The advent of internet technology has revolutionized how people interact with each other. Internet has converted the world into a global village, transforming how we communicate with each other. The effectiveness of internet as a means of communication being experienced today could not have been thought of some decades ago. The rapid development in communication technology has created new opportunities through which people pass information on different issues relating to governance.
This technology has renewed the ability of citizens to play a role in economic development and extending their labor interests. Moreover, different societies in the world can freely exchange ideas that affect the society in the cyberspace. However, as internet become part of everyday life, the issue of freedom of speech is becoming increasingly important (Freeman, 2000). The need for litigation programs that are aimed at protecting the freedom of speech in the cyber space and protecting the common man from the powerful players in the internet has become necessary in the new technology.
The internet has become an important tool in the promotion of freedom of expression. Information can flow freely and unconditionally in the cyberspace which has helped in the promotion of democracy in different parts of the world. The increased popularity of the internet combined with the design of the cyberspace has made it difficult for the government to limit the freedom of expression in the internet. Different government around the world have made attempts of controlling the information available in the internet but without much success.
However, there is no doubt that the internet has introduced universal freedom of expression due to it ability pass information instantaneously and at very low cost across the borders. For this reason, free flow of information through this revolutionary technology has attracted moral, political and legal controversies. In the same way it is used to promote freedom of speech, it can also be used to propagate serious crimes such as hate speeches and fraud. The content of information on the internet has always been a contentious issue.
For example there have been issues of child pornography in the internet which pushed the United States government to enact laws against such practices. Moreover, materials up loaded in one country where they are legal may be downloaded in another where they are prohibited on the bases of being politically or socially subversive. This raises the big question of whether freedom of expression in the internet should be regulated and whether it is practically possible due to the design of the World Wide Web. Freedom of speech Freedom of speech is a fundamental right of all citizens in a country.
Freedom of speech is essential in any country that upholds the principles and core values of democracy. It is also essential in promoting respect for human dignity in the society. Moreover, it is considered to be one of the most dangerous freedoms granted by the state to it citizens because it is a means through which they can express their dissatisfaction with the current situation in the governance and demand a change. For this reason, autocratic regimes have always denied their citizens this fundamental right of expression.
As such, in all aspects of the society the freedom of expression is the most threatened, with both the state and civil rights organizations in all societies of the world being limited by this fundamental right (Sanders, 2003). Many countries in the world recognize the importance of the freedom of speech to sustain democracy and social development in the country. In the United States, this fundamental right is guaranteed by the 1st amendment of the United States constitution. There are other federal and states statutes that protect the united states citizens against violation of freedom of speech.
This freedom permits criticism and advocacy of the activities in the government that they find distasteful. However, this freedom is not absolute and there are cases where the freedom of speech is restricted. For examples, individuals can not be allowed to promote sexual immorality such as child pornography, hate speeches or incite the public in the name of freedom of speech (Bingham, 2007). The government is also obliged to protect the citizens from false advertisement in commercial speeches as well as protecting the property rights of individuals.
The rapid development in information technology has brought about various challenges in the regulation of freedom of speech. The congress has made various attempts to enact laws that govern the freedom of speech in the internet most notably the Communication Decency Act of 1996 and the introduction of web filtering software in public schools as a federal funding precondition (Godwin, 2003). Freedom of Speech in the Internet In the modern world, the internet is becoming increasingly important.
This is because of its effectiveness in disseminating information in a society that increasingly requires faster and effective communication channels. Basically the circulation of information need to be free and the internet technology extends the freedom of expression at the global level. The internet has created the largest global common area when individual can say anything they wish. This information in this revolutionary public space can be access by anybody around the world with an access to the internet technology.
The internet has created a global village where people can exchange ideas, spread gossips and spread general information. It is there not practical for moral and constitutional standards in the flow of information and governance of what speech is permitted to be applied in the internet. When the cyberspace is considered in relation to the United States constitution and it guarantee of freedom of speech, the first amendment for example can be considered to be a local ordinance (Weber, 2010). At the very basic level, the freedom of speech is inherent in the architecture of cyberspace.
