THE BLOG

What Does Free Speech Mean In Today's Society?

25/11/2016 16:04
Max Alexander via Getty Images

"Freedom of expression is the right of every individual to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." - article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

What is freedom of speech? And do we really want it? That is something I will be asking myself this week before Joanne Moore and I from South Staffordshire College, head down to London to take part in a debate at the House of Lords.

The question: "Should there be limits to freedom of speech in the UK?" will be asked to millennials from schools and colleges all over the UK. We will divide ourselves into three debate teams - for free speech; for monitoring free speech; for censoring free speech.

In the time I have been given to prepare, I have had to ask myself some very important questions like -what really is free speech? What does it include? Do I want to live in a country with complete freedom of expression?

If you had asked me a couple of weeks ago I would have said yes to free speech as that is the key to equal rights and ending repression. But after a few weeks of research, I think complete freedom of speech could possibly have the reverse effect.

Freedom of expression is a great thing, we can voice our opinions on our government or anything we feel is unjust without fear of punishment which means we have the right to stand up and protest for what we believe in.

With the growth of social media it's been easier to do than ever before. However, Lindy West -an active feminist may not agree that her freedom of expression has come without backlash when it comes to social media. She is often pestered by trolls on twitter. Being called "fat", "shrill" and criticised for being "loud" about her feminism along with other beliefs is just part of her day-to-day life. She could argue that there is still backlash for her free speaking, so could we silence trolls?

Should those who criticise people's beliefs when speaking freely be silenced? Or would that be stopping their freedom of expression?

On the other hand, a small group of others may say that their opinions have not been treated with the same respect as others. Sexist, racist and homophobic remarks or acts are treated as hate crimes and are punishable (which in my opinion is correct) but is that not their personal opinions that we are punishing them for voicing? Does that not go against the point of freedom of expression? Who gets to decide who's allowed to speak freely and who's not? And is that really free speech?

I have been interested in politics since my early teens and I cannot stress enough how important it is for my generation to get involved.

It always upsets me when the older generations say that we don't care about world politics or economics when we feel so passionately about so many things going on in our world and we feel so powerless sometimes not being voting age quite yet. This is why I immediately said yes when offered the opportunity to debate in the House of Lords. My generation are desperate to be a part and take control of our future and the future of the world we live in.

For example, Brexit fired us up as the only thing we could do was urge and campaign to our elders to see things from our perspective. Polls suggest that 75% of millennials would have voted remain and the result left many millennials feeling frustrated, powerless and simply ignored on a result that will affect our generation more than any others. Politics and world affairs are always a popular topic amongst my friends and I, which will always prompt the question- "what can we do?".

"If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter."
George Washington

The House of Lords Chamber Event - The Free Speech Debate - starts at 15:10 on Friday 25 November. You can watch the debate on Parliament TV (http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/da62e090-cc41-4ca6-a625-f9b73728c224)

Find out more about The Free Speech Debate (http://www.parliament.uk/business/lords/get-involved-with-the-lords/outreach-programmes/lords-chamber-event/2016-chamber-event/ )

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