Free Expression In An Age Of Transparency
“An opinion, in and of itself, cannot be criminal. Ever. Just as the law should not attack thought, it should also be slow to proscribe speech or expression simply because it is capable of causing offence”.
“If you want to be able to say things that others don’t like or find challenging, you need to be willing to hear things that you don’t like”.
It is inevitable that an age of transparency¹ would bring the question of digital freedom to any discussion on freedom of expression. The internet, in creating an accessible global digital forum for freedom of expression has also led to global administrations wishing to curb its use for this purpose. For commercial and personal reasons vested interests constantly seek to curb legitimate freedom of expression in the media², aiding politicians in their wish to curtail those freedoms of expression guaranteed in law.
Sunday: Gathering clouds over digital freedom? — The range of challenges is wide: from state censorship, including firewalls and the imposition of network or country-wide filters, to increasing numbers of takedown requests from governments, companies and individuals, corporate hoovering up of private data, growing surveillance of electronic communications, and criminalisation of speech on social media.
Monday: Bad news: why TV is going the same way as print journalism — It is suggested that a long-term impact is about to hit TV news with the full force of digital disruption which ran through the newspaper industry. Viewing in countries such as the US and the UK has declined by 3%-4% per year on average since 2012. These declines are directly comparable to the declines in print newspaper circulation in the 2000s. If compounded over 10 years, the result is a decline in viewing of a quarter or more.
Tuesday: It’s Time for Transparency Reports to Become the New Normal — The transparency reports referred to relate to fact that when you use the Internet, you entrust your thoughts, experiences, photos, and location data to intermediaries, but when the government requests that data, users are usually left in the dark. Surveillance is a growth industry with every existing report showing that the number of government requests for user data is rising.
Wednesday: Lost in the Web: Navigating the Legal Maze Online — Many online media invite their readers to engage with the news by leaving comments, transforming the media from a one-way flow of communication to a more participatory form of speech which recognises the voice of the reader and allows different viewpoints to be aired. Where the right to be forgotten is put into effect it is the search engine that removes the information from the internet. This may infringe upon an essential component of the right to freedom of expression, namely the right to access the information and ideas disseminated by others, leading to a lack of transparency.
Thursday: Rich people are paying lawyers to get truthful stories deleted from the internet — It’s hard to say how common the disappearance of facts from the public record is. By their nature, these things take place in secret and news organisations don’t like to advertise that their lawyers have advised that stories be deleted. But it happens a lot.
Friday: The Tyranny Of Transparency — There is nothing private anymore. Not in fact, but in principle. That is, we are increasingly encouraged to live as if our life could be made public, that a particular comment, or a particular relationship, could be thrown, or wikileaked, before the public, where it will be judged, censured, condemned. It is as if one’s private life is always potentially public, to be viewed, at all times, through the eyes of a public other.
Reading these posts, especially those on Thursday and Friday, made me wonder who an age of transparency is transparent to, that perhaps in feeding a seemingly insatiable public desire for social vicariousness it has very little to do with any public desire for journalistic digital freedom. This so called age of transparency as spawned an industry feeding a public appetite for the vicarious, one in which the commercial media outlets may be more concerned with restrictions on their digital freedom incurring a loss of revenue than the public interest. If public narcissism compliments the vicariousness that drives this new age of transparency then perhaps there is no more individual privacy to be had. Perhaps as Friday’s article recounts transparency has become the sine qua non for living correctly, conforming to the correct opinions, the correct views, the correct conduct, with public vicariousness in this transparent digital world being the panacea of politicians battling public cynicism.
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