Freedom of Speech is a negative concept when applied to immoral circumstances. “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech or of the press …” as defined by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America (U. S. Constitution). The majority of democratic governments around the world are adopting similar doctrine to solidify the principles of their governmental structures (Hodges 3). One prime example, Canada, has followed the lead of the United States and granted citizens freedom of speech with untold limitations on its usage.
These limitations have been implemented based on overwhelming abuse of the freedom of speech, especially when viewed from the angle of its use in cyberspace. Unfortunately freedom of speech is inherently a global issue because of the rapid accessibility and the relevance in today’s society (Hodges 5). In response, Canada and the United States are becoming exceedingly cautious and implementing various preventative techniques (Sim).
When viewing the ethical and moral issues involved with materials in cyberspace, it’s a reasonable assumption that “free” should not be truly free and additional measures should be placed in order to monitor inappropriate activity. To comprehend the entire scope of free speech in cyberspace, a person must understand the basics of the right defined in the Constitution. Free speech is commonly defined as “the right to express any opinion in public without censorship or restraint by the government” (Hodges 3). This right, as seen daily in general media outlets, has been abused to an unparalleled capacity.
In order to censor this material, the government has circumvented its own regulations and casually designed loopholes (Hodges 5). The Fourteenth Amendment dictates the right to state and local governments of free speech in government sanctioned schools, colleges, and universities (Harvard Law Review). However, private schools are exempt from this concept, yet, in order to fall in line and maintain compliancy, they often adopt the policy whether it’s on their own or from pressure of state governments (Harvard Law Review).
The important concept to take from the idea of public and private is that they can be misconstrued. In the public realm for example, free speech extends to magazines and public areas. In contrast, if presented in a private sector, free speech can be greatly censored due to restrictions implemented by the area or organization (Harvard Law Review). In the fall of 1981, the Canadian Government guaranteed freedom of expression under their form of the Constitution, known as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Shallit).
However, due to the unrestricted free flow of immoral information, Canadian courts utilize Section 1 of the Charter, which states that “all rights are subject to such reasonable limits as can be justified in a free and democratic society” in order to help validate their need to stifle material (Sims). This imposed legislation dictates that freedom of expression is only protected against censorship by government action, allowing editorials, collegiate facilities, and various organizations the sole rights to control information in their distinct areas (Hodges 5).
Much like the United States, freedom of speech, based on the circumstances is not entirely free. One main question to consider is: how is freedom of speech affected by cyberspace? Cyberspace is defined as an electronic computer network in which online communication takes place (Hodges 2). This design allows persons from all walks of life and all areas of the globe to communicate almost instantly. This ability, almost immediate message trafficking, creates a tremendous issue for governments attempting to restrict materials shared.
Anything can be found in cyberspace, from “how much wood could a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck could chuck wood” to “is the sun a star”. This quick access and vast bank of information provides users of all ages the ability find information in the quick click of a button, however, also provide a negative aspect as well. With such a wide bank of information, younger users run the risk of accessing material that is inappropriate and often corrupt not only for them, but for those of all ages (Hodges 6).
Cyberspace has allowed the concept of “Freedom of Speech” to become much more practical and surpassing printed word as the dominate form of communicate in our society (Shallit). As previously eluded to, ethical issues develop when categorizing the nature of freedom of speech in cyberspace. Ethics is defined as a doing the right thing in various given situations, however, seems to be void when classed with cyberspace (Sims). The complex nature of ethics and morals has, for centuries, caused numerous disagreements, and continue to this day.
When looking at this concept, it is important to understand that there are numerous points of view that can be discussed when debating the ethics of freedom of speech in cyberspace. One prime example that is often spoke of when discussing ethics in cyberspace is negative rhetoric and its impact on the masses (Hodges). The internet is obviously a world wide application with the ability to instantly reach out and touch whoever chooses to read the information provided (Shallit). All too often this information is aimed at negatively impacting a certain audience, aimed at achieving a specific goal, and often times utilized to persuade.
A quick internet search has the ability to provide numerous results from everything from Anti-American rhetoric from the Muslim community to the “physical dangers and potential mutations” related to homosexuality. These issues alone can be deeply researched and found to be untrue on so many various levels. However, with complete freedom of speech, there are no restrictions as to what can be said and what can be exaggerated to make a point (Farjami). Anyone, to include you, your family and friends, and organizations you are a member of, can become potential victims of negative rhetoric.
