“Free-ish” Speech

Free adj \ˈfrē/-  enjoying political independence or freedom from outside domination, enjoying personal freedom : not subject to the control or domination of another (Merriam Webster)

The definition of “free” seems pretty simple and straight forward, however, for years this concept of “free” has been incredibly difficult to be maintained and practiced in the United States. This is far from a new and emerging dilemma in American society, it has been around for years. Apparently the Bill of Rights wasn’t straight forward enough and apparently “free” is a tough word/concept to grasp- note the sarcasm.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse but this issue, although not new, is quickly coming back into the limelight. The online world is growing and the accessibility of it is growing as well- the more users–> the more content posted & published to the web–> the more content, the more opinions. More opinions should and is a good thing, however, as the past shows, the more opinions the bigger the issues & the greater the tension.

There are two big issues surrounding this struggle to achieve untainted free speech practices on the web: 1.) Censorship, 2.) Corporatization- both of these issues are intertwined in another.

The United States is a capitalistic society, causing almost everything to be profit driven. With the demand for the internet and the vast usage of its resources big business has jumped on the bandwagon. The internet is potential profit that is almost guaranteed- for many people the internet is a necessity (I mean look at me , without its glorious resources I couldn’t be doing what I am doing right now) and people will always pay for necessities and find ways to obtain them. The internet is not going away- it’s the perfect business plan.

We saw it with mainstream media. People want their news. Corporations want their money. And mainstream media outlets want to make money. So what happens: the chain of events begins, corporations & big business give the outlets money to promote their business, the outlets gain revenue from the advertising space, big business does some shady stuff, the outlets can’t report on it or they’ll lose income, if they lose income they go out of business, so bad news about the corporations never gets published & the vicious cycle perpetuates.

I fear the internet is heading in this direction. Big providers have the power to influence internet content just as big business influences the content of mainstream media. Google has the power to drop any website/domain name. Matthew Lee, a journalist who focused on watching the inner workings of the U.N was stripped off Google News because of his website’s content. A few complaints of some unhappy big political figures had enough power to influence Google to shut down the website & what is the most scary is that Google could do that & they did.

On the reverse, Google is corporation, they depend on revenue. The Chinese government- who issues an internet license to Google, had enough influence to sway Google’s acceptance of their censorship. Google agreed to avoid all linking to sites and content that were seen as any threat to national security or social stability- obviously this perception was based upon the Chinese government’s view. Is that the future of “free” speech in America?

These internet browsers & providers & companies have the ability to monitor and censor everything. The more money pumped into these profit-seekers the more likely that content that satisfies them reaches a mass audience and all the “other” stuff takes a backseat or is slowly done away with–sounds a little bit like Los Desaparecidos in Argentina. Then it becomes the issue of how free is our free speech? There are already the stipulations, as set out by the supreme court, that free speech is subject to time, place & manner. Who decides these three elements and their boundaries? The government. The government that too often has ties to dirty money. And also free speech is not protected if it is considered a “true threat”. A true threat is an incredibly loose term-a true threat to who? a true threat of what?

The examples are endless, so I’ll give one more that is pretty well known because of serious media coverage in the recent years. Wikileaks. It’s a site entirely devoted to posting leaked material that exposes corruption and/or unethical operations by government and big business. The New York Times covered an article on the judgment to shut wikileaks down. Although the internet in this case proved to have an abundance of loop holes against the injunction, that the site was able to maintain its content despite having its domain name taken down. However, the fact that an injunction was even seemed to be fitting in this situation is appalling. Merely because somebody “high-up” doesn’t like or approve or agree or want the information to be heard, doesn’t mean it should be taken down and erased from the view of the public.

Information and news does not always put somebody in the best light, not just because somebody has a vendetta against the person but because it is the truth. And not be cliche, but the truth hurts sometimes, people need to buck up and reap the consequences of their own actions- individuals need to be held accountable.

The French philosopher, Voltaire , once brilliantly said, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

Voltaire got the concept of “free”, why can’t we?


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