The structures of the internet ensure that the information reaches that recipient as it was intended by the sender. This is because the internet interprets any form of censorship on the message as an error or damage. Moreover, because if the robust architecture of the cyberspace it is intrinsically impossible to block an individual from accessing any information in the internet. However, there are very limited circumstances under which access can be blocked such as a specific site in an office computer in workplaces or in home computers.
This indicates the level to which internet technology has promoted freedom of speech at the global level. Many people believe that the ability of the society to progress socially and economically is dependent on how effectively they can be able to express and share thoughts especially unpopular thoughts. In other word, freedom of speech is the most important value that any community or nation that seeks to be more civilized should embrace. The ability of the internet to promote free expression without fear of intimidation has made it the most important phenomenon in the modern world.
In addition to the internet providing an access to universal free speech, it has promoted the principle concepts behind the right of freedom of expression. There is no doubt that all human being are familiar with the intrinsic value of truth which only exist in a free space of ideas provided by the cyberspace (Viktor & Foster, 1997). There are many evidences that have been proposed to be a clear indication of the cyberspace to promote freedom of speech. The internet has been used in many cases as the only means of free speech in situations where autocratic leadership has paralyzed other means of communication.
For example, in 1996, after the dictatorial government in Yugoslavia paralyzed all normal broadcasting in the country, the media continued to exercise their freedom of expression through the internet. This is because the dictatorial government did not have the ability to shut down the cyberspace. The same was observed in China in during the Tiananmen Square in the early 1990s where the internet was essential in keeping the world informed on what was happening on the ground because the government could not censor emails and news transmitted through the internet from the universities.
The power of internet to promote the freedom of speech was also evident during the Russian Coup where Relcom, a computer network in the Soviet Union was able to circumvent the blackout as a result of the coup and pass information to the rest of the world the accounts of what was happening in Russia. Internet chat was also used in the Kuwait invasion with many internet users casing network traffic due to the large number who logged in to get live updates on the invasion. Weeks after all other communication networks were blocked, the internet stayed operational conveying up to date information.
These markets the first wave of internet relay chat in the world of technology. In the United States, there is evidence of the ability of the internet to bypass any limitation to the freedom of speech. A very good example is the event that followed after the enactment of the Communication Decency Act of 1996. This law banned the distribution of pornographic materials in the web. The enactment of the law received a lot of criticism with many arguing that it was not only unconstitutional but also impossible to implement because of the robust design of the cyberspace.
The legislation also brought forth the public support for freedom of expression in the cyberspace. After the enacted of the new law, black background was placed on the pages awaiting the ruling of the court. Following lawsuits filed by civil rights groups, the court issued an injunction against the legislation which was later declared unconstitutional (Godwin, 2003). There are also some notable unsuccessful attempts in many countries in the late 1990s to limit the freedom of speech in the internet.
Some of the countries that were frightened by the increase freedom of speech promoted by the internet include China, Germany, Singapore, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia among others. In the late 1990s, all internet users in China were required to register with the law enforcement agencies while access to some cites was banned in Germany. Saudi Arabia restricted internet use to hospitals and learning institutions, Singapore restricted religious information in the web while in New Zealand, all publications in the computers was subject to censoring.
However, these attempts among others in the recent past have shown that there is no doubt that internet promotes universal freedom of speech. It is also important to note that due to the ability of the internet to bypass limitations to freedom of speech, it has been subjected to misuse in spreading hate speeches and in activities that put national and international security at stake (Godwin, 2003). Censorship and Freedom of Speech Whenever the issue of freedom of speech in the interne t comes into question, the issue of censorship becomes important.
For many reasons, the authorities have acted as censors where they suppress the freedom of expression mainly be deleting some information from a speech which they consider sensitive or harmful to the society. There are some government censorships that are recommended for the common interests of the nation such moral and military censorship. However, there is no doubt that autocratic regimes have employed censorship to promote dictatorship by suppressing the freedom of speech.
