Freedom of speech – is it everything?

Freedom of speech - is it everything?

Over the past few weeks my feed has been filled with book week costumes. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s been book month, not week. Cute kids in cute creations. Proud mammas showing off their genius. I shrank a little inside when a kind soul pointed out kids should be dressing as book characters, not movie or sporting heroes. You see, I’d love to make something strictly book related and awesome with my son. I sew, I’m crafty and I’m partial to Facebook bragging rights. Book week and I should be made for each other. But my boy insisted on going as that modern-day literary hero, Christiano Ronaldo.

Seems he wasn’t the only kid who wanted to emulate his sporting hero. A little boy dressed up as Nic Naitanui, his mother artificially darkened his skin and the rest is history. (If you missed it: the whole story and a thoughtful response by Amy of Hangbag Mafia)

The whole scenario and particularly the commentary surrounding it made both my head and heart ache. All intelligent, unintelligible, ignorant and infuriating comments aside, it all came down to a very simple tenet. One I think we can all achieve. One that seemed to be ignored. Just. Be. Kind. 

And perhaps Thought. Before. Action.

It’s so simple and yet so difficult.

If we all thought beyond ourselves and our experiences for a small moment less people would be exposed to unnecessary hurt. If we collectively thought less about what we want to do and what we feel and more about the impact of those actions, I am sure the world would be a happier place. Ultimately, it’s about putting other people before rights imagined to be inalienable.

Social media has allowed the amplification of voices. That’s a wonderful thing. But along the way someone decided that freedom of speech, action and expression were to be upheld at all costs. That those freedoms were the most important ones and be damned to all else.

At a common-sense level, that’s ridiculous. Defending freedom of speech is circular at best when the only thing being rebutted is some-one else’s freedom to reply. You see it all the time: “I have a right to say what I like.” “Sure, and I have a right to say what I like.”  That can go on for days. Often does.

It’s as nonsensical as “I have a right to say offensive things but you have no right to be offended.” Something I also see constantly within social media commentary. As though hurting a person isn’t enough — invalidation of that hurt is also necessary. As though someone pointing out the offence caused is more offensive than causing hurt in the first place.

On the flip side, the nature of social media has led to some being disproportionately persecuted for exercising their perceived freedom of speech. Justine Sacco and her one badly thought out tweet is a prime example. But even then, did those who felt it fair to met out a mob response do so with any sense of responsibility? Any thought for how a person’s life would affected? Or does the digital allow us to forget that there are actual people with flesh, blood and pain involved? Do we tend to think in terms of far-removed screens, pseudonyms and avatars? Is that what protects and upholds our entitlement to free speech above all else in the social media space?

Don’t misunderstand, I am very grateful to live in a country where we have freedom of speech, religion, and expression. I don’t take the fact that I can write this and invite debate and discussion lightly. But I also don’t accept that it comes without strings attached. There are responsibilities that go hand in hand with these vast and wonderful freedoms.

I think there are things more important than exercising the freedom to do or say whatever the hell we like. Being mindful that we live in a world bigger than ourselves. Not perpetuating violence, inequity and intolerance. Thinking about others. Not stealing other people’s stories and making them about ourselves. Protecting people’s safety. Protecting people’s dignity. Thinking before doing, saying and writing. Learning and reflecting before commenting.

Being kind.  Being mindful.  Being respectful.  Being open-minded. Being able to say “I was wrong”.


I weigh each of those as a responsibility that must sit alongside my treasured freedom to say and write what I please.

Arrow 2

Do you think freedom of speech has been divorced from responsibility in the age of social media? 


Linking up with Kylie Purtell – Capturing Life and IBOT 

39 thoughts on “Freedom of speech – is it everything?

  1. Amy @ HandbagMafia says:

    Thanks for the mention!
    I think people forget that freedom of speech is not an enshrined right here. It’s only implied. And really, it’s never just a right. It’s also a responsibility. Those arguing for the repeal of racial discrimination laws, for example, miss this point. They demand the right to say racially insensitive things but reject the harm these things can cause. Yet in saying them, aren’t they responsible for the harm caused? Great post xx
    Amy @ HandbagMafia recently posted…Women Don’t Owe You a Conversation.My Profile

    • Hugzilla says:

      Yes yes yes! All of this! People think they have a right to say whatever they like without being challenged. It’s like the people who whine that Clem Ford is censoring them and then weigh in and tell her to shut up. Irony much? LOL.

