Following the horrific events in Paris this last week, someone brought the following tweet (which predated these events) to my attention and asked if this is becoming the norm now: Should we expect the police to be reviewing our every tweet, facebook post, or instagram? Is this a violation of freedom of speech?
Please be aware that we will continue to monitor comments on social media & any offensive comments will be investigated.
— Police Scotland (@policescotland) December 30, 2014
It’s tempting to cast this as an infringement on free speech; but in doing so are we employing selective memory and forgetting that freedom of speech is not a universal right in any culture? How often do we overlook slander, trade secrets, non disclosure agreements, pornography laws and other limitations on what we can say, write or display?
And how often are we the ones restricting freedom of speech, as a market? Consider the reaction to European media organisations displaying graphic footage of the Paris killings, whilst also having never broadcast any of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. In a Sydney Morning Herald article on this reaction, Paul Colford states, regarding AP imagery:
“None of the images distributed by AP showed cartoons of the prophet Muhammad,” he said.
“It’s been our policy for years that we refrain from moving deliberately provocative images.”
Yet how is self censorship, presumably to avoid insensitivity or offence towards some portion of the market, any different from state imposed censorship?
Not that free speech is ipso facto a warranty to the worthiness of an opinion; as Randall Munroe states in his comic XKCD:
“I can’t remember where I heard this, but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you’re saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it’s not literally illegal to express.”
Freedom of Speech issues aside, perhaps the most concerning factor to the Scotland Police tweet, for social media users, is the notion that personal posts are reviewed by Big Brother.
It’s interesting to theorise the reaction had the tweet been worded thus:
Please be aware that we will continue to monitor by TV and radio broadcasters, and offensive comments will be investigated.
Would anyone have even considered it out of the ordinary?
And the definition of ‘offensive’ aside, do we consider our responsibility when using social media? As Greg Barton stated recently to the ABC:
“It’s natural we have that curiosity to figure that out, but somebody sending a tweet saying ‘I’ve just seen a man in SWOT gear climb a ladder’, the gunman could be hearing that in real time and making a response,”
Is the real problem that by staring at facebook or twitter on our phone, we’ve forgotten the reach of the internet? Should we expect ourselves to have any less responsibility than traditional broadcast media when technology landed us the ability to broadcast information worldwide whilst sitting on a train, playing with our phone?