Saturday, April 28, 2007

Self-censorship, freedom of speech and the internet

A friend has told me that he would comment on recent Red Electric postings, but he is hesitant because what he has to say would become part of his Google-able "public record" and one day might be used against him.

In particular, my friend, who is an atheist, took exception to the recent post regarding the "Ten Media Commandments."

I find his concern troubling. Certainly we need to be circumspect about what we say on the internet, but not to the point that we suppress what we legitimately want to say in the course of civil discourse.

To me "freedom of speech" is worthless unless we can use it. Moreover, those who would judge us and reject us because they silently disagree with what we have written, are part of the problem. We who speak out with open minds and invite discussion are part of the solution.

We should be free to be wrong—or right.

Of course, freedom of speech is also the freedom NOT to speak, but our reason for remaining silent shouldn't be fear.

The intriguing idea called the "spiral of silence" posits that unless we articulate and repeat an idea, it will die. In the same way, the suppression of speech through fear of reprisal is nothing less than the killing of ideas.

Just because an idea is "bad" or wrong or even hateful shouldn't mean that it is suppressed. Rejected after debate, yes, but not killed.

Rereading this, it strikes me that my friend's concern, though overtly about freedom of speech, may in fact be as much about freedom of religion—or to be more exact, freedom of non-religious belief, or atheism.

Significantly, the First Amendment protects both and, as we see in his case, they are inextricably bound.

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