The Problem With Freedom of Expression

Two news stories today highlight double standards in our defence of freedom of expression.
The YouTube clip of “Innocence of Muslims” has offended Muslims around the world and that offence is about to be compounded by the publication of some caricature cartoons in French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, but the loudest voices in the UK and France are those calling for our right to express an opinion to be protected, even if it does cause offence to a lot of people. The argument goes: if you are offended by this person’s opinion then don’t watch the movie/buy the magazine, or exercise your freedom to respond with your own views. But to attack foreign embassies or arrest the authors is seen as oppressive overreaction.
The second story is related to the recent murder in Manchester of two unarmed policewomen. A man was arrested for creating a Facebook page in praise of their murderer. The majority of people seeing the page would rightly be offended by it, but surely–isn’t the creator just exercising his right to freedom of expression? Shouldn’t the appropriate response be the same as has been suggested to the outraged Muslim community?
The two different treatments here highlight the real issue: whose definition of “offensive” do you respect and uphold?
In my opinion you can’t have it both ways without being a hypocrite. It is right that we should defend the right of Charlie Hebdo to comment satirically on the news, even if Muslims find it offensive, and it is wrong to arrest the man who set up the Facebook page in praise of the policewomen’s’ murderer. Far better in the latter case to let social network forces do their thing, in which case I expect Facebook would have taken the page down in response to an overwhelming number of user complaints. The end result would be a removed page and a discredited crackpot, and our right to freedom of expression would not have been compromised.

Rant over. Back to the usual inanity next time.

About Chris Neal

Personal Technology Consultant. Tailored services and advice for people who want more from their technology.
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One Response to The Problem With Freedom of Expression

  1. Paul says:

    Hear, hear, fully support the need to promote and protect the freedom to express ones opinions BUT I feel there is another angle. These guys printing cartoons / making films etc. by now have a pretty good idea what the reaction / backlash will be. How do they feel with so much blood having been spilt as a direct result of their perhaps less than empathetic actions (which must have been anticipated).

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