There is no such thing as speech that is free. You must pay for everything that you say – Sgt Siek, Jarhead
The internet is notorious for its ferocity as I alluded to earlier , it’s not an easy place to be on but it is the one last place where almost total freedom of speech is seen to be allowed. The nature of that freedom is under the spotlight once more in light of Caroline Criado-Perez receiving a deluge of rape and death threats over her campaign for women to appear on the bank note . Another campaign which has illcited some brutal comments is the “Lose the Lads Mags”  campaign. Writer and broadcaster Vicky Beeching, has been a campaigner of this, has had her Twitter feed pretty much hijacked by very crude comments. This will only increase the pressure on Twitter. With all the talk about what to do, several questions keep popping up.
First off is what actually constitutes acceptable speech? Rape and death threats certainly do not (well I don’t think so but I’ll come back to that) but what about statements that are considered crude? There seems to be a consensus that some things are obviously wrong and it should be simple. When you actually sit down and think about it, or talk about it with a group of people, it suddenly becomes enormously complicated. Everyone has different views on what is and isn’t acceptable. Liverpool Football Club have issued a guide of unacceptable language to try and stamp out some of the slurs that come down from the terraces . Sounds great in principle, but there are already complaints that it goes too far. Is what is acceptable and not in terms of speech really that black and white? Terms that are offensive in one culture are perfectly fine in another.
Who gets to decide what is acceptable or not? You could leave it to the individual websites themselves. Some sites would allow more than others, not a problem but there would still be sites that would allow the type of threats that people get arrested for. It is still there for people to find and it rarely stays on that site, one of the issues surrounding children and internet pornorgraphy. The other issue regarding websites regulating it is that it is always reactive, especially in social media where moderating is pretty much non existent. Its down to the users to report something. You can report the offense but it doesn’t change the fact it has been carried out. Making breaking into someones house illegal hasn’t stopped people from doing it. It gives us a way of saying something is legally right or wrong and the authorities powers to punish those who break the law. It also acts as a deterrent but it doesn’t stop the act from happening in the first place if someone chooses to do it.
There’s still a debate raging about whether ISP’s should be responsible for porn filters. You would have to add a profanity filter or give every website a category and block it. People are already screaming about freedom of speech as it is.
This is what it comes down to; freedom. Freedom is seen as being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want and whoever you want. I mentioned some things you can’t do seem obvious but those things are being challenged in our supposedly post modern relativist society. Freedom is a very moral concept, it only works in a moral framework of right and wrong. If you remove the law, if you remove the objective right and wrong, you don’t have an increase in freedom, you have a loss of it. Sadly, this has been played out in the likes of Egypt, Syria and Iraq; when lawlessness descends people have less freedom. We have to have objective laws that are just and fair in order for society to be free and function, but this leads us back to the first point of what constitutes right and wrong and who decides etc. A democracy means the majority get what they want and I’ve done an overview of why someone always loses it out there . We don’t like the idea of a dictatorship.
What’s interesting is that in these latest cases, people throwing insults are screaming free speech, but their aim is to silence those who are campaigning for something. Freedom is only allowed it seems, if you agree with what’s being said.
Now you could say that I’m raising a lot of questions but not many answers. This is completely fair, but I don’t see many answers to the issues. I do think that if things continue, we’ll see more lawsuits like the one Lord McAlpine brought  and the internet will end being governed in all but law. This will prove very difficult given the nature of the internet, its alot easier to hide and its a global operation. You’d have to have the world governments acting together….I don’t need to finish that sentence. The emphasis has got to come from the internet itself, that means users taking personal responsibility for their actions. All I’ve described is other people regulating what others do, we need to regulate ourselves more beyond reporting what others are doing. People may well be laughing at this and suggesting I’m crazy. Am I though? Or is the fact people think its a ridiculous idea the bit that’s crazy?
Treat others how you would like to be treated. This may get us further than we think.