  2. Lydia C. Lee says:

    This whole freedom of speech came from a time when you weren’t allowed to say anything critical of the King or Government. It didn’t mean go around being a jerk to everyone on the planet. That’s how nursery rhymes started. It was a way to criticise the status quo without getting thrown in prison…this crazy mentality we have now is ironic because rarely are we using our right to constructively protest the government, we’re just pouring out hate on dumb shit that is not really worth filling our headspace with…Some celebrity says something dumb? Let’s go bananas. Homelessness at an all time high? Let’s not do anything about that. Just ignore.
    Lydia C. Lee recently posted…Failure or success?My Profile

  3. Zanni says:

    Yes, I am with you completely. There is such a tireless tirade of negative, hate filled commentary on the internet, in response to injustice, politically incorrectness, mistakes. I am thankful I’ve never been at the brunt of it!

  4. Bec @ Seeing the Lighter Side says:

    I think social media has made the circle of people available to offend much larger, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it just means people need to be even more aware of other people’s feelings. Unfortunately I think people may have become more aware but also more defensive about their ‘right’ to say what they want.

    Before FB if you wanted to say something offensive you could potentially say it to your 3 racist mates and they’d all snigger and it would pass. You’d probably NOT say the same thing at Aunty Jo’s 70th birthday when Mabel’s new – Asian – husband was present.

    However, people now feel they have the right to say these things on FB and air them to their ENTIRE friendship circle.

    So it’s a good thing because it brings the attitudes out where they can be rebutted. But it’s a bad thing because it risks validating the views of a vocal minority simply by repetition of the same.
    Bec @ Seeing the Lighter Side recently posted…3 rather compelling reasons why I should update my profile picture (but won’t)My Profile

    • Robyna says:

      I think that repetition of dangerous views is very prevalent as people’s feeds become narrower and narrower in their focus. I am quite sure that everyone ends up with like-minds on their social media feeds and potentially that reinforces views that are harmful as “normal”.

  5. deb dane says:

    It is one of the many negative sides to all that we gained with the dawn of the internet age. People may have read about something in the newspaper or seen on TV and commented on it to someone in their real life circle. They most likely shared viewpoints and if not maybe they got called out, maybe not.

    Now everyone is a commentator and it is with a wide audience. People say things that they would never have said to others face to face if they did not know them. It is like all bets are off now and people just spew crap and have no care about where it lands or who it affects.
    deb dane recently posted…Who you are and who you are not!My Profile

  6. Rachel says:

    People online behave in ways they’d never behave IRL. I think social media creates a buffer between people and the real world, so they have no consideration for how their words may be hurting others when it’s via a screen.

  7. Seana says:

    I’m a firm believer in not fanning flames and so pass over ridiculous and rude comments. Don’t give them the oxygen. Gawd some people need to get a life. They could’ve fighting for world peace. People do have the right to be wrong. But we also all have the right to be safe from emotional abuse.

  8. Emily says:

    People get so caught up on YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO! that they don’t step back and realise that, in this case, the thing they’re being told not to do is something that possibly will never EVER come up in their lives anyway. MY FREEDOMS ARE BEING IMPINGED UPON… if I can’t artificially colour my skin? Hmmmm, maybe not. People just can’t hear themselves. I wonder if they get this worked up about workers on Nauru and Manus being silenced. But I don’t really, because we all know the answer.

  9. Deborah says:

    Completely agree. I read something about religion the other day. It was a meme on Facebook comparing religions and almost all had the underlying tenet that we treat others as we ourselves expect to be treated.
    Deborah recently posted…So… I’ve movedMy Profile

  10. Mandy @ Barbie Bieber and Beyond says:

    We are so lucky to live in a country where freedom of speech is a natural born right. It is however a responsibility and basic human kindness to choose when and where to exercise that right. Everyone needs to be respectful of others. Just as it’s our right to offer our opinion on every topic under the sun, it is also a right to disagree with that opinion.

  11. Dani @ sand has no home says:

    Yes, definitely! It’s like the whole Sonya Kruger comments debacle, and the defence of her comments. I absolutely think that hanging her out to dry in response was awful too, but for someone who seems pretty kind and considerate, how did she think it must fell for Muslims in this country to hear her say that? Not to mention the actual refugees she would like to close the border to, the ones running from Daesh, the ones who want more than anything else just to be able to return to their homes. Just.Be. Kind. It is the best philosophy to live by.
    Thanks for this piece Robyna x

  12. Natalie @ Our Parallel Connection says:

    So true. People have opinions and they feel like no matter how negative or hurtful it is, they can shout it from the roof tops. No one is perfect and we all mess up – give the poor child and mother a break. Whether or not she should have done it is up for discussion but being abusive and rude and hurtful is not called for.
    Natalie @ Our Parallel Connection recently posted…Parenting different personalitiesMy Profile

    • Robyna says:

      I agree – like most things online it was fairly insensitively handled from both sides. There was a learning opportunity but it seemed to get lost in the nastiness.

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