My daughter is a teacher, and right now, in France, the department of education has asked her to teach about separation of church and state. She has decided to teach using only the textbook definitions, to avoid any misunderstanding. She is also doing this to limit the spread of disinformation. The closer to stick to the real definition of something, the more potent it can be. This is true also about the free speech amendment in the Constitution. In regards to recent developements in the free world, especially regarding the Internet and social media, I wanted to explore the real meaning of ‘Free Speech‘.

The right to express your opinions publicly is known as freedom of speech.

Opinion: a thought or belief about something or someone; the ideas that a person or a group of people have about something or someone, which are based mainly on their feelings and beliefs, or a single idea of this type.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, states that: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

The Cons of Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech does not mean the freedom to have “all” speech. …In the United States, there are four forms of speech which are not protected under the First Amendment.• You cannot make an authentic threat against another individual.• It is illegal to defame others, including libel and slander.• You cannot plagiarize any copyrighted material.• It is illegal to share some obscene material, such as child pornography. If you say something in the United States which causes illegal actions or solicits others to commit a crime, then your speech is not protected by the First Amendment.

Freedom of speech can spread false informationfreedom of speech makes it easier for individuals to spread false information and outright lies, but then still pretend that this data is true.

Freedom of speech can incite violence. …We have seen first hand what inciting violence can do – when you demonize a person or group of people because of race, religion, or socio-economic standing, some people will make the personal choice of committing violence because they were incited by hate speech to do so. Although that was their choice and broke the law, the person who created the outcome because of inflamatory rhetoric is also responsible.

Freedom of speech can equal verbal abuse.
Voltaire’s biographer summed up the views of the philosopher like this: “I don’t agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” People are free to call other people names and insult them. This can create a climate of insecurity, bullying, and mental anguish for the victims. It is up to us to stop hate speech, all the while defending free speech.

Freedom of speech can create a mob mentality. For example, the anti-vaccine movemnent was created by a lie and perpetrated by free speech which enabled spreading of information which inflamed public opinion, and led to protests against vaccines which resulted in actual deaths of children and vulnerable people by preventable diseases. The same mob mentality is being created around the Covid-19 virus and the wearing of masks, for example.

The Pros for Freedom of speech are the flip side of the coin of each of the cons. Freedom of speech can be used to inspire people. With freedom of speech, journalists can uncover crimes and publish them freely without fear of being sued. Freedom of speech lets us criticise our government and our religion without fear of being arrested or executed. Freedom of speech is a great power, but, as Spiderman learned, with great power comes great responsibility. We have not yet learned to use free speech as responsibly as we should.