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(The Silence of the Lambs poster / Edited with VSCO with x1 preset)

Year 2016 / Century XXI

“We are living in a brand new age”, they’re saying. The Digital Era become part of our society and catapulted not only a single generation but the entire world. Not everyone has accepted this Information Age or understands it easily, but it’s safe to say all six generations present to this day on Earth, are engaging in this tech world.

This submersible world based on its binomial DNA shifted society as well as media. Traditional media met an opponent of such degree, that many believed paper was dead. With time, new media let everyone sink in and understand that change is not a synonym of killing old school but just transforming it, evolving, progressing…

Digital era brought a lot of positive aspects such as helping society wake up to certain silent subjects and stereotypes, destroying taboos, exposing fraud, corruption, and vice matters, dissolving issues fed by the power of discretion and influence, giving a voice to small communities and providing an immense amount of knowledge to be used as needed.

Although all thoughts above are valid and praised, where there is a balance there are positive and negative matters. Despite some severe problems that came with digital, such as copyright infringements, lack of supportive and inclusive laws that protect users, addiction to social networks, viruses spread, intercepting personal details for spurious purposes, cyberbullying etc., the truth is there’s a particularly negative point that is starting to appear and it’s not being talked about: voicing ourselves in an insensitive and closed-minded way pleading the freedom of speech bluntly and carelessly.

This aspect has mainly been seen on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube etc. where people are able to contribute with their thoughts, interests, preferences, and opinions and generate a chain of different points of views. The problem starts where the awareness of a certain topic is surpassed due to the entertainment that was generated with the negative and disrespectful attitude of people involved in the discussion. For example, a Facebook post about a sensitive topic can raise a discussion that goes far beyond sharing opinions to forcing them and disrespecting a broader and humble view. Twitter rants are ‘a thing’ and social media is ready to hit the news with the newest fiery clash of opinions, in fact, it can reach a trending spot. Instagram serves as a base for users to ruthlessly comment and judge other users’ actions, behaviours or opinions.

It seems that this virtual world is perceived as a safe environment that allows even the most silent and introvert people to be the loudest in the room, fueled with a fragile braveness and freedom of speech became impregnated into people’s defensive speech.

But the question is, what is freedom of speech?

Freedom of speech is a people’s right to express their opinions in public without the interference of the government but subject to the law. Freedom of speech is against libel and incitement to violence or rebellion.

Thus, if freedom of speech doesn’t promote violence, is it correct for people to use aggressive and violent accusations or subjects in the name of freedom of speech? Is it correct to bully mediatic figures? Doesn’t that show a lack of understanding and a forgetful mind towards what a human being is? Doesn’t that sound the same as libel?

Since digital enter our lives, opinions gain a wider range and with time, some taboo and relevant issues start appearing, not because they didn’t exist earlier but because we didn’t receive that vast information, especially about topics that some didn’t want to be known. Topics such as feminism, racism, LGBT issues, bullying issues, alternative lifestyles, world problems, poverty, war, you name it, it’s been a daily dispute on social media.

How about effectiveness? Is freedom of speech helping this issues come to light or slowing them down?

Nowadays a social topic can easily become a trendy one, it’s so talked about that it’s power and vindication is diminished, the problematic becomes entertainment and it’s real and raw value it’s lost. Just like a fashion trend, a social problem has a pick and people saturate until they eventually get tired and forget the subject. Of course this has some effect and there’s some content that has been created and developed that can change some perceptions but in overall it seems that movements are walking slower than expected based on the awareness they’re creating. People may express their anger or how shocked they are but they will close their internet tabs and continue their lives with a fulfilling thought that that problem isn’t theirs and that there’s nothing they can do.

Also, it seems that a shocking situation or a situation that creates negative feelings is capable of generating much more engagement and attention. The famous phrase “bad publicity is still publicity” couldn’t be truer. People instigate negative thoughts and comment irrational thinking and feed a machine of news that aren’t meant to deliver news that could change perceptions (since the truth would set you free), but to create more buzz and increment popularity. In the end, none of these will actually help those issues.

We are observing a recent phenomenon in the entertainment world that was caused by statements above, which is artists bashing out other artists to gain relevance. Many artists that are losing or have lost popularity or need to have that boost of buzz because is near releases of their new artistry, find necessary to use their freedom of speech to start a fight with other artists, often disrespecting the work or life of the opponent (sometimes it’s staged) just to make the delight of social media and users. And it works in most of the cases. But what is that behaviour saying to the public eye? What are those examples creating and allowing? Is it a good use of freedom of speech?

On a final note, is this someone’s wish for us to keep fighting each other and not solving our differences? Is freedom of speech our saviour or will it be the death of us?

For a time where we are allowed to have freedom of speech, we speak so much it becomes silent. So, let us be silent for that is the way of understanding, but let us be noisy only when it’s timely for that gives power, impact, and relevance.

Rita Borges


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