The digital age has completely revamped the way people view and enforce issues related to the First Amendment.
The Internet has had a profound impact on freedom of expression, introducing both opportunities and challenges. It has, in various manners, changed the way people in America express themselves, access information, and interact with one another.
First and foremost, naturally, the landscape is totally different than it has ever been before, given the abundance of social media applications and sites that offer a voice to anyone able to create an account and operate it on the app.
The reach of these social media accounts cannot be understated. Social media allows individuals of marginalized groups to have a voice they wouldn’t typically have a platform of any form. These platforms have a global reach that can promote cross-cultural understanding and diverse perspectives. But going back to what I said about the ability of anyone to pick up a smartphone or device that contains applications on it, the anonymity of some social media users creates a dangerous environment filled with hate speech and online harassment, which can stifle free expression and create hostile environments. These are a few of the ways that the Internet has manipulated free speech since its arrival.
All of these different aspects of the Internet and its complications are reasons why rights and values should take center stage.
Firstly, freedom of expression is the specific issue at hand and is, ironically, the No.1 value. In my opinion, this should be a foundational principle in the digital age. It’s essential for democratic societies like the US, but it should also be subject to reasonable limitations to prevent harm. All in all, this would likely be the highest standard on my ranking.
Secondly, as a journalist, I would be remiss not to mention transparency and accountability as one of the highest values on my ranking. I feel that internet platforms should be held accountable for their impact on these values and rights. Ensuring transparency in algorithms, content moderation, and data handling is vital. I mention specific journalism jargon to show precisely what some of these companies are doing to stifle speech. For example, recently, the Supreme Court reviewed “transparency laws” that forced social media sites like Facebook and YouTube to disclose more information regarding how they moderate their users’ speech on the sites.
Lastly, I would rank protecting individuals from harm due to speech such as incitement to violence, hate speech, and cyberbullying. This value is absolutely crucial to the health of society. However, balancing protecting individuals from harm due to speech with free expression is challenging. I think that laws should be carefully crafted to strike the right balance.
Despite being used as an example in most cases, the US isn’t the only place in the world still trying to get a firm grasp of free speech and how it should be done “properly.” Recently, a broad law was passed in Britain that allows its higher-ups to regulate content. Some of the regulations include age verification methods on pornographic websites and rules to reduce hate speech and harassment. For an ever-evolving concept such as free speech, the Internet has only made it a more complicated conversation.