#RECLAIMTHEINTERNET: What is Freedom of Speech?

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Photo by Rebecca Claire, LibFem.com // All Rights Reserved

On Thursday 26th I got involved in the trending hashtag #Reclaimtheinternet on Twitter. This article from the Guardian at the forefront of the campaign pinpointed it as a women’s issue which is arguable and was argued by a fair number of Twitter users who thought it was very much a men’s issue too.I kind of agree with that point as it’s undeniable that some men receive abuse on Twitter although I can’t find any recent cases of severe abuse towards a man. In the recent major cases of online abuse such as Caroline Criado-Perez who campaigned for a female figure on the back of the British bank note, targets have been abused for opinions on female equality.

I will argue that it is not a ‘women’s issue’ because it is not the issue of the abused, it’s an issue of the abusers. If you’re the one hiding behind a screen and keyboard typing abuse to somebody then it’s your problem. It is men and women keyboard warriors who wouldn’t say these things to the faces of the ones they’re typing to. It is this idea that the internet is an anonymous sanctuary where we can be who we really are. If that’s who you really are then you’re sick. 

Some however argued for freedom of speech.

Oh freedom of speech, the phrase people use as soon as they are held accountable for their words. People will argue until they’re blue in the face that their freedom of speech allows them to say whatever the hell they like with absolutely no consequence.

Guess what? It doesn’t. The right to freedom of speech is detailed under the Human Rights Act of 1998, a legislation that states the following (Article 10:1,2)

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

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.

That’s right, ‘for the protection of the reputation or rights of others’. So when your words infringe upon another’s human right including the right to their freedom of speech, you do not have the right to say it. 

Where do we draw the line? Well that’s what this hashtag was all about. To get people talking about that line, understanding that line and knowing when they’ve crossed it. 

The campaign however is also talking about more generic abuse, abuse which doesn’t break laws and doesn’t include threats of rape and violence. How do we go about drawing a line there? Some people think it’s acceptable to tell somebody they wish they were dead as long as it’s clear you’re not coming to kill them which I completely disagree with.

I think it’s unacceptable to send hate to anybody. Period. 

If you disagree with somebody you can simply debate their point without abuse or hatred and your point will probably come across clearer. Sending them threats isn’t going to get them to agree with you. 

Although as I said these things are unacceptable; doesn’t mean they are punishable offences. I mean realistically, can the government, bodies of law or social networks monitor these sorts of things? How do they know when it’s a banter between two friends or a case of genuine abuse?

Some say that it’s the responsibility of the victim to deal with the issue. “Well if you don’t like it, get off the internet” or “Why don’t you just block them?” Get off the internet? It’s 2016, I’m sorry if I find that difficult! It’s also not as simple as just blocking them out.  Each individual user who tweets you will be visible until they’re blocked which means they have to read what’s written before they can remove the user. If you have 40 tweets coming though in a ten minute period you’ll need to fish through the abuse and remove it before you can use your profile normally.

As far as the government are concerned, they can only raise awareness for these sorts of things. However as a society we can do things like sticking up for the abused. Reporting tweets we see to others that are abusive, upsetting or triggering. We can think before we type; how is this going to affect the person I’m sending it to? Am I getting my point across clearly without emotions? What would my employer think if they saw this tweet?

How about we each take responsibility for what we write and what we see instead of trying to blame the victim…

Did you get involved in the hashtag earlier this week? What were your thoughts?

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