I’ve been thinking a lot about free speech really, though in truth, the issue of the right to express opinions and beliefs is something endemic to the review industry all of the time. Reviews are, after all, the subjective experience of an individual and there is no universal standard that we all adhere to – we all have different expectations and judgements.
But the issue of free speech raised its head in the run up to the end of the previous president of the USA’s term and the storming of the Capitol Building in Washington DC, where five people were killed and scores injured. Donald Trump found himself without online platforms that had been central to his campaigning and governance after Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat and Youtube either suspended or permanently deleted his accounts.
Not surprisingly, opinions were divided. While many saw a number of his posts as incitement to violence or insurrection, or both, others challenged the right of platforms to curb the ‘free speech’ of a person held to be the most powerful in the world. Personally, I was just relived that there was a quiet and serene void that had been usually filled with upper caps ranting and raving, name calling, and distortions of reality. But, and this is a very important but – where do we draw the line on censoring or curbing the freedom of speech?
In the United States, that ‘right’ is enshrined within the first amendment of the Constitution. In New Zealand that right is laid out out in the Bill of Rights Act 1990, where, “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form”. There are however, restrictions when that expression endangers or threatens anyone else and in the US, social media platforms that removed or suspended Trump, cited very similar conditions.
Obviously, the insurrection at the Capitol building on January 6, changed what had been a more generous and forgiving stance accorded to the president of the United States, than that of the average citizen. However, incitement to insurrection and a refusal to accept election results made that position difficult to uphold. Even still, Trump’s social media banishment continued a discussion, sometimes reasonable, and sometimes heated, about the limits of free speech.
I’ve had this very same discussion with many people I respect, and many I do not, and I find myself questioning my own beliefs and assumptions each and every time. I know I’m not alone in finding opinions vastly different to mine challenging but I absolutely believe in the right of others to express them, because without that, I have no basis to express my own. Like it or not, the freedom to say what we like, with small restrictions, only has merit and substance if we can accept differing and sometimes upsetting utterances and expression.
But, back to the now former president of the US. Well, I find myself happy that his speech is restricted. Much of it was dangerous and created harm and led to something historically unique, that also resulted in the deaths of others. We do not have free rein to spout hate speech and we can not endanger others. Those restrictions make perfect sense to me. But, I know that others will freely disagree and that’s just fine.