Censorship in the internet involves all attempts by the government or the authority to control the information that can be access or published in the internet. The legal issues that have been raised concerning freedom of speech and censorship in the internet are very similar to offline censorship issues (Weber, 2010). Due to internet censorship, the cyberspace may not be able to provide the freedom of speech it promises. It is however important to note that the robust design of the cyber space gives it an advantage over offline means of dissemination information.
This is basically because of cross border permeability of the internet technology. Therefore, despite various governments around the world attempting to ban publication of certain communicative materials on the internet, residents of the countries can access similar information from websites published outside the host country. Although some governments have made several attempt to restrict access to some foreign websites, it is not possible for them to have control over the sites.
Due to the distributive design of cyberspace, it has become very difficult or even impossible to control the information flow in computers connected through the internet (Figliola et al, 2010). These failed attempts have been observed in North Korea. Some software in the in the internet provides unconditional freedom of speech which makes censorship at any level practically impossible. Moreover, this technology ensures that the information can not be removed from the cyberspace nor the identity of the author be traced.
The freedom of speech that is being increasingly guaranteed by the internet has it own positive and negative consequences. Anybody will agree with the fact that some information censorship by the authority is understandable and warranted for. For example, no one in his right mind can agree with the government that allows child pornography in the internet. It is the moral responsibility of the authorities to guard the society from such practices in the global space. However, the ultimate solution to such bad information in the internet is providing the right information rather than censorship.
Providing better information to the audience will divert the attention away from the bad information. This will eliminate the need for censorship which has the ability of taking away the freedom of expression guaranteed by the cyberspace. This is likely to happen if for example the censorship is extended behold the national borders. It is also important to note that there is no software that can be effectively used to filter to differentiate truth and fiction. This does not only apply in information found in the internet but also other channels of communication (RWB, 2003).
Hate Speech in the Internet According to Sitman (1997), with the freedom of speech that in the cyberspace, hate mongers have found an excellent and powerful tool. This has made hate speech to be an important issue related to freedom of expression in the internet. Today due to the effectiveness of internet communication, hate speech can spread easily than ever before. Hate speech can not be compared to other unwarranted messages in the internet such as pornography because it is very obvious. While individual can ignore other messages in the internet, a hate message can not be ignored.
Hate messages incite people to violence or fraud and amounts to speech crimes. According to Alexander (2009), there is no doubt the internet is an important tool of promoting democracy by providing one of the most fundamental rights, the freedom of speech. However, if there is no protection against hate speech in the internet, there are no human rights guaranteed. As the debate on the existence of hate speech in the internet gain momentum, there is no doubt that hate speech in other forms of communicative material can not compared to hate speech in the internet.
It is a new beast in communication and not an old threat in a new form. This is due to its ability to reach a very large number of audiences worldwide before it can be detected by the relevant authority (Tiffany, 2002). It has the ability to reach the marginalized and disconnected societies of the world which is not possible with other channels of communication. It has increased the individuals accessible to hate mongers from thousands to millions at low cost and within a very short time.
It is very unfortunate that the increase accessibility to internet technology all over the world has conceded with the advent of speech crimes. The results have been a legal and political battle between those advocating for free speech in the internet and those concerned with hate speeches. The most important this about hate speech in the internet is that it is a global problem and all solutions to the emerging problems should be deal with at a global scale (Matas, 2007). Conclusion The emergence of internet communication has reminded the world that the freedom of speech is universal fundamental rights.
The role of internet in promoting democracy by promoting unconditional flow of information in different parts of the world is not in doubt. However, issues such as censorship of information in the internet and increased cases of hate messages being posted in the internet have threatened this promise of unconditional flow of information. References Alexander T. , (2009). “Dignity and Speech: The Regulation of Hate Speech in a Democracy,” 44 Wake Forest Law Review 497, pp 502. Bingham, J. (2007). Internet Freedom: Where Is the Limit? ISBN 1403488339, Heinemann Library
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