We live in the United States of America, born into an environment where the government has laid down a set of rights that they swore to protect generations before our time. As this has been the case for longer than any of us have been alive, it can be very easy to take these luxuries for granted, and one particular right afforded to us is the right to our freedom of speech.
This right is one that is frequently challenged, abused and taken for granted, even more than the others. It’s worth noting that the First Amendment of the Constitution is the first for a reason; this singular freedom is the first building block on which our country was created. A country wherein the citizens are free to speak freely in support of a cause or in criticism of a system is one that allows the public to incite change when necessary, and nothing should ever come in between us and the validity of that right.
Though the United States is unique in that we have government documents which protect our right to speak freely, it is a common mistake to assume that this document grants this right as opposed to simply protecting it. While we, as U.S. citizens, are able to speak freely (in theory, anyway) under protection from the government, it is not the government which provides this right; all humans have the right to speak their minds, but depending on where they live, their governing body may penalize them for doing so. This is sometimes viewed as incomprehensible by the American public, but in actuality, we’re the odd ones out. For this reason, we at the Eastern Progress wish to take some time to fully appreciate both the freedom allowed to us and the protection of that freedom we enjoy.
As journalists, we have a responsibility to look at the truth, see it for what it is, and report upon it as accurately and with as little bias as possible. This is not to say that every journalistic organization will follow this responsibility perfectly, nor is it a guarantee that we are exempt from making mistakes. However, in the past couple of years, there has been an increase in both the amount of inaccurate information being presented as news as well as a distrust of reliable news sources by the people in their target audience.
It’s true that questioning journalism and the organizations behind it can be helpful and even necessary at times, but misinformation has become so prevalent that sheer quantity has begun to be used as a counterpoint to accurate coverage, which is detrimental to the cause of any respectable journalist’s agency. A solution to this recently has been the deplatforming of those providing misinformation, from inaccurate articles shared on Facebook to the tweets of the former U.S. President. This caused a large uproar as it was seen by many as a violation of the First Amendment, but that’s not actually the case.
Terms of service, user guidelines and every other agreement that a user of an online platform makes is done with the understanding that by using the platform, they agree to all of them. When a company decides to block a post or ban a member, they are within their full rights to do so. This is not protected by the First Amendment; only the person’s right to speak freely is. In layman’s terms, using a platform to say something is only allowed as long as you have access to said platform.
What’s important to differentiate is the right to say anything and the responsibility to say anything. You can speak your mind, and nobody can stop you. But take note of the fact that the ability to do so isn’t something that everyone around the world is able to do.
When you live in a place where you have not only the right but also the ability to say anything you want, you need to take advantage of it. The protection of our freedom of speech lets us speak up about things we don’t agree with, to voice our opinions in a public manner and to provide a voice for those who lack the ability to do themselves. It’s a right that can very easily be abused, but it’s also one that lets us do a great many things to legitimately improve our world without the fear of our rights being taken away on a whim. As journalists, we have to speak the truth for the people who need to hear it. As a people, we have to raise our voices, because we ourselves need people to hear them.