Freedom Of Speech Leaves Some Of Us Speechless

You can never know who is on the other side reading your on-line comments. Social media has created a giant cyber space that allows us to speak or write as freely as we like while at the same time remain anonymous if we choose to. Its raising popularity continues to threaten the longevity of traditional media like newspaper and TV. We’ve seen some media companies suffer a major blow, land in deep water and lose ground in recent years. Some reacted quickly and transformed themselves into more digital-friendly entities. Some unfortunately were too slow to respond and went out of business. Nowadays, social media platforms are readily available at our fingertips. With a few clicks we can set one up in minutes and get the ball rolling in no time. Anyone who broadcasts or publishes their work on internet can pretty much call themselves the media. In there, the old debate over Freedom of Speech seems to have re-surfaced. The line between acceptable language and unacceptable language couldn’t be more blurred.

The old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” isn’t child’s play. Behind a brave face, is a fragile heart we don’t always get to see. The thing is we’re all prone to negative remarks. One bad comment circulating on the face of social media, can be seen by many people, friends, family and strangers. It’s enough to ruin someone’s day. What about some fake news we’ve heard time and time again? It’s going around, spreading like wildfire everywhere in the world. Has Freedom of Speech gone too far? Living in a democratic society, we’re entitled to exercise our rights of freedom of speech. “The deal” is we’re free to express our opinions openly but only in a non-violent way. Yet, we can take it all for granted. Some use it and abuse it. To put things in perspective, in some parts of the world, Freedom of Speech is an unattainable commodity. Their fights continue while we sleep…

To dive in to the notion of Freedom of Speech, it’s all about the freedom to make our voices heard. One way to do that is through election. If you’re an overseas reader, in case you didn’t know, voting in Australia is mandatory. By law every eligible citizen is required to cast their vote during election or they’ll face a fine. Here on the election day, outside each polling station you’ll likely see an army of supporters and an array of volunteers for their candidates. They smile at you, hand out the how-to-vote sheets and if you don’t mind stopping for a minute or two, they’ll explain to you why you should vote for their favourite politicians. Generally, I don’t classify myself as a swing voter, my mind is pretty much made up before I do the ballot papers thing. In the state of NSW, we just finished State Election 2 weeks ago. The night before the election was held, my commuter train got delayed. As a result, I was stuck inside a compartment for over half of an hour on Friday evening. This incident left a bad taste in my mouth that I vowed not to support my sitting member for the first time. Next day, when I went to vote, just 30 minutes before it closed, I met this interesting lady outside the polling place. She was there to support an independent candidate. I asked her why she’s doing it, she said in a strong tone: We need a different voice in this community, someone who can focus on the local issues…etc. I guess I was a bit swayed by her. Anyway, when I was done with the voting, I went out and still saw her there till the end. I was impressed by her dedication. I stopped again for a chat. This time I got to know her a little better. I learned she was a flight attendant working for Qantas. The next day she was due to fly to that city in that country. I commented how lucky she’s living the jet set lifestyle. She smiled and said: After a while, the novelty does wear off… Then she rolled her eyes and lamented in a joking way: Once I land in there tomorrow, I’ll be shut off from the outside world because I won’t have access to Facebook and Google… I laughed in agreement. Right at that moment, I also realized how lucky we are to live in a free country with unrestricted access to the Web. Our Freedom of Speech is assured and given to us “free of charge”. Importantly, the same goes for respect for the rights of others.

The fact that I can write pages and pages of posts expressing my opinions without fears. I’m thankful for it. But when do we go from here? When all is said and done, sometimes we still can’t shut up the noises and bigotry out there. When respect is not being respected, when someone still pushes our buttons, remember: The power is in your hands. Stay calm and keep your grace. Just push one of these buttons back – OFF or DELETE.

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