• Alyssa Proctor

What is the Freedom of Speech?

Updated: Jul 8

The First Amendment is mandatory to respect and practice the rights of using as every citizen will interpret opinions and statements differently. The level at which someone can comprehend a statement depends on the education comprehension capabilities, logical thinking abilities, and aspects as simple as reading level. Because we cannot depend on our audience to always interpret our point as the writer or speaker intended for it to be conveyed, we must have a set in stone, a standard that however the message is received we can freely state our opinions and thoughts without hesitation. This is why the First Amendment of the Constitution must remain in a sturdy place, so we can ensure that our freedom of speech will always continue to be one of the most beloved privileges of the United States citizens.

The question isn’t whether or not our freedom of speech is valued by citizens, but rather whether or not the definition of our right is being depicted correctly in our current evolving times of living. What does freedom of speech mean, and what determines the boundaries of protecting this right? Where is the line drawn, and should misleading or incorrect information have the right to remain out there? With the internet being so abundantly present in our everyday lives, we can understand that times have surely changed since when the First Amendment of the Constitution originally came about. Instead of peoples’ words merely going into the air, or being published on paper, in our current times when words are published digitally, everyone has this information at their fingertips. The effects that untrue information or alleged claims can have on someone’s reputation is a much longer duration than just being on the front page of this week’s newspaper. Digital content is nearly a permanent display of information, which comes with of course its own set of pros and cons. It is important that we determine the rights of claiming information and whether or not someone should have to prove if the information is true or not.

The definition of our rights in exercising free speech means that, “At a fundamental level this means that the state will not punish its citizens for voicing their opinions and expressions.” [1] This ensures that at a basic level the state does not punish its people for voicing their viewpoints and opinions and can freely express themselves through vocal and writing opinions. When a government selectively oppresses certain opinions by punishing them for displaying and expressing their opinions, it becomes a slippery slope to becoming a country under censorship. This oppression creates an unhealthy system of social and economic issues which may erupt, as the manipulated information which is public would be misleading and derived from the truth. The boundaries to which a statement must be proven a fact. Unfortunately, especially around an election, our social media experience becomes a battleground of advertisements and fake promoted information, which is published with the intent to affect the election results in a certain way. It is important for opinions and information published to be credible, although it is up to the receiver or reader to interpret the information by first checking the facts and truth of the matter.

We should also recognize that there will always be biased statements and opinions which are being made, although we also have to create an environment to protect the viewpoint of the writer and their right to state things. This is because every single individual is entitled to their own opinion and allowed to express it. “Thus, protecting speech by dissidents and dissenters from regulation serves to equalize the relative opportunities various viewpoints have to influence political and cultural outcomes.”[2] Protecting dissidents' speech from restriction balances the relative potential that different views have to affect the political and economic consequences “On this view, members of the public are trusted to make their own individual evaluations of speech, and government is forbidden to intervene for paternalistic or redistributive reasons.”[3] Because the government becoming involved is forbidden for paternalistic or redistributive purposes, citizens are encouraged to think for themselves, and therefore citizens are inclined to make their unique and individual analyses of every statement. However social media also gives us a bigger voice and we must look at it as, “The more promising way to think about social media is as long term tools that can strengthen civil society and the public sphere.”[4] As well as us viewing it, “In contrast to the instrumental view of Internet freedom, this can be called the "environmental" view.”[5]

With so much information on being able to be published online or on social media, the outlet for somebody’s identity or persona to be affected is a lot more vulnerable, as it can be influenced by the public very easily. Although, “…even to the extent that lower courts have recognized such a right, they too have adopted limiting principles that keep the right from restraining the communication of facts.”[6] Thankfully there are legal ways already in place for citizens to claim identity or reputation defamation to prevent their reputations from paying the price of lies. This ensures that people will not be cut short opportunities which they deserve.

Other ways free speech is expressed is in the arts, for example, arts and literature. As all forms of art can be interrupted differently “Literature and the arts must be protected by the First Amendment.”[7] As art and literature typically are derived from a metaphorical viewpoint “They lead the way toward sensitive and informed appreciation and response to the values out of which the riches of the general welfare are created.”[8] Paving the way to sensible and educated admiration of an artistic community is vital to our society, as it gives a healthy place for art and emotions to be expressed.

A contrasting perspective concludes that perhaps “the question becomes not whether free speech consequentialism is appropriate, but how harms caused by speech should be accounted for in First Amendment jurisprudence.”[9] With the realm of our world being digitalized, we must specify the meaning of freedom of speech. We have witnessed several times over information and articles, regarding politics mostly, being taken down from the internet and suddenly disappearing or being removed, when the publisher clearly had no intention of doing so when the content was posted. Sometimes the information was a political advertisement, but there are occurrences when it is information that could hurt the results of someone’s political campaign.

In America, our individual opinions and analyses on information is encouraged. Free speech means that no matter what your opinion is, you have the right to state it. That despite our political standpoint and view, we are able to voice it and peacefully protest. The press has their right the publish articles and information from whichever viewpoint they desire. The freedom of speech is one of the main fundamentals and standards upon which America was built upon. There are indeed legal ways for people to declare identity or defamation of reputation in order to avoid their public image from paying the price of lies. We must have a standard set in stone that we can openly state our opinions and views without hesitation on social media and the internet. America has created an environment for protecting the writer's point of view and their right to state things. Each individual shall have the right to his or her own opinion and shall be allowed to express it. The First Amendment of the Constitution ensures that the government will not punish its citizens for expressing their views.

Works Cited

[1] Sultana, Farhana. 2018. “The False Equivalence of Academic Freedom and Free Speech”. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 17 (2), 228-57. https://acme-journal.org/index.php/acme/article/view/1715. [2] Sullivan, Kathleen M. "TWO CONCEPTS OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH." Harvard Law Review 124, no. 1 (2010): 149. Accessed July 26, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/20788316. [3] Ibid, 145 [4] Shirky, Clay. "The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change." Foreign Affairs 90, no. 1 (2011): 32. Accessed July 26, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/25800379. [5] Ibid, 32 [6] Volokh, Eugene. "Freedom of Speech and Information Privacy: The Troubling Implications of a Right to Stop People from Speaking about You." Stanford Law Review 52, no. 5 (2000): 1069. Accessed July 26, 2020. doi:10.2307/1229510. [7] Meiklejohn, Alexander. "The First Amendment Is an Absolute." The Supreme Court Review 1961 (1961): 257. Accessed July 26, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/3108719. [8] Ibid, 257 [9] Goldberg, Erica. "FREE SPEECH CONSEQUENTIALISM." Columbia Law Review 116, no. 3 (2016): 687-756. Accessed July 26, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/43783393.


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