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The Slow Obliteration of Free Speech on the Internet

As I am starting to put my thoughts onto paper, I struggle to find the right thing to say. I am an American citizen with the first amendment on my side, right?  I have freedom of expression that protects me from an oppressive government. The U.S. Constitution protects my right to call the president a jackass or make funny (maybe even offensive) memes without exemption. I can criticize whomever and whatever I choose. Education, religion, another person’s sexual activity, or they way in which you raise your children are all subject to my opinions. This is my right, but exercising my rights comes with a great responsibility.

My first responsibility is to myself. I am responsible for speaking the truth and seeking out the truth. I am responsible for my actions and words. I am also responsible for the consequences that might follow as a result of my actions or words.

The first amendment seems to gives a lot of American citizens a sense of purpose. Americans cling to freedom of religion and freedom of expression as if these are the only things that define them as human beings. I dare not argue that these rights are not of great importance (because they are). I argue that the Internet as an international communications network shows us that having these rights or not having these rights doesn’t make a person more or less human. I contend that the Internet, in a broad description, has come to be a despicable display of how freedom of speech parades a lack of humaneness. We will not be successful in regulating global free speech issues that are impacted by emerging media until we are a more humane society. Right now, we’re accessories to the crime of the Internet’s slow obliteration of free speech.

The Internet allows for some people in the world to make connections and share information that time zones, nor oceans can limit. Our limitations are set by people. Emails, forums, chat rooms, websites, online petitions, and social media platforms do two things: 1) Bring people together. 2) Divide people.

Facebook is the emperor of social media with 1.18 billion daily active users, so to say that just about everyone and their mama’s are on Facebook is more than a colorful colloquialism. The last sentence of Facebook’s mission is what really stands out, “…to share and express what matters to them.” What happens when people want to share and express obscene or pornographic images, libelous content, or hate? 2016 has been the year for Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg to make headlines for all or these reasons.

The Internet as of 2015 reached 3 billion users, which ignites a great deal of awe and anxiety in everyone. When we’re logged on, no matter where we are in the world, we’re equals—no princes or papers just people. What isn’t equal around the world is how we regulate the Internet. Culture, societal norms, and sometimes religion dictate the acceptability of content across the globe. So, how can we have universal a set of  laws and regulations? We can’t, if we base laws and regulations on what’s previously mentioned.

We can’t rely on community guidelines and algorithms to determine what’s acceptable use of free speech. We can’t leave it for governments to decide and do what’s in the best interest citizens. We have come together despite our many differences and connected by humanity to take back the Internet from money-hungry businesses that put profits before people, and power-hungry politicians.

Chantelle Williams

Emerging Media Graduate Student

Loyola University