Free likes and free speech

by olicard.carriere on September 20, 2013 - 11:22pm

     Despite being but 9 years old, Facebook is now a ubiquitous part of our lives. For many people, it is hard to imagine how they would get news of their friends or their "friends". However, how Facebook can be used is still a confusing matter. What is socially acceptable on Facebook and what isn't is poorly defined, which can get serious when it coincides with legal matters. Recently, a US Court of Appeals clarified things a bit more by stating that "liking" on Facebook is equivalent to putting a sign on one's front lawn, which makes it free speech protected by the First Amendment. Freedom of speech is an issue that is important to me, and the intersection with technology is one that fascinates me. This story may seem odd at first, as "liking" is an everyday, trivial action. However this brings up an interesting question:
     If "liking" something on Facebook is free speech, should we even make a distinction between speech and free speech, or should we simply consider all speech to be free?
     On one side, drawing a distinction is good as a social safety measure. By making this distinction, we allow the possibility of restricting or controlling certain kinds of speech. This is useful as certain kinds of speech are inherently hurtful, such as hate speech, while others may be inadvertently harmful to specific groups. By drawing this distinction, we can reduce the amount of harmful speech that happens, which reduces potential suffering.
     However, drawing a distinction requires someone to set the line between good and bad speech. This opens the possibility for a person to judge opinions he is opposed to as "bad speech", effectively creating a form of moral censoring. Aditionally, restricting hurtful speech does not solve the underlying problems, but simply hides them. In a sense it is only postponing the problem.
     This argument does require an unproven assumption about speech . Do you think speech can be inherently hurtful, and is speech that cannot be interpreted as harmful even possible?


With the rise of the internet, multiple news ways to express ourselves with each other have risen. The oblivious social networking websites such as Facebook offer a platform for expressing our view to as many people as possible. As a computer science student, the impact of any software on our society is always interesting since it offers a forecast into the impact of what my future work could do. Social networking as allowed the expression of speech to extend beyond the limits of neighborhood into a global phenomenon. I think it is a radical change that we must learn to use correctly.

I believe that speech in itself, which represents someone’s opinion, will always be hurtful to another person even if it has a positive effect on the person directly spoken to. For example, if I am doing something as simple as telling someone they are the best, I’m also saying that everybody else is not the best indirectly. There will always be a backfire to any statement, even if it sounds perfectly gentle to the person saying it.

If we separate speech into categories, I don’t think we can still say that free speech exist. Free speech is the possibility of saying anything, as long as it is only expressed through words, without fear of retribution or censure. Even though the occidental system pretends to be based on such a system, is it really a land of free speech? How many stories of people who wrote something on Facebook that could, like every statement, be interpreted as harmful and a threat to national security and have been arrested following their “action” of free speech? It is impossible in our society to pretend that there is no difference between speech and free speech, because when there will be no more distinction, free speech will really exist and we will therefore no longer live in the same society.

Can we really say that drawing a distinction is a social security measure, or should we say it’s a power supremacy control measure? Legally speech would be divided by the authorities whom hold the power in a specific territory. As we have seen in the past, governments controlling speech has often led to dictatorships and even tyranny. However, a social ethical division is present and defines the level of harmfulness of any speech. That is, the common interpretation that anyone would make of the statement to determine if it was such a thing as a hate speech.

For further information on the true meaning of freedom of speech in our society, this article by Michael Parenti defines the illusion of free speech.