Freedom of speech protects the abuser and limits any ramifications from a governing agency (Shallit). The ethical boundary for what is right and wrong can be easily violated and find no support to counteract the untrue and varies lies that can be supported by freedom of speech (Harvard Law Review). Moving forward from the ethical viewpoints, it is important to understand the capacity of cyberspace. With immediate access available and such vast library of information, monitoring the information has become increasingly hard for both governments of the United States and Canada (Shallit).
However, as previously mentioned, steps have been taken by both to regulate and censor internet material as much as possible. As with most debates, there are always proponents and those that oppose rules and regulations. The debate of freedom of speech in cyberspace is no exception. Those that oppose censorship claim that it violates the Freedom of Speech as defined by the Fourteenth Amendment and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. When looking at the concept of Freedom of Speech in the Canadian Democratic system, most proposed and designated laws centralize on human sexuality and pornography (Shallit).
The recently established Criminal Code makes it illegal to distribute or publish material of an obscene matter (Harvard Law Review). The focus of this code is what is defined as obscene, as it has many variations depending who is debating the matter. The Criminal Code defines obscene as any use of sex in combination with crime, violence, cruelty and horror (Shallit). Although this definition greatly decreases the field of which is defined as obscene, the publication might not be considered as such unless it contains children in the production.
Additionally, the Criminal Code, outside of prohibiting pornography and images involving children in questionable situations, restrict the distribution of negative propaganda (Shallit). It’s very evident, from these few examples, that Canada has very strict regulations concerning freedom of speech in cyberspace. However, as previously stated, there are always a minimum of two sides to an argument. Those that do not see the necessity for restrictions in cyberspace believe that Freedom of Speech should come with no caveats and thus remain completely free (Ayn Rand).
These individuals take the First Amendment to heart and believe that the freedom to communicate ideas without the interference of government suppression or interference protects the individual’s ability to think and express their own ideas (Ayn Rand). They also allude to the sacrifices and lives lost my military members, past and present, to protect the freedoms we are afforded as American citizens. They make the argument that if such freedoms are not upheld to the fullest extent, then our lost citizens and their families have sacrificed in vein (Farjami).
Although this is an extreme example, it does provide certain validity to their argument: why do we fight and die for rights, which are altered to fit the issues the government sees as important? The entire scope of freedoms, how they are applied, how they are altered, and when they can be enforced for ethic reasons, is a greatly debated topic in our society. Members of our armed forces have fought and died since the founding of this great nation to uphold the rights and freedoms we so often take for granted.
To alter them to fit a bigger picture does seem to do them discredit in their noble service. However, in order to uphold a stable foundation of moral and ethic issues in a culture that is so inherently corrupt, limiting the definition of freedom of speech appears to be a completely justifiable reasoning. However it is looked at, from whatever angle is utilized, without certain restrictions set forth by our democratic governing bodies, we would have almost no limitations to what a citizen of this country could do or say.
The potential harm that could be done by granting such an unrestricted freedom greatly outweighs the often overly emotional responses by those that support a 100% free flow of communication. In the end, to protect the public, and more importantly the children, freedom of speech must be restricted.
“Constitutional Topic: The First Amendment. ” USConstitution. net. 3 Jan. 2011. 07 Dec. 2012. Farjami, Seyed. “Is There a Place for Cyberethics? .” Conceptual Look at the Effects of Cybertechnology on Ethics and Communications in Cyberspace. 8. 4 (2011): 148-152. Print.
Harvard Law Review Association, THE MESSAGE IN THE MEDIUM: THE FIRST AMENDMENT ON THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY, 1994, Harvard University, 22 Apr. 2004, . Jeffrey Shallit, “The Real Meaning of Free Speech in Cyberspace,” The Internet Beyond the Year 2000, University of Toronto, 1 May 1996 (Eletronic Frontier Canada, 1996). Marjorie W. Hodges and Steven L. Worona, “The First Amendment in Cyberspace,” Cause/Effect (1997), 26 April 2004, http://www. educause. edu/ir/library/html/cem9732. html>. “Principles of a Free Society . ” Freedom of Speech. Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights. Chicago, 12 2008.