By: Beatriz Atienza
The era of social media has amplified the chances people have to express their opinions about almost any matter. No matter if it is a political statement, the last episode of a show or a simple opinion about a food, everyone is capable of speaking about it, and people for sure take advantage of this. They can even do it without showing their real faces, hiding behind an username and a faceless icon. The rising problem with this is that now everyone believes every single opinion is perfectly valid and should be respected, shielding hateful and discriminating thoughts behind the “freedom of speech” tag.
The first problem that appears is not just related to the opinions on different movements, or to opinions in general, but to the way of expressing them. Everyone is entitled to have their thoughts on something, but being a civilised and polite person is also a need since we are social beings. That seems to be forgotten by many, as they use the protection the screen offers to express their opinions in the most hurtful and hateful ways.
However, it would be good if the only problem we had was politeness, but that is not the case. As movements like feminism, LGBTQ collective, Black Lives Matter, etc. Have risen, they have become a hot topic on social media, and everyone has a say on them. Most recently, with all the events in the United States following the death of George Floyd and countless others, this matter of freedom of expression has surfaced again. Several comments can be found declaring that if they want to think badly about, for example, Black people, or about LGBTQ people, it is their right to do so because they are free to think whatever they want. This is the problem. The extreme defence of freedom of speech seems to validate hateful speeches which even attempt against human rights. The respect and equality of minorities should not be a topic of discussion, or a debate, because it is human lives we are talking about. One’s freedom of speech ends when you attempt against other person’s freedom of speech. To make things clear: being homophobic and defending your position saying that you are free to think that way, goes totally agains the radical meaning of “freedom”, as your opinion attempts against other human’s lives and freedom.
The problem is that this is not only a social media issue. The world is collapsing. There are so many regimes such as North Korea’s or Cuba’s or many others which still remain isolated from the progress, but these were thought to be the last ones, and democracy seemed to be finding its way in different parts of each continent. The atrocities that are still happening all around the world, like the conflict in Kashmir (India) or the fact that several countries still allow female genital mutilation, were thought to be the global issues we still had to fight. But turns out that extreme conservative political parties are rising all around the globe, defending premises which go against basic human rights for minorities such as migrants, non/white people, LGBTQ community, etc.
Even women rights’ over their own bodies are being threaten. Simone the Beauvoir, feminist philosopher and writer, once declared:
“Never forget that a political, economical or religious crisis will be enough to cast doubt on women's rights. These rights will never be vested. You'll have to stay vigilant your whole life.”
I think this statement can be applied not only to women’s rights, but to the rights of every group of people who are not white cis/straight Western men. These hateful way of thinking is being institutionalised thanks to this parties, putting racist, sexists and homophobe opinions right in the heart of every government. People seem to forget that this initial way of thinking, blaming every problem on the minorities, was the one that later lead to movements such as Hitler’s nazism, Mussolini’s fascism and Stalin’s Communism. All in all, it is not just the visible atrocities we have to face, but also the ones dressed up as political correctness.
In conclusion, going against other people’s rights is not freedom of speech, as that means restricting how other people live their life. Furthermore, supporting and not calling out someone who has that mindset is part of the problem, even if you do not engage with the hate directly. It is because of this that we should all unite in a diverse global movement to fight for every single person’s rights (important note: not only white people).
about the Author
Bea (she/ her) is a teacher in training from Madrid, Spain, specially focused on gender equality, inclusion and interculturality in education. She also enjoys storytelling and praising the female figures who have historically been silenced.