Downscaling Freedom of Speech: It’s in All of Us

I find it increasingly interesting how, as time passes, I find more responsibility in work and the thoughts that pepper it, leaving a hint of our personal savor.

I was reading a passage from Timothy Garton Ash’s Free Speech the other day. It’s probably one of the most thought-provoking pieces I’ve been trying to digest this year, merely for the way it puts things into perspective.

There’s a chapter where he’s debating the morale of YouTube, exemplifying the case with the “Innocence of Muslims” scandal in the context of free speech. Briefly, someone had hired some actors over Craigslist to shoot a video which seemed to be a fictional movie reinterpreting religious scenes. Art has many forms, and what some people observe to be art, others do not. And when you present artwork without context, anything can happen, and it’s rarely positive. A year’s time, an Arabic-dubbed version and an infuriating article in an Egyptian newspaper later, the video ultimately became a time bomb.

Several people have died and their home countries have crossed swords in a war ignited by a video posted on YouTube. Of course, it’s hard to determine causality between such events. Yet, the makers could have hardly predicted that the piece was going to become stormily viral, and acutely debated between great politic and business powers around the world.

It struck me then that the meaning of global has changed fundamentally; although the Internet is owned by no one and everyone, the societal, legal, and moral boundaries, inevitably shaped by this great diversity of cultures and the people that nurture them, are not and maybe never will be globally aligned. In this respect, each of us holds great responsibility for what people understand and how they respond to the work and thoughts we share online.

Ever since I started my first year of studies to become a Communication & PR specialist, I knew I would soon have to double-think everything I say, do, post, share, comment or react to, both online and offline, as it could easily affect the organization I would soon work for. There’s this 6 degrees of separation theory that I like to bring up when I advise other upcoming professional to show it extra care. You just never know who’s out there, seeking that ultimate sparkle.

We do not just send out information, we convey meaning through words, images, sounds — but most of all, we kindle emotions. We can make people feel empowered, curious, included, amused. Or we can push them down the desolation hole even though they were just tapping the rim of it. Your words can be light, or fire.

And it’s not just about what we publish online. It’s about our everyday work, too. Because it’s the work that people take seriously. Ever wrote a reassuring sentence at the bottom of a deadly “urgent” email? That Facebook post reminding people that it’s just another manic Monday that will pass, too, counts. A tagline that you wrote for an ad, intentionally made to stick, but which doesn’t exploit FOMO in people, weighs even more.

It certainly never is just work. It never was just a Facebook post. It’s your work and your thoughts, it’s you that’s one click away from arousing people’s feelings and consequential actions.

We do read. And oh, we remember it, too.