Freedom of speech is an important right given to Americans in the US through the constitution. It gives people the right to share their opinions and censure political leaders and others on different aspects without any fear. The First Amendment of the US Constitution states that “the Congress cannot make any law abridging the freedom of speech or the press” (Campbell 254). As a result, one of the benefits is that people are free to comment on whatever political activity they perceive as right and express their opposition to anything they believe is inappropriate. However, people can misuse this freedom through hate speech, which can instigate violence. Therefore, whereas freedom of speech is beneficial to the people, it could have some negative outcomes if misused.
An Overview of Freedom of Speech
Freedom of speech is a right enriched in the US constitutions. It is a part of freedom of expression, which means that everyone in the US has the right to express themselves in whatever way they wish without fear of being censored (Zick 14). It became a right in the US after a long struggle. Prior to its established may people were being arrested and jailed for criticizing the government. However, now, people can be exercised freedom of speech directly through words or symbolic actions. It is also among the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Individuals have the right to free expression because it allows them to communicate freely without hindrance. As a result, free speech is an important right to be protected.
The Benefits of Freedom of Speech
Free speech enhances the unrestricted sharing of ideas in the US. This right empowers everyone to express themselves in any form without fear. It gives everyone the right to speak what they want without focusing on what others believe (Barendt 4). This allows everyone to discuss how they feel or what they believe. It would be impossible for anyone to know how others feel and think about an issue if they cannot express themselves. In addition, speaking up and being heard might make it simpler for those who may not feel comfortable at first to speak up and be heard. Therefore, without the First Amendment and introduction of freedom of speech, many people and ideas would be completely in the dark.
Free speech is integral in exposing unethical or immoral activities. Because of freedom of speech, Americans can influence governmental policies, and rulers are subject to criticism, leading to their replacement (Barendt 7). Abuse of authority and corruption can also be condemned and possibly avoided if there is a fear of exposure. Beyond that, conflicting interests in the community are identified and accommodated in the interest of social stability and openly dissenting individuals and minorities. This may relieve frustrations and enable people to resort to violence as an alternative to gaining power, opposing government programs, or gaining attention for reformist claims.
Freedom of expression makes people aware of the importance of tolerance. If minority groups are free to express themselves, the information conveyed will be that tolerance for diversity is a virtue (Barendt 4). The goal of free speech is to educate for tolerance, that is, to create the societal ability to restrain the temptation to domesticate and, in particular, to penalize the divergence because of their opinions and convictions. A tolerant society rejects the desire to intimidate and harass those who hold allegedly unacceptable political, moral, or religious ideas using formal or informal means. Therefore, free speech creates an environment where people tolerate each other.
Freedom of speech also helps promote equality in the US. According to Zick, there is a relationship between free speech and equality (14). People can depend on freedom of speech rights to achieve equality under the law. The right to free speech enables everyone, regardless of their age, gender, and race to speak their mind without fear. For example, an individual from a minority group in the US can now share their issues with the relevant authority. This right has been effective in revealing police brutality against people of color. The information provided showing police brutality has helped end some of the cases. As a result, the police and other agencies have been forced to promote equality when enforcing the law for fear of being exposed.
In the absence of free speech, people would be unaware of their surroundings and unable to learn more about them. People in other nations need to be kept up to date if disasters strike nearby or even on the other side of the world (Barendt 6). Communication with these countries will allow willing and capable partners to provide aid or supplies. Hearing different perspectives from people can also help provide a whole picture rather than a biased side of a problem. This gives individuals access to new information and informs them about circumstances they may not have considered before. Without freedom of speech, the world’s news and media would not be the same or as accurate as they are now.
Freedom of speech also promotes the acquisition of knowledge in society. When an individual has the opportunity to ask questions or discuss viewpoints, it opens up more learning chances in society (Barendt 4). The right gives people the ability to discover, propose ideas, or openly trade knowledge without fear of political repercussions or what other people would say. Access to information is a powerful tool for innovation and new ideas. For instance, a problem shared by someone can motivate another person to find a solution. This means that an individual can use the ideas shared by other people to learn how to operate. As a result, free speech is important in developing knowledge among people through access to information.
Moreover, free speech enables people to make peaceful changes. It gives individuals the courage to express themselves and share their sentiments (Barendt 5). Individuals can be persuaded to examine another person’s perspective by providing facts while giving their opinion, even when they disagree with it at the moment. If accepting differing views is people’s priority, they are less inclined to use violence to promote change. Despite the fact that there is a need for patience to complete this process, it leads to a situation where people see disagreement as an opportunity to learn and become better (Barendt 8). Therefore, free speech enables one to understand that another person’s negative or positive opinion can be a tool for promoting change.
Freedom of speech also protects citizens from government coerced action. Because people can always be prompted to react whenever desired, this strategy empowers people to say what they believe in without fear (Barendt 4). The policy also permits an individual to exchange ideas with other people freely. It enables people to mingle and engage without fear of exposing sensitive issues and the truth about a societally inequitable governance structure. It is also a developmental step because it allows individuals to learn from the experiences of others. Thus, when people can speak freely, they become motivated to think on their own, even against the wishes of politicians.
