Can you ever think of a world where you are not free to speak? Or you are put behind bars because you criticized the government? Well, while we are living in a democratic country, the answer will always remain no. Our freedom of expression is the basic right of humans. It gives us a true sense of ourselves, as an individual and even society as a whole.
What is Freedom of Expression?
Freedom of expression refers to an individual’s or a group’s right to freely communicate. It can be their opinions, feelings, ideas, or emotions on a variety of topics without the fear of censorship or penalization for the same. It comprises freedom of speech, of the press, of association, of assembly, and petition. The United States protects this privilege under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
This protection encourages the idea of free expression producing autonomy and liberty that promotes better governance. The First Amendment leads to transparency and social harmony, regardless of how much the government or other people can disagree with the thoughts spoken by an individual.
For example- National Football League players express their support for to “Take the Knee” protest for the Black Lives Matter movement. They kneel during the national anthem. This was one way of protesting in front of millions of people who are watching. Irrespective of the stakeholder of the stadium or people in power, it displays the freedom of expression in the country.
Should Freedom of Expression have limits?
There is always an on-going debate over the limits regarding the freedom of expression. Since there is no right answer to this question. Everyone holds their views and perspectives on the same.
While some say that absolute freedom of expression may harm people’s sentiment. If there will be no restriction on what people say or present, their actions can get offensive to others. But some say that freedom of expression helps to raise a voice against any unfair practice, and it should be absolute. Moreover, limiting this freedom disrupts the idea of granting it in the first place.
In the Media
Let us consider, this with regard to media. We understand how important freedom of expression is for media. Considering the vital role of media, their independence of making people aware of what is happening in the country truly is essential. If we limit this freedom, we will be hiding the secrets and lies of people in power behind the doors.
For instance, in 1971, New York Times published the Pentagon Papers. They are the documents that include all the information regarding the government’s involvement during the Vietnam war. The government tried to cease the publication. But, the court ruled that the government cannot block the publication of any material unless it can prove to be a direct or irreparable harm to the nation.
Furthermore, keeping aside this debate between people, the First Amendment itself imposes certain restrictions. These include a constraint on any material that might incite violence, any threats to the country, defamatory speeches, and even obscene materials. These restrictions help the Supreme Court to maintain a balance of limits regarding Freedom of Expression.
Our potential to communicate through historic social, political, and geographic boundaries has been revolutionized by social media platforms. Whereas in the past, gatekeepers limited and negotiated access to mass media outlets. Today, everyone and any material can reach millions of people in a moment. This trend has increased the effect and damage caused by misinformation and hate speech. While also providing great opportunities for the democratization of expression and diversification of public discourse.
Freedom of Expression and Social Media
In 1997, in Reno v. ACLU, the Supreme Court ruled that Internet speech, like print media, was entitled to absolute First Amendment rights. It would not be subject to the greater regulatory restrictions that are extended to broadcast television and radio.
Although the Internet has opened up a lot of new opportunities for practicing and defending human rights. It has also opened up a lot of new opportunities for violations of human rights. The increase in Internet use has culminated in a backlash against government regulation. States are gradually limiting Internet access or tracking Internet use with advanced technology. Moreover, they are prohibiting some modes of speech out of fear of social and political activism.
Courts have long debated how to deal with the sexually explicit content under First Amendment. But thanks to the internet, this decade-long struggle has no result what-so-ever. The availability of such material is so easy in every household nowadays. Hence, a need for certain censorship for the internet is still required.
But censorship or restrictions does not mean the violation of Freedom of Expression. As an example, in response to a complaint brought by people who were denied access to President Trump’s Twitter account. A federal judge ruled that restricting access to people based on their political views was a breach of the First Amendment.
Hence, it can be said that freedom of expression has never been greater than what it is today. Digitization has introduced new platforms for people to communicate and represent their views. But it also implies problems concerning the limit of freedom of expression. While we say, that freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly and petition are important for a country’s democratic status. We also need to understand the freedom of expression is not just a law but also a question of morale and ethics.
Also, to ensure Freedom of expression in the country, we as people need to speak our opinions on the matter concerning our social and political issues. For that. it is important that we are aware of the day-to-day happenings in our country. We need to be informed and gather more information on various societal matters. Moreover, we also should work towards building a tolerant society to practice freedom of expression.