Free speech and censorship is a highly debated topic with many aspects to the different views on the topic, including cultural influences, state-sponsored censorship and general public approval/disapproval of ideas. The debate over censorship stems from different philosophical thinking, both sides having their benefits and drawbacks. Censorship can lead to happier people by filtering out hurtful or negative opinions, however, when taken too far censorship can be oppressive and used to stop people from having a voice at all. Free speech is the opposite and allows all views to be expressed and allows everyone a voice that they can use to express any opinion they like. Free speech does also come with drawbacks, in order to have free speech it also means having to listen to views and opinions that you don't like and views that may be considered offensive or hurtful.
Arguments in favour of censorship
- Philosophers have agreed that there is no such thing as true free speech.
- Speech that incites violence should be censored.
- Some think that speech that causes any emotional distress should be censored.
- Speech that doesn't directly call for violence may still lead to violence and should be censored.
- People will exploit free speech to spread hate.
How ethical principles can be applied to censorship:
Censorship is primarily based on the Utilitarianism theory, an ethical theory that states that whatever actions that cause the most overall happiness are the ones that should be taken. Utilitarianism ideas are often used to justify censorship in an effort to stop negative or views that have been deemed unproductive.
The Westboro baptist church
In 2007 a supreme court case was made between Albert Snyder, the father of a U.S Marine who was killed in a vehicle accident in Iraq and Fred Phelps of the Westboro baptist church. Snyder sued Phelps for defamation, intrusion upon seclusion, publicity given to private life, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy. The case arose when the funeral of The initial verdict reached in 2007 was in favour of Snyder granting him $5,000,000 USD. this was later lowered to $2,100,000 USD. In 2011 the Fred Phelps appealed and was deemed not guilty as he was protected under his first amendment rights.
Arguments against censorship:
- Everyone has a right to voice their opinions.
- Restriction on speech can lead to oppression.
- Who chooses what speech is allowed and what isn’t?
- On what grounds is speech restricted?
- How are these restrictions justified?
Ethical principles behind free speech:
Free speech can vary in how it is interpreted but it is mainly based off of John Mill’s theory of harm. This states that unless the speech is causing direct harm to another person or people than there is no reason to restrict or forbid it. This theory is mainly based off of consequentialist thinking which is a philosophical principle that is of a version of utilitarianism that instead of taking into account every single action and asking whether it is ethical depending on the circumstances, it instead just asks what would create the best overall impact of a long period of time. This encourages free speech more than utilitarianism as it is less context-specific and is thus less subjective in its interpretation.
Tiananmen Square massacre
On the 15th of April 1989 Hu Yaobang a former Chinese Communist Party leader died, Hu was critical in introducing democratic reform to China and was loved by many throughout China. Many flocked to Beijing to mourn the death of Hu. As more people came the mourning turned into a protest calling for less corruption and a more democratic government. By mid-may, there were tens of thousands of protestors. The students called for more freedoms including free speech, free press and a more democratic system. The government was divided in their support for the protestors as some saw it as a step forward to a more democratic China other party members saw it as a threat to the communist party’s power. By the 15th of May, students had started hunger strikes and more protests had started to build across the nation. This made the Chinese government increasingly concerned, the government declared martial law on the 20th of May. this declaration was followed by 250,000 soldiers entering Beijing, At this point, the protestors numbered over 1 million. After initial non-violent attempts by the military failed to stop the protests, on the 4th of May in the early hours of the mourning Chinese troops opened fire on the protestors. Most fled but some fought back throwing rocks and firebombs on the armoured vehicles and at the soldiers themselves. It is unknown how many people were killed as the government attempted to cremate as many bodies as they could so that the true number will never be known. The Chinese government has never released an official death toll although it is estimated to be in the thousands. In addition to all the people killed over 10,000 people were arrested with the last known prisoner being released in 2016.
My personal belief is that all speech with the exception of speech that calls for violence should be allowed as it is important that everyone has a voice even if what they have to say you dislike. I have grown up in a western country that values freedom and personal liberties as well as freedom of the press and information. I have also only been able to see through media sources which always have their own bias. I, for example, view the actions of the Chinese government in Tiananmen square as completely unethical and barbaric but the Chinese government might view the situation differently and claim they prioritised the welfare of the state over the demands of the protestors. These values that I hold as well as the biased filter through which I see things in the form of the media.