MaltaToday previous editions

MT 8 May 2016

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 22 of 55

Opinion 23 maltatoday, SUNDAY, 8 MAY 2016 Opinion F reedom of expression, freedom of speech, the right to express an opinion: how many times do we hear these phrases being bandied about? After breaking through the barriers of years of stifled speech and the fear of saying what we truly think because of what others might think, the lid on keeping our thoughts to ourselves has been well and truly lifted. As usual when a taboo is broken in Malta, the pendulum has now swung completely the other way and we have gone from keeping mum and speaking in whispers, to what can only be described as full-on verbal diarrhea. These days, it's all being spewed out: the good, the bad and the ugly all tossed together like a salad, with insults especially being fired with machine-gun rapidity, where no one is spared from being a target in the line of fire, and there is absolutely no filter. Of course, the paradox is that despite all this newfound freedom, where anything and everything goes, especially online, when people read something they don't like, they keep telling others to shut up or keep trying to shut them down in other ways. Rumours about Ira Losco? "Shut up, mind your own business, and leave her alone". A model posting a selfie showing her facial scar after an accident? "Big deal, doesn't she know there are people dying of cancer?" A harmless post about the wonders of being a mother? "You shouldn't post such things because it offends women with no kids". Even posts which start off quite positively and uplifting inevitably take a downturn when dark, pessimistic, and downright nasty comments start creeping in, raining on everyone's parade, forcing those who don't like this kind of aggro to scuttle away. The examples of everyone busy trying to clamp down on what others are saying while simultaneously insisting that they have the right to their opinion, are endless. Now here I have to point out that there have been occasions when I haven't agreed with a post or a comment, and I have been similarly accused of "trying to stop people from talking" or of being "against freedom of expression". For example, what seemed to be an endless going nowhere debate on abortion, led me to point out that perhaps it was time to acknowledge that the pro-life and pro-choice factions were entrenched in their respective positions, no one was going to be persuaded and no one was ever going to budge. Wouldn't it be better to perhaps accept this, let it go and move on, I suggested in what I thought was quite a reasonable tone. Inevitably, I was immediately charged with trying to "shut people up" or to "stop them from discussing the issue", which was so completely off the mark that I was taken aback. First of all, if I did have the amazing power to make people stop talking, I would be living in a land of total bliss. For I admit that I do sometimes find myself in situations when I yearn to have the magic ability of switching an imaginary "off " or "mute" button when I'm standing next to someone who has already made their point over and over again for about ten times, and yet they will just not stop talking. The only remaining alternative is to extricate myself from the circle I find myself in, and make my exit, stage left. Or else when my ears are assaulted by loud, grating voices, or shrieking glass- shattering ones, when a normal tone of voice will do just fine – yes, then I can see how a mute, or at least a "lower the volume" button would come in handy. Alas, I have none of these powers, neither in real life nor virtually. Because, let us face it, if it is impossible to shut people up when they are in close proximity, it is even more impossible to do so online. I have checked this fact, over and over again, and I can positively 100% confirm that I do not control the Internet. You can, however, mute people, by simply blocking them, in which case nothing they write will ever cross your line of vision again, which is quite a nice, reassuring little feature, Mr Zuckerberg, thank you very much. Obviously, when the cacophony of white noise just gets too much, you can also choose to leave groups or pages which annoy you, stop notifications when the conversation thread spirals into banalities, and unfollow people whose posts simply make you grind your teeth so badly you need dental work. You can also mutter obscenities under your breath, resisting the urge to type them out in reply to something which makes you want to tear your hair out... and just keep scrolling instead. Life is really too short to remain in a permanent state of offence by what you read on the Internet. You see, there is quite a distinction between not wanting to read things which upset, annoy or anger you and actually making it physically possible to stop the upsetting, annoying and anger- inducing things from being written in the first place. There is a considerable difference between objecting, disagreeing or rebutting arguments which push your buttons or exasperate you, and putting censorship controls in place which prevent others from writing anything you don't agree with. You have the right to write what you like, I have the right not to like it and tell you so, but I can never, in a democratic society, prevent you from continuing to exercise your right to express yourself. Of course, the obvious exceptions come to mind: lying about others, which can lead to a libel suit, or the publication of hate speech which can incite others to violence, are both covered by law. You also have websites where a moderator has the right to choose which comments are uploaded or not, much in the same way that a newspaper editor can choose which letters should be published or not. The reason this does not matter so much any more is that with social media you can still get your message across and no one can stop you. If your comment has been deleted by a FB page or group administrator or you have been blocked, or the admin has switched off comments on a thread, all you have to do is go on your own timeline and have your say there. The beauty of it is that everyone's profile is their own little freedom of speech empire where they are the ruler and whoever doesn't like it, can just lump it. Or else you can just switch off from the squabbling in the virtual world and go to the beach instead. But make sure you take some earplugs. Free to express yourself, free to disagree Josanne Cassar Everyone's profile is their own little freedom of speech empire where they are the ruler and whoever doesn't like it, can just lump it

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of MaltaToday previous editions - MT 8 May 2016