De omnibus dubitandum
2 Aug 2013
I’ve been struggling to make up my mind about a number of issues that are currently hot topics in the UK.
I don’t think it’s healthy that people get locked up for making bad jokes on Twitter, or saying things that rub some politician the wrong way. Freedom of speech should include the freedom to offend.
But then, on the other hand, I think some elements of the British press have taken their free speech liberties too far and are now actively spreading lies and disinformation in the pursuit of cheap pageviews and circulation figures, without being held to account in any way. The result is a deeply misinformed public serving as the playthings of media moguls that set the tabloid agendas, and the politicians they sponsor.
On top of this, there have been many instances in recent times of this freedom being taken to extreme lengths by individuals as well. Specifically threats of rape and murder via social media sites such as Twitter.
The media’s abuse of free speech (and I truly think tabloids are abusing their right to free speech, instead of treating it with the care it deserves) is currently the purview of the Leveson inquiry and its proposed legislation.
The second type of free speech abuse is, to me, a vulgar breach of the sacred right to speak your mind. That sort of despicable behaviour should be stamped out wherever it occurs.
I welcome debate on controversial issues, and I think insults are an unavoidable part of online discourse (or any form of discourse, really). But when you start to threaten people you don’t agree with, you are simply a catastrophic loser severely lacking in intellectual acumen.
The thing I’m struggling with, though, is how we handle those sorts of threats.
Threatening to hurt another person is already illegal. The problem is that on Twitter and other sites these threats are made anonymously (making the perpetrators even more pathetic, lacking even the most basic courage).
Because they’re anonymous, the law can’t act against them. And so re-emerges the debate about making it less easy for people to be anonymous on the internet, and to allow for stricter tracking of what people do online.
And that, I believe, is not a good thing.
Transparency is not the solution. Transparency will merely succeed in shifting the balance of power to those who own the data. And we, as citizens, will not be the ones owning the data. It will be owned by corporations and governments, and I genuinely don’t trust those organisations to use it for the betterment of mankind.
If you think having your entire life laid bare to big data analysis is perfectly fine as you have nothing to hide, you haven’t been paying attention. (Also, you definitely won’t have read Orwell’s 1984.)
Yet, if we’re to effectively fight against those anonymous cowards who threaten and abuse people online, we will have to sacrifice some of our online privacy.
Is that a worthwhile trade?
Or was Benjamin Franklin right when he wrote that “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Is that sort of vile, deplorable hate speech simply the price we have to pay for our freedoms? Is it something we’ll have to accept and live with? Or should we embrace a more totalitarian state so we can stamp out these ‘unwanted elements’?
I think that, by writing this down, I’ve actually started making up my mind at last…