The idea of having the freedom to express yourself as you please is an interesting one. Many of us take this to mean that we can say what we want, to whomever we want, in any way we want to. This is even more evident on social media.

Honestly, I don't think we are to blame for assuming this. In most countries constitutions the concept of freedom of expression is granted as a constitutional right. It goes further than that, even the United Nations declared freedom of expression as a fundamental human right.

However, I've come to learn over the years that it is not as simple as saying whatever you want, whenever you want, even on social media. There are legal implications to everything you say.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a historic document that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly at its third session on 10 December 1948. Article 19 of the document covers freedom of expression as a human right. 📷 Eleanor Roosevelt with the English language version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Some people that are learning this rather surprisingly are those whose accounts were suspended on Twitter and they decided to join the largely right-wing social network, Parler, which promised them unfiltered freedom of expression. It didn't take long though for Parler itself to start suspending some accounts.

These suspensions are interesting considering that Parler has sold itself as a social network that embraces freedom of speech and has minimal moderation. As its founder, John Matze, once famously said: “If you can say it on the street of New York, you can say it on Parler.”

However, the reality is that Parler is no different to any other social network as far as content moderation goes, because like I have had to learn over the years, you have the freedom to express yourself (even on social media) as long as that expression doesn't violate another person's rights. In other words, you have freedom of expression, but freedom after the expression is not guaranteed.

Things got to the extent that Parler's founder had to write a letter to its 1,5 million users explaining that, to paraphrase, free speech is not free.

Parler CEO John Matze clarified the platform’s rules after banning users, presumably for breaking one or more of the listed rules.

This is where I have a cognitive dissonance of sorts.

I believe in everybody having the right to express themselves even if I disagree with them. But, given how social media has become nowadays with spam, fake news, and hate speech, I sometimes find myself such expressions should be banned. At the same time, on the other hand, I worry about us giving too much power to social networks to suspend, censor, and shape narratives.

Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

What are your thoughts?

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Quote of the day

You have the freedom to express yourself (even on social media) as long as that expression doesn't violate another person's rights. In other words, you have freedom of expression, but freedom after the expression is not guaranteed. (Tweet this)

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