“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.”
― United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
There is no doubt that the Freedom of Speech is one of the greatest human rights any person can have and yet it is also one of the greatest to be trampled on in the world today.
One of the biggest misconceptions nowadays is that our freedom of speech not only can be exercised but should be exercised at any cost. The problem with the world today is that everyone believes they have the right to express their opinion AND have others listen to it no matter what that might do to the feelings of others. Freedom of speech in 2020 has been abused and misused mainly by the media.
The most attentive and influential use of freedom of speech is through the elements of the media. This spans from public speaking to news reports, to social media. In the world today, these mediums have become discriminative, unpleasant and in many cases, just downright barbarous.
We have seen the social media space fill up with malicious content, trolling and cyber bullying. It seems that the anonymity that social media can provide leads to many users to believe they can say whatever they want while hiding behind their online profile. But even the print media is adorned with writeups and commentaries that contest people’s fundamental human rights.
In Ghana or Nigeria, we see the majority use media as a tool for driving injustice and infringing on constitutional human rights. When it comes to expressing opinions, people do not have a problem doing so either by phone, email, social media or even in person. However, the global nature of online media means the abuse is immediate and far reaching.
The ease of accessibility to social media means that anyone can express their opinions to the downfallof another person simply because they do not like the person or what the person may represent.
Some 3.5 billion people in the world today connect via social media. That is 45% of the world population. Social media can bring people closer together, form links across social and economic divide; bring minority groups togetherfor positive reinforcement; but too often it is used to judge others, to belittle minorities, groups and individuals. Social media is becoming a forum where judging others is the norm and there is an increase in people crossing the boundaries of constitutional rights.
Freedom of speech is scaling new heights everyday but with disregard of the consequences of misusing it; consequences that include suicide and social suicide. People become so engulfed in their virtual lives that that they often fail to realise that the quest for social media relevance may be tied to another’s downfall.
Celebrities, politicians, authors, and the general public, are exposed to cruel and perverted individuals who believe that they can say whatever they want, whenever they want to say it no matter what the consequences may be. Various mainstream issues such as gay rights, feminism, equal pay or gender equality are being fuelled by people who are ignorant to culture, because they feel the need to express what they believe despite being politically incorrect.
Yes, freedom of speech dies give us the right to express how we feel, but it does not give us the right to degrade, humiliate, curse or abuse people.
Social media has changed the way we live our lives. From the way we get our news to the way we interact with our loved ones. Social media is everywhere. It’s unavoidable, it’s powerful, and it’s here to stay, but this form of freedom of speech should not be misused, abused, and thrown around, like trash.
People, we need to think before speaking; before typing. We need to show empathy, see past what we disagree with and not hide behind our online profile.
Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing; a great human right, but it is also dangerous and we need to use it with responsibility.
Executive Director Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa
Fellow, Outright International Advocacy UN Religious Program 2020