Since the 19th century, there have emerged many changes pertaining to how human beings interact and live with each other. Human beings have been set at liberty to act freely in so many aspects of their everyday living. Some of these freedoms include freedom of religion, freedom of movement, and freedom of speech among others. Freedom of speech refers to the right of every human being to express their opinions without the interference by any quarters, especially government quarters (Cram 12). Freedom of speech has its roots dating back to ancient Greece (Lukianoff 39). Ancient Greeks started free speech for all its citizens as one of their principles of democracy. This principle became popular and very fundamental during the classical period in Athens. Politics, religion and the government were topics that got discussed and criticized openly by every other Athenian, philosopher, artists and leaders. This paper mainly focuses on human beings’ freedom of speech. History of Freedom of Speech This freedom gradually spread to other parts of the world and was quickly embraced and adopted. The journey to freedom of speech in German has been a long one and a turbulent one. The adaptation of the Weimar constitution came with it the freedom of speech, freedom of association freedom of the press and many protections of citizens exercising these freedoms from the state. However, with time, the freedom of speech has been subject to limitation owing to legislative laws that criminalize, incitement, defamation of the flag, the president, the state of the republic, the national anthem, and the federal republic (Lukianoff 39). These laws also criminalize incitement to hate and violence, holocaust denial and Nazism glorification. However, political criticism does not amount to incitement and is protected by the constitution.
Does Freedom Of Speech Give People The Right To Use Hate Speech?
Freedom of speech entails individuals conveying their information and speech without any interference. Everyone in society is entitled to relay opinions without limitations. This opinions can be relayed by word of mouth or written in both digital and analog platforms. When talking about freedom of speech, we cannot avoid talking about the element of hate speech in expressing this freedom. As much as people are entitled to free speech, hate speech is not anywhere close to free speech (Cram 45).
Hate speech is speech aimed at evoking hate, violence. It is a form of attack and bullying using words. This kind of misuse of free speech has made people so insensitive and the society a dangerous place. It should be handled just like other crimes such as robbery or murder. The only difference is these other crimes is that hate speech uses words to cause harm. Hate speech is so harmful in that it can affect the victim or victims mentally, emotionally or even lead to physical harm. Contrary to free speech that promotes positive criticism and discussions. Issues Surrounding Hate Speech Hate speech has led to: The emergence of violence between individuals or communities. Psychological and emotional breakdown of victims. Suicide, especially due to cyberbullying. Bias opinions.
Free Speech In Relation To Cyberbullying
The emergence of digital platforms of communication and expression has created controversy on to what extent freedom of speech should be exercised. Cyberbullying which has been so prevalent in recent years is one of the factors that has led to many questioning the role of freedom of speech in society. Cyberbullying has become so prevalent among young people on social media and has led to the loss of the victims among other forms of harm. Social networks have enhanced bullying to another level that seems altogether difficult to control by the network’s users (Hamm et al. 771). Quite often, these bullies in their rude, hateful and demoralizing comments and posts often defend their hateful speeches by saying they are expressing their freedom of speech. According to Hamm et al. (774), most of the time, their bullying is only aimed at boosting their ego and evoking reactions from people. Others think it humorous teasing and other not taking into consideration the negative effect this teasing can have on the victims. There are people who have committed suicide owing to cyberbullying while others have fallen into depression and other psychological disorders because of this form of hate speech. The worse part about cyberbullying is that, unlike physical bullying, cyberbullying stays with you 24/7 (Hamm et al. 775). You get bullied whatever time of the day or night. Through these social networks. If freedom of speech accommodates such vices, then we need to rethink our virtues as a people. We cannot accommodate such criminals in the name of exercising constitutional freedoms. Social network users need to understand that, freedom of speech does not give them the right to hate speech. The government too should make it clear in the constitution, the limits to which this freedom is to be used. We are using a constitution that was passed way before the emergence of the digital era. Thus there is a need for a revision of the clause addressing the freedom of speech, to make it accommodate social media practices.
The Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz Law
However, the government has come up with laws to regulate hate speech and speech aimed at promoting intimidation. The German government ordered that sites that do not pull down posts that are obviously illegal will face a fine of up to 50 million euros (Zuckerberg & Wu, 11). This law applies to any social network with more than two million members. These laws give social networks a maximum of 24 hours to pull down any material considered to be against the law. That means any material evoking hate, violence or incitement. This law is known as Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz (NetzDG) (Zuckerberg & Wu, 11). Came to effect on October 2017 after being passed as law in June. The urge to establish these laws came especially after high profile social media pages were used to spread racist remarks and fake news. According to Zuckerberg & Wu (11), the government makes available forms on the government site where citizens get to report any content that goes against the NetzDG law. Derogatory material now has up to 24 hours to be pulled down while networks have up to a week to act on complex cases. Facebook in response to this law has recruited staff as well as artificial intelligence to help in the implementation of this law by reporting any content that breaks the law (Gollatz, Felix, & Christian, 21).
