Freedom of speech or freedom of self-expression has always been of the most argued concepts respecting its scope, its limit as well as its possible effects on an individual or a society. We could say that it has always been a popular concept to debate mostly by the philosophers under the topic of liberty.
However, we see that a lot of people have recently been referencing to "freedom of speech" in order to defend their arguments mainly in social media platforms, which they also criticize blindfold their actions that silence people's self-expression. These critics led many other platforms - like Honest Cash - to emerge that supports freedom of speech and uncensorable content.
In this article, my intention is not to argue the limiting policies of such platforms. Rather, I would like to underline the concept of "freedom of speech" and its connection to other concepts such as "freedom of thought" and "freedom of action".
Freedom of speech, of thought and of action
A basic definition that you can find on the internet for the freedom of speech is:
Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction.
One of the most famous advocates of free speech and freedom of thought is English philosopher John Stuart Mill, who argues the concepts in his book, On Liberty.
On the one hand, by seeing the two concepts inseparable, Mill argues that the freedom of thought and speech - expression - will contribute to "the permanent interests of man as a progressive being" and underlines the free speech as “one of the securities against a corrupt or tyrannical government”.
On the other hand, by identifying his Harm Principle, Mill argues that "state may only interfere with people holding and expressing their views if those views cause harm to others".
That means when there is a harmful "act" as a consequence of a free speech or a thought, an interference can/should be carried out.
But what exactly is "harm" for Mill?
In the book of On Liberty, Mill gives a clear example that demonstrates us what he understands from "harm". He states that it is acceptable "to condemn someone in print, but not acceptable to condemn them before a mob outside their home".
If we take a look into Mill's example, we can deduct two important points.
- Mill clearly separates the "free speech and thought" from "freedom of action". - For Mill, an interference or punishment should be carried out once there is a harmful act, which seems as physical harm.
The two points lead us to think the situations when (only!) speech causes psychological harm to another party - like in hate speech.
A basic definition that you can find on the internet for the hate speech is:
Hate speech is speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
On the one hand, if we separate the speech and the act just like Mill, we would say that hate speech might not be harmful and therefore can be accepted without any interference.
On the other hand, if we think the speech and act inseparable, and that harmful act is not only a physical one, then the expression of hate speech should have a consequence, an interference since it stigmatizes another party and causes a different type of harms.
So, the two arguments fully support free speech and that no matter the content of the speech is, or whether there are people disagree with it, the person has the freedom to express his/her opinion. But the difference between the two arguments is that, while the first one does not bear any consequences, the second one does (in the sample of hate speech), which can be a form of interference. It is better to remember that freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences.
To conclude, these two different arguments - there can be more surely - are the reasons why most people think differently about the concepts and why some platforms have "consequence" policy - censoring "some" contents -, while others support "no consequence" policy - an uncensorable one -, like Honest Cash.
To be honest, I am not sure how "good" is to have a content that never brings a consequence (does not have to be censorship). To me, the scope of all these concepts mostly seems vague, broad and disputable. Therefore, I often try to avoid referencing to them as justification for my arguments.
I wonder about your opinions, feel free to disagree with me :)
Disclaimer: Even though I am part of Honest Cash team, the opinions expressed are my own.