered policy, where users can express anything and where users can “self-regulate” their behavior and words. But this largely unbridled and unchecked approach on the Internet has spawned a new kind of Internet user: the troll.

These types of Internet users anonymously invade the comment sections of Web pages, online forums and social-media pages, posting inflammatory, derogatory and humiliating comments. While largely seen as harmless, trolls can also engage in violent activities, which include harassment, hate speech, misogyny, posting personal information in public and threatening people’s lives.

A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center has found that 70 percent of online users aged 18 to 24 has experienced online harassment or cyber bullying. Several people have made news from committing suicide after being harassed by trolls.

The freedom to express one’s self also entails that one must be responsible for what he or she says. Expressing ourselves freely does not give us the license to say things at the expense of other’s freedom and well-being.


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