Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Freedom of speech – anything goes

Social media and the internet have become the platforms for engagement and exchange about every moment of our lives. We share on these platforms especially moments linked to our emotions - joy, happiness, sadness, rage, anger. Social media and chat programmes like Whatsapp, Twitter and Facebook are the main communication channels. It is quick and easy. If we do not communicate, we can just ‘like’, ‘retweet’ or use any emoticons to comment on the original post.
I am not judging any of it and I see a lot of beauty and positive in the growing online communities around the world. However, I disagree with the fact that we leave our humanity behind when we go online and just say whatever comes to mind. Do we actually think before we press ‘send’, ‘tweet’, ‘post’ if we would say the same thing to a person’s face? Do we have the same amount of courage to speak up facing the person we are talking about? It is an everything ‘goes’ mentality which takes on scary forms at times. There are no rules and in most cases, rude, harsh, racist, sexist posts will get some form of attention - a ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ , a 'retweet' or a comment. Especially when comments are made about others or groups of people we often take our freedom of speech to another level. When we make comments we do not speak about one particular person but rather ‘those people’ and ‘them’, which seem to make it even more ok to ‘dehumanise’ them (and you can exchange the word ‘them’ with any group that comes to mind – foreigners, black or white people, women, natives, men really any group you can think of). So we don’t really care about the ‘other’ that we might harm or mention in our post. We are making a general comment. It is actually more about us then the other person.
It is an interesting fact that real connections with others takes place through authentic communication. Studies show more than 85% of our communication to connect with others is based on nonverbal body language. Are we loosing the ability to empathise with each other and to actually think about what our comments might trigger in the other person?
I also wonder if it has not a lot to with the fact that whatever is said has a sizeable audience. Most of the times you will get a reaction of some sort. Our audience on these platforms is on average much bigger than your average circle of friends around a dinner table.
Do not get me wrong, I am of course a strong believer in freedom of speech and the right to express ones opinions and thoughts. I am questioning, if it is ok that it is done in any way and any tone that we think at that particular moment is right. I am also interrogating the fact that much of ‘freedom of speech’ is done through anonymous online channels without direct interface and interaction. It is so much easier to type an opinion and press ‘send’ than to actually articulate your thoughts while looking someone else in the eye. It is so much easier to talk about the other than to actually talk to the other.
Hope this will be some food for thought…

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