The Benefits and Disadvantages of The Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz Law
This law has evoked mixed reactions among citizens with others citing that this law will lead to adverse censorship on free speech. Others cite that this law will help reduce cases of cyberbullying, fake news, incitement, and intimidation through social networks. This law will help in controlling how individuals and groups use social media. Technological advancements should lead to more positivity in society and not create a platform for brooding criminals and facilitating crimes such as cyberbullying. This law will force social media network to actively fight hate speech and incitement. This law allows individuals or groups to take legal action on any groups or individuals that go against this law, by posting any offensive material. It also ensures that individuals get to engage with technology in a more responsible manner. Keeping into consideration everyone that gets to interact with their posts on social media. It should be noted that everything on social media is accessible to a large variety of people. These people come from different walks of life, perceive messages differently and thus, is quite important to be sensitive with any material that one gets to post online. Critics, on the other hand, argue that the short time frame allowed to pull down this material will lead to networks deleting huge chunks of data, even data that may be legal. To some, this law is aimed at curtailing free speech, which is a fundamental freedom of every citizen. There are those of the view that this law will curtail free speech and citizen’s freedom to express and criticize evils in society. This law may soon be used as a tool manipulate citizen’s minds. This law gives the government control over what should be shared. There are those that argue that every citizen has the choice to mute or block any individual that seem to pose a threat to their psychological or emotional wellbeing on social networks. The freedom of speech does not allow an individual or groups the right to hate speech (Waldron 55). While exercising their freedom of speech, citizens should be mindful of the words they use on social networks. They should be careful not to use speech that demoralizes, intimidate or harm other individuals mentally or physically. There is a need for the government to sensitize the public on the rightful way of exercising their freedom of speech. Most people do not understand where the limits to freedom of speech begin. Social network users should also be advice on how to use these platforms. These platforms are meant for connectivity and not for demoralizing, demeaning and inciting other users (Whittaker, Elizabeth, and Robin 25). Social network owners should also take the responsibility of tracking down hate speech posts and pull them down while taking the necessary action on the responsible parties. Freedom of speech can only be enjoyed and of benefit to society if you exercising your free speech does not intimidate, or cause harm to another. Hate speech is a crime just like any other crime. As much as free speech gives you the power to speak freely, it does not give you the right to use hate speech (Waldron 67). Hate speech causes violence and disruption of peace on or among the affected victims.
Freedom of speech is a fundamental liberty for every citizen. It is a constitutional right that every citizen must enjoy. However, there is a thick line between freedom of speech and hate speech. Freedom of speech is a virtue while hate speech is a vice. Freedom of speech gives individuals the liberty to express their opinion. These opinions might be likable or not likable to the person they are directed to. Everyone should learn to respect other people’s opinions, as long as those opinions are not hateful or ill-willed. There is nothing wrong with people expressing themselves through speech, written or spoken. However, while exercising this liberty of speech, hate and negativity should not be spread there in between. To ensure that citizens do not abuse free speech, social networks in collaboration with the government have come up with strategies to curtail hate speech through online platforms. The German government has put in place a law aimed at regulating what gets posted on social networks platforms. Despite this law evoking mixed reactions among citizens, it is a law that works for the good of every social network user and will minimize instances of cyberbullying and incitement.
- Cram, Ian. Contested words: legal restrictions on freedom of speech in liberal democracies. Routledge, 2016.
- Gollatz, Kirsten, Felix Beer, and Christian Katzenbach. ‘The Turn to Artificial Intelligence in Governing Communication Online.’ (2018): 21.
- Hamm, Michele P., et al. ‘Prevalence and effect of cyberbullying on children and young people: A scoping review of social media studies.’ JAMA pediatrics 169.8 (2015): 770-777.
- Lukianoff, Greg. Freedom from speech. No. 39. Encounter Books, 2014.
- Waldron, Jeremy. The harm in hate speech. Harvard University Press, 2012.
- Whittaker, Elizabeth, and Robin M. Kowalski. ‘Cyberbullying via social media.’ Journal of School Violence 14.1 (2015): 11-29.
- Zuckerberg, M., and P. Wu. ‘Can the law effectively regulate social media? Should it?.’ Chicago Journal of International Law 16.1 (2015): 11.