The Disadvantages of Freedom of Speech
One of the disadvantages is that people can use freedom of speech to spread false and inaccurate information. With the internet and social media, false information can reach many people (Van Der Linden 3). Some people can misuse this freedom, come up with unverified information, and share it with others. Fake news is becoming a major problem in the US because of its impact. For example, some of the fake information on COVID-19 that spread on social media includes peddling fake cures of the virus, such as injection using bleach or gargling with lemon and salt water. This kind of information creates confusion among the public and is dangerous to public health. Thus, free speech is the reason for fake information in the public domain.
The other demerit of free speech is that it can result in psychological harm. Defamation of character is one of the negative impacts of freedom of expression (Hill 5). It forces an individual to tolerate verbal abuse because it is the offender’s constitutional right to say anything they want. According to March, Evita, and Jessica Marrington, people who get unpleasant words on the internet are more likely to consider suicide. An increasing number of 33% commit suicide after reading the hatred aimed at them (195). This means that the negative comments that people give, especially on social media, have a psychological impact on the victim. As a result, there are instances where freedom of speech has been misused by people and has caused mental health issues such as suicide.
Another demerit is the possibility of hate speech propagated mostly by politicians. Hate speech is usually directed at individuals or groups based on their race, faith, and gender (Hill 5). When everyone is allowed to express themselves, there will always be some conflicts or opposing viewpoints on the matter. Pettersson talks about hate speech directly to Muslims by politicians (949). Individuals may abuse their freedom of expression by speaking negatively against a community to spread hate. People’s peace can be jeopardized if these rights are abused. Based on this, people need to refrain from abusing the freedom of speech that has been granted.
Moreover, because people’s opinions differ, freedom of speech can polarize society. Freedom of speech can separate society into people who agree, disagree, and become intermediaries on a given concept. For example, according to a Pew Research study, 92% of Republicans believe in the political right of the median democrat, whereas 94% of Democrats believe in the political left of the median Republican (Lee 56). Based on this, individuals with the same political beliefs believe that they should live close to one another. Finally, the inclination to compromise is altered by freedom of speech. When people become more liberal or conservative in their expressions, the give and take pattern is forgotten, and they build a culture where they take the greater share and leave the rest for the others to share.
Freedom of speech can make an individual say something that can be used as evidence in a court of law. Coenen talks about how people’s speech is used against them during prosecution (“Free Speech and the Law of Evidence” 645). An individual’s speech is perceived as their view point concerning a given matter. This means that a prosecutor can present past speech as evidence during a case. In regards to this, people end up being prosecuted because of saying something that they did not even mean (Coenen, “Freedom of Speech and the Criminal Law” 1539). For example, if an individual threatened to deal with another through the social media because of disagreement. This information can be used by a prosecutor if something happens to the person threatened. Therefore, the free speech gives individuals room to say anything, which can be used against them during a lawsuit.
Freedom of speech has a greater good compared to its disadvantages. When people are given the freedom to express themselves, immoral and illegal behaviors are more likely to be discovered. As a result, political leaders and elites in the society may be forced to refrain from unethical behavior because of fear of being exposed. In addition, free speech is also linked with the attainment of equality. When people can speak freely, they can voice their concerns, including calling for help if they are being victimized. However, freedom of speech can be misused through hate speech. This type of speech can be used to instigate hatred and violence towards an individual or community. Therefore, it is important for the government to control some of the speeches that people give because of the adverse impact.
Barendt, Eric. “Thoughts On a Thinker-Based Approach to Freedom of Speech.” Law and Philosophy, vol. 38, no. 5-6, 2019, pp. 481-494.
Campbell, Jud. “Natural Rights and the First Amendment.” Yale Law Journal, vol. 127, no. 2, 2017, pp. 246-321.
Coenen, Dan T. “Free Speech and the Law of Evidence.” Duke Law Journal, University of Georgia School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper, vol.68, no. 4, 2018, pp. 639-708.
“Freedom of Speech and the Criminal Law.” Boston University Law Review, vol. 97, 2017, pp. 1533-1605.
Hill, David W. “Communication as a Moral Vocation: Safe Space and Freedom of Speech.” The Sociological Review, vol. 68, no. 1, 2020, pp. 3-16.
Lee, Terry. “The Global Rise of “Fake News” And The Threat to Democratic Elections in The USA.” Public Administration and Policy, vol. 22, no.1, 2019, pp.15-24.
March, Evita, and Jessica Marrington. “A Qualitative Analysis of Internet Trolling.” Cyber-psychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, vol. 22, no.3, 2019, pp. 192-197.
Pettersson, Katarina. “Freedom of Speech Requires Actions: Exploring The Discourse of Politicians Convicted of Hate‐Speech Against Muslims.” European Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 49, no. 5, 2019, pp. 938-952.
Van Der Linden, Sander, Jon Roozenbeek, and Josh Compton. “Inoculating Against Fake News About COVID-19.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol.11, 2020, p. 2928.
Zick, Timothy. “The Dynamic Relationship Between Freedom of Speech and Equality.” Duke Journal of Constitutional Law & Public Policy, vol.12, no.2, 2016, p. 13.