Freedom of expression is an ideology in America that has been challenged in America ever since it was introduced in ancient history. There is no way around it; freedom of expression has always been something that is controversial.
However, recently, US lawmakers have had some success narrowing down niche elements of freedom of speech and thus have created rules, laws, and regulations restricting some aspects of freedom of speech and expression.
Now, typically, I would reside in the area where the other residents are saying that this stifling of this expression would be concerning to our democracy, but there are a few reasons why this specifically isn’t harmful and is actually something that could be considerably helpful to society.
Let me explain; that’s because some of the recent laws that limit expression in some way, shape, or form are crafted and enforced with the greatest good for society in mind.
For example, there are the cyberbullying laws in the US that several states enforce, which can restrict online speech that constitutes harassment or bullying. These laws often aim to protect minors from online harassment. In terms of how harmful in scale cyberbullying can be, consider that there is an ongoing multi-state lawsuit against Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram, in regard to cyberbullying on its site.
Also, take into consideration that the laws criminalizing the sharing of explicit images without consent (revenge porn) have been enacted in many states. These are called Revenge Porn Laws. These laws are meant to protect individuals from emotional, reputational, and psychological harm. Revenge porn is something that takes place in every corner of the world, but not all fifty states in America have set these laws in place. As recently as this week, it has been discussed for these laws to make their way onto the electoral ballot in Boston, Massachusetts. But in other states, cases involving high-profile individuals have taken place and even landed the accused imprisoned. They have made revenge porn a criminal offense.
With all that said, I do not believe that policy is the most effective way to regulate freedom of speech in the states. Firstly, in my opinion, when governments or authorities begin regulating speech, it can set a dangerous precedent. There is a risk that they might gradually expand their control and become increasingly authoritarian, stifling public discourse.
More specifically, in terms of the content, I feel that deciding what speech is acceptable and what is not is often a subjective and biased process. Lawmakers and enforcers may interpret and apply rules based on their personal biases, leading to unequal enforcement and potential abuse of power, as we have already so often seen take place in this country.
Additionally, as I have read about in class readings, there is a harmful chilling effect that could come with speech and expression regulation. The mere presence of speech regulations can create a chilling effect, where individuals and organizations may self-censor to avoid potential legal or social repercussions.
This stifles open and honest debate and hinders